Movies

Santa Cruz celebrates ‘The Lost Boys’ 35th anniversary

Thirty-five is a mess of a number, the adolescence of middle age. Teen vampire flick “The Lost Boys” turns 35 today, and there’s no better time to honor this summer blockbuster, which inspired an entire genre that is still going strong today.

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Critics damned the film with faint praisebut contrary to experts’ opinions, people did take notice in big ways — both of the genre and it’s stunning Central Coast location, Santa Cruz.

Just ask Jordan Peele.

Peele pays homage to ‘The Lost Boys’

“The Lost Boys” was a major influence on Peele, this generation’s it horror director, who recently resurrected an icon of the Bay Area’s recent past in “Nope.”

Peele loved “The Lost Boys” so much, he insisted the opener of his 2019 genre-bending suspense “Us” be filmed at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk as an homage to “The Lost Boys.” And he did such a good job tapping into the quirky, freaky soul of Santa Cruz that a rumor even started that the film was scaring tourists away.

A poster for Jordan Peele's 2019 hit

A poster for Jordan Peele’s 2019 hit “Us,” filmed at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Peele is a fan of “The Lost Boys” which was shot at the same location in 1986 and released on July 31, 1987.

Photo by Charles Russo

But, in mind-bending Peele fashion, he didn’t stop there. Instead, he got really meta with his tribute.

“Us” opens in 1986, the year “The Lost Boys” was filmed — showingcasing a film crew at the boardwalk, which is, of course, meant to be “The Lost Boys” production.

“We shot in Santa Cruz and the first scene of our movie is there,” Peele told Uproxx. “It’s the same beach, it’s the same amusement park. And it’s even 1986.”

“There is a reference to ‘The Lost Boys’ shooting by the carousel,” he added. “They’re walking down the … boardwalk and the mother says, ‘You know they’re shooting a movie over there by the carousel.'”

Revelers at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk enjoy a ride on a late summer afternoon.

Revelers at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk enjoy a ride on a late summer afternoon.

Photo by Charles Russo

“The boardwalk is a pivotal place, also another character in ‘The Lost Boys’ spokesperson and ‘Us,'” Visit Santa Cruz County and film commissioner Christina Glynn told SFGATE. “I think for even a casual fan of film, you come here and you recognize the boardwalk right away, but for die-hard ‘Lost Boys’ fans, we have a map for more off-the-beaten-path gems. You’d be surprised how many people come here to find as many places they can in person.”

‘The Lost Boys’ a flop in critics’ eyes

Even in his very lukewarm reception of “The Lost Boys,” Roger Ebert recognized that there could be something there with the concept of teenage vampires: “If you really stop to think about it, a bunch of vampire teenagers would be a terrible shame, A tragedy, a heartbreaking loss of innocence for them, let alone their victims,” Ebert wrote in his two-and-a-half-star review. “Am I silly to take them seriously? Maybe so. The movie doesn’t.”

Actors Jamison Newlander, Corey Feldman and Corey Haim on set of

Actors Jamison Newlander, Corey Feldman and Corey Haim on set of “The Lost Boys.” The genre-defining film was released 35 years ago on July 31, 1987.

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Ebert went on to praise the cast, which was headlined by Dianne Wiest, who was coming off an Oscar win in 1986 for Best Supporting Actress in “Hannah and Her Sisters.” Other notables included longtime stage and television actor Barnard Hughes as Wiest’s father and character actor Edward Herrmann as a local comic book store owner and Wiest’s love interest.

The Giant Dipper roller coaster is a highlight of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.

The Giant Dipper roller coaster is a highlight of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.

Photo by Charles Russo

But it was the teens that did the heavy lifting, including the mischievous Coreys (Haim and Feldman), heartthrobs Jason Patric and Kiefer Sutherland as dueling good boy/bad boy vampire besties and Jami Gertz as the femme fatale.

“If there was anything they could get into, the little troublemakers, they did,” assistant director Bill Beasley previously told SFGATE of Haim and Feldman’s on-set antics. “They would find it and do it. They were a handful.”

Second assistant director Judith Bouley, who was also responsible for location scouting and casting extras, wrangled thousands of potential extras for “The Lost Boys,” many of whom, she noted, were Santa Cruz locals.

Teen revelers wait in line at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk first made famous on film in the teen blockbuster

Teen revelers wait in line at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk first made famous on film in the teen blockbuster “The Lost Boys,” which celebrates its 35th anniversary on July 31, 2022.

Photo by Charles Russo

“I did it at the Holiday Inn in Santa Cruz, and we announced it in the Santa Cruz Sentinel,” she told SFGATE. More than 2,400 people showed up in her two days of casting, and 800 were eventually selected to fill out the boardwalk scenes.


