Alright, back to vampires. Warning: long post, but I think breaking it up would just make the flow uneven.
I’ve had variations of this post in my head for a long time. I think it’s hard to put what things mean to you into words that actually convey those feelings. I personally also have a bit of a hard time with the “pop culture saved me narrative.”I get it – I think everyone has defining moments that are connected to art and culture (I certainly do), I don’t know that I love giving them that kind of total power, because it neglects how much work the person involved and those around them puts in. I think situations can be complicated and putting it down to one specific thing can be somewhat trite. I don’t say that to take away from things that are important to people, and I’m not insinuating anything about fandom, but I think situations are just way more complicated than we tend to realize and remember.
That being said, I admittedly get my bigger influences from things that have affected me during times when I really needed something to identify with. Star Wars came about when I needed something to plug into when I was 11, Labyrinth opened up new worlds in my head at 16 or 17, Bowie made me feel like I wasn’t alone and helped me discover my creative soul at around the same time. I will always have vivid memories of hiding out in a bookshop reading Bradbury during the summer of allergic bronchitis and theater that kicked my butt constantly in my early 20s.
The Lost Boys is tricky because it feels like it was always around but in different forms. I remember my dad being super excited when it came out. If you’re new to Selahville, it’s important to note that I was a complete gullible chicken as a kid (but also snuck off in video stores to read the backs of horror movie boxes. Figure that one out). I couldn’t even watch commercials for horror movies (but was fine with demonic possession in Care Bear movies. I don’t know, it was the 80s and they were sparkly and cute.) Somehow, I got it in my head that vampires could be a real thing and the vampires in the movie lived right down the road. I’m not sure if that idea was put into my head by a mischevious relative or if that was an overactive brain on my part, but for a long while I had this instant, Pavlovian terror response to Kiefer Sutherland’s face, which is probably a somewhat different reaction than he’s used to getting.
The stuff of nightmares. Until adolescence hit.
Anywho. My memories from that time frame are vivid but fleeting, so I don’t think I even saw the movie all the way through until college. By that time I was reading Bradbury and Anne Rice and others, and I could look at Sutherland without screaming. I still have two conflicting timelines in my head – either I rented the movie on a weekend when all my roommates went home and I had to stick around for rehearsals, or I was working at a summer regional theater type gig. I do remember being painfully lonely – I’d had some heavy life changes. The first real, rough moments of my adult life happen a few months prior. Everything was affecting me: I was oversleeping, I wasn’t eating well or taking care of myself, I had this sense that I had to prove myself right now or else, and being a natural introvert, I just plain wasn’t great at reaching out to even hang out with people or open up about what was going on. I can’t remember if at that point I’d not succeeded into securing grad school auditions (I’d opted to try the acting route instead of tech or design), but I suspect that this was that time period. I was also coming to grips with this feeling that I just created things differently than other people in my major.
Now I can see where that’s not a bad thing, but at the time I took it as a personal shortcoming. I liked what I was doing, but the department was really focused on straight plays that either didn’t have a lot of parts that I could play or didn’t speak to me from a design or build sense. Now, that’s just part of the job, but at the time it really made me wonder if I’d made a huge misstep. Everything began to bleed together for me, and I didn’t feel like I clicked with anything that was out there (the Internet was still developing and when you’re still pretty young and searching for connection with something, it’s hard to know what to even look for). I didn’t really have an outlet to paint with all the colors in the palette, or if I did, I didn’t know the words to ask for the opportunity.
I was pretty much holed up in my apartment, feeling like I’d completely failed at what I’d wanted to do most, failed at interpersonal relationships, failed at just even doing the day to day well. I can’t even describe the embarrassment I felt showing up to classes everyday, feeling like more and more like I was letting everyone and myself down. I went through the motions, but when I wasn’t required to be somewhere it was easier to hole up, beat myself up and blame myself than to go talk to someone or even ask for a neutral opinion or advice (at least on the art front). I was a swirl of negative emotions that festered and ate away at me as I hid out, trying to numb myself to it all. It, admittedly, was not a great point in the Selahville timeline.
