REMEMBER WHAT MOM SAID about joining the gang? After seeing "The Lost Boys," a dark send-up of the dangers of peer pressure, you'll see what she meant. When Michael, a new kid in town, falls for a local beauty who runs around with punk bikers, he's in for a hell of a ride.
Directed by Joel Schumacher ("St. Elmo's Fire," "D.C. Cab"), "Boys" starts off brilliantly, as a gothic tale of beachbum town Santa Clara. Michael Chapman's cinematography may well be the film's most significant participant, with eerie planes of light and dark and a camera that swoops batlike from sky to sea. As you ride along, you feel a strange presence hanging over the quiet town.
Gradually, Schumacher -- and screenwriters Janice Fischer, James Jeremias, Jeffrey Boam -- weave in strands of humor that both relieve and tauten the growing tension. The result's an exhilarating hybrid of horror and suburban comedy.
But then the film loses courage (or imagination) and hews to the Spielberg school of climactic denouement, so that teen farce and special effects take over. By the time the thing has played out, that subtle scare/laugh mix is a thing of the past and you feel as though you just walked out of "Breaking Away" or "Goonies." Ah well.
When divorced Mom (Dianne Wiest) and her two sons Michael and Sam (Jason Patric and Corey Haim) arrive in Santa Clara, there's something menacing about the place. Grandpa, whose house they're staying in, is a taxidermist with stuffed kills waiting to scare the brothers at every turn. Posters of missing children are on every surface. Two weird kids running a comic shop warn Sam that the town's full of demons. And the only mode of entertainment is a waterfront amusement park, where youths listlessly worship long-maned bands.
Parading among the young and catatonic is the aforementioned gang, led by David (Kiefer Sutherland), with his leering baby face and blonde spikey hair. (He could be the lovechild of Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger's tempestuous affair in "9 1/2 Weeks.") Michael falls for Star (Jami Gertz), a girl in the gang, and he's fascinated with these cool strutters. So he joins.
Too bad. These guys are more than just punks. It's blood, not Bud, that they're thirsty for. And when Michael chugs a bottle of the red stuff like it's Dr. Pepper, there's no turning back. Now he hides from the light, anxious for a nightly fix. And hmmm, brother Sam has a nice-looking neck. And the humor takes off, as Sam must deal with a brother who sleeps all day and is given to growling. And Mom, in the throes of courting her boss (Ed Herrmann), would like to know what the heck is going on.
Sam enlists the comic store boys, names of Edgar and Alan Frog -- played with amusing bungling by Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander. They decide to identify and kill the vampmeister before Mike becomes a card-carrying neck-nosher. They load up on garlic, holy water and wooden stakes. The sparks will fly. The house plumbing will explode. Throats will howl. The ending will be happy.
THE LOST BOYS (R) -- At area theaters.