In spite of the extra effort to keep the shoot Santa Cruz weird, critics of the era were not impressed. “There’s some good stuff in the movie including a cast that’s good right down the line and a willingness to have some fun with teenage culture,” Ebert wrote. “…But when everything is all over, there’s nothing to leave the theater with — no real horrors, no real dread, no real imagination — just at the service of the formula.”

Sacramento Bee reviewer George Williams, who also gave the film two stars, wasn’t as kind, or forward-thinking in his appraisal: “The movie, directed by Joel Schumacher (‘St. Elmo’s Fire’ and ‘DC Cab’) and put together by the crew that created ‘The Goonies,’ including executive producer Richard Donner, is on to something very promising at the start,” he wrote. “But director Schumacher doesn’t trust these ideas … stretching his story into nonsensical alleyways. ‘The Lost Boys’ never recovers.’

Did Kiefer Sutherland stumble on to the mullet?

Despite the critical pans, “The Lost Boys” defied expectations and rallied to a stellar $5.2 million opening weekend. It debuted at No. 2, just behind Timothy Dalton’s James Bond film “The Living Daylights,” and recouped most of its $8.2 million budget en route to grossing $32.2 million.

Kiefer Sutherland riding a motorcycle in a scene from the film

Kiefer Sutherland riding a motorcycle in a scene from the film “The Lost Boys,” which opened on July 31, 1987.

Archive Photos/Getty Images

The teen horror-comedy also went on to become one of Warner Bros. best-selling home video releases of all time, spawning a cultural avalanche of teen vampire literature and film that is ubiquitous today, from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “Twilight.” Yet only a few decades ago, this was something brand new.

Another legacy of the film: It helped popularize the mullet.

“I thought Billy Idol was really cool and I thought he looked really cool and I still think he looks really cool,” Sutherland recently told GQ in a retrospective of his favorite roles. “His hair was all spikey and kind of punk up front — so I got that haircut but I left enough at the back … and I think kind of accidentally might have at least been part of the movement that created maybe one of the worst hairstyles of all time — the mullet.”

‘A mystical place … a perfect place for the mystical Santa Carla’

“The Lost Boys” turned Santa Cruz into a filming destination, and that tradition continues today, Glynn says.

A view of palm trees and the horizon with the Santa Cruz Boardwalk's famous Giant Dipper roller coaster.

A view of palm trees and the horizon with the Santa Cruz Boardwalk’s famous Giant Dipper roller coaster.

Photo by Charles Russo

“The film captured the zeitgeist of the late ’80s and touched on the counterculture flavor of Santa Cruz,” she says. “Some say Santa Cruz is a mystical place, and it is a perfect place for the mystical Santa Carla. ‘The Lost Boys’ was really ground zero. It really married a teen movie with the vampire genre and put us on the map as a location.”

Besides “Us,” recent big-budget features that have filmed in Santa Cruz include Sandra Bullock’s 2018 viral Netflix hit “Bird Box” and the 2018 expansion of the Transformers universe “Bumblebee.”

And if you see California coastline or towering redwoods in a commercial or a magazine ad — chances are it was shot in Santa Cruz as well.

“Our bread and butter is still photography and commercials,” Glynn says. “Highway 9 through the Santa Cruz mountains and Highway 1 north of town are the most popular. We work with two or three very prominent location scouts and we’re on their radar. You can be at the boardwalk or the beach and 15 minutes later in a redwood forest. It’s both economical and very dramatic landscapes.”

Santa Cruz is ‘forever linked’ with ‘The Lost Boys’

Though Hollywood’s spotlight continues to shine on Santa Cruz, nothing stands alone quite like “The Lost Boys” and the fandom it still conjures admit, Glynns.

A general view of the Santa Cruz Wharf, with the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk amusement park behind on July 29, 2007.

A general view of the Santa Cruz Wharf, with the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk amusement park behind on July 29, 2007.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

And if you weren’t able to get to the boardwalk or Atlantis Fantasyworld comic book store or the old Pogonip Clubhouse this weekend to pay tribute, rest assured: Santa Cruz is still planning a big “The Lost Boys” anniversary celebration this Halloween weekend, with a free showing of the film on the beach in front of the Colonnade at the Boardwalk at 6:30 pm Saturday, Oct. 29.

“Coming through the pandemic, the boardwalk has had to pare it down a little this summer,” Glynn says. “But we wouldn’t miss an anniversary for ‘The Lost Boys.’ We’re forever linked to this cult classic.”



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