I honestly don’t know where things would have led if they had progressed on their own – I’d like to think I’d have come out of it because I’m generally stubborn and there were people around me in my classes and labs and rehearsals, even if I was beginning to wall myself off emotionally. I had rented some movies for lack of anything better to do, and for whatever weird reason (maybe I just wanted to prove to seven-year-old me that I could watch it), The Lost Boys was in that stack.
There are some things where you can admit that you like them or talk about why they’re good in an analytical sense, and there are things that just strike like a thunderbolt. Maybe the humor got me to pay attention, maybe it reminded me of my childhood in a weird way, but for whatever reason, I was entranced.
And then the tape broke right before the ending. I literally drove up the street to another video store right that second so I could watch the rest of it. I don’t know how many times I watched it that weekend (and beyond), but I was just really intrigued and began to look up what meager information there was online at the time.
It should be said that by that point I had just started getting cable and my theatre major schedule never had time for Buffy, so a lot of the concepts that became the sleek, cool urban fantasy vampire were brand new to me. Up to that point, all I’d really known was Anne Rice. The music fit perfectly, the performances were spot on, the story was tight. I was happy that it used folklore, and the production design just drew me in like none other. Since costumes were in my wheelhouse, I drank in everything. I think what also really struck me is that it felt feasible on a lot of levels, from performance to story to design. I
I could do that. That phrase kept going round my head, and I clung to it and refused to let go. It was an odd sense of validation (however slight), that maybe I could belong somewhere and there was a place for me. It was the mantra I needed, and if that’s the moment or the thing that saved me, then great, awesome, it tells a good story.
Granted, in my daily life where Chekov and Everyman and Tennessee Williams and A.R. Gurney reigned (nothing wrong with those, love ’em), I didn’t really get an opportunity to play with that sort of thing in a design or construction sense right out of the gate (this was further proven when movies like Hedwig and the Angry Inch came out and my mind was blown again and I was left frustrated that I had nothing like that in my everyday). Still, I knew there were other avenues to explore and that I just had to keep looking to find where I fit. I definitely think the film gave me the courage to keep true to myself, and it opened up a ton of possibilities that got me reading and experimenting with different concepts. It got me to take a breath and go looking for what else was out there.
Costume-wise, it’s taken me a long time to grow into myself. I think we all go through that lean on influences phase until we absolutely can’t anymore. Theatre work turned into event and various seasonal work, I slowly got more confident and began being open to making stuff that was outside the norm. I had already been working on Halloween events and shoved into the role of coming up with walkabout scary characters. I think every so often when you’re working on things consistently, you suddenly have a level-up time period, where things really start to click and the synapses really fire up. For me, it was being brought in to create a gang of steampunk fairy tale characters. The interesting kicker was, though, that the images I was shown as reference of tone and concept were much closer to gothic rocker with some sci-fi thrown in.
I’d also become something of a budget-whisperer by that time, and was content on raiding storage and existing fabric (and slicing apart the pleather on like fifteen purses) to make other ends of the budget meet. While I didn’t necessarily go in with Lost Boys in mind, I kept that kind of rocker/put together/street rat bohemian look in the front of my brain. I’d also developed the habit of taking whatever characters other people didn’t want to do, so I got mostly the male, non-prince ones. And I had a blast. I’m still really proud of how those turned out, because for once it felt like I’d formed a cohesive look, that all of the things I did could exist in the same dysfunctional world. It was also the first time in a while where I went on pure instinct and didn’t sketch anything out, but just built onto the dress forms with an estimation of people’s measurements. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did.
Writing-wise, I’ve probably done at least ten or fifteen blog and guest posts about the movie by now: themes of family, why the vampires work, my irritation at the missed ball with the lady characters, and on and on. If anything, that movie’ll keep me in article writing forever. Back when I first really watched it, I was drawn not only to the whole modern vampire concept but the open-endedness. You didn’t need to know their backstories to form an opinion of them. You didn’t need a huge amount of details, and it was better that way because it was really interesting to think on things and fill in the blanks for yourself. In a way, we’ve lost that trait as storytellers since the 80s, and I wish we’d get back to it because I think it makes an audience work more and appreciate things in a different way.
I also like that okay, yes, all the cues are there for you to paint the vampires as the bad boy antagonists, but honestly, they aren’t actually made the antagonists until the last act. Until that point you really just see them chilling out and being teens. If anything, it was bold to show both them and the humans in their home environments. I still will argue that they aren’t really the villains, because essentially they’re just reacting to an outside threat and were just doing what they were supposed to do (be vampires, make more vampires). To put a moral angle or the whole you’re a vampire so you’re damned angle on it actually robs the story of its more interesting possibilities. I’ll be thrilled when we can get away from the whole vampire must equal antagonist or sexy love interest thing we’ve got going on. Just have your characters be vampires and explore what that’s like for the characters. It ain’t hard.
Those kinds of thoughts circulated through my head a lot. I’d been writing in my spare time, but now I toyed with the genre and began to play with different types of characters and what it would really mean for any random person to become a vampire. I began to read up on folklore, and I’m sure people thought I was losing my mind, but those sorts of explorations really balanced me out in a lot of ways as I worked to get back to myself. And then life caught up and I put it all away to get other stuff done.
And yes, in the meantime there are times when shared love of the movie has become awesome conversation starters (earned me cred in a Shakespeare class because I was the only person who had heard of Edward Herrmann), and yes, I’ve made friends through love of the film and that’s been amazing. In a bizarre twist of fate, I grew to be friends with Brooke McCarter at one point, and he definitely helped encourage me in ways that I will forever be grateful for. I’m not downgrading those experiences, but for me, personally, it tends to come back to something a little more personal than just being part of some fandom. It’s about the ideas that began to germinate in me and this bizarre notion that maybe I really could have an artistic career.
Ten million years later, I was starting to get published and had already put out a weird little ebook about vampires and lumberjacks and historical life challenges, when I was almost challenged to submit a vampire story that I had floated for The Big Bad anthology. John Hartness has told the anecdote about my failings on the whole submission process many times (in my defense I was writing the story mid-tech week), but I still blame him because I never would have submitted if I hadn’t pitched the basic idea of playing the vampire and human girl relationship straight without romantic cliches and ripping on vampire fangirls and been told that there was no story in it.
Never dare me with a story, dude.
Somehow those old characters that I had played around with came roaring back to life in different forms. I don’t really see Rave, Asha, Sin, and the rest as being Lost Boys-ish, but they definitely were inspired by the film and all the questions it brought to mind over the years. Characters like Amanda are probably me playing with Lucy with bad intentions, and the whole concept of Family and The Patriarch is probably what happens when Max’s concept of forming a vampire family is put on steroids. Through The Big Bad and The Big Bad II (and some other projects that never came to publication, but will likely be merged together in the future), I’ve gotten to play with concepts and character types and do them in my sideways way (and I must be doing something right because Hartness hasn’t disowned me yet). And there may very well be more of those characters coming in the future, but that’s a topic for another time.
I get why some people question devotion to the film. I’ve had that conversation a decent amount on social media lately – It’s a somewhat dated cult eighties movie with a lot of strange tone shifts and why can’t we just move on already. Ignoring all the ways that it’s influenced the vampire and urban fantasy genre for the moment, what can I say? Fandom is weird in general, but I think at its core it explores this need to belong that resonates with people. As far as saving me…maybe. It’s hard to say. At the very least, it pushed the snowball down the mountainside and got the ball rolling in multiple facets of my career, which is awesome, but it also really put me on the road to self-acceptance, which is even better.
Mooner is the aforementioned vampires and lumberjacks story, which I have an admitted soft spot for.
You can also read up on my take on urban fantasy vampires in The Big Bad anthology and The Big Bad II.