Top 5 Joel Schumacher Films: An Appreciation Post
Joel Schumacher, who recently passed at age 80, had a long, varied and colourful career that consisted of extreme highs and some strange lows but was always interesting and uniquely his own. His career may have begun in fashion design but soon moved to the world of film with him working in costume design before gaining writing credits and then stepping into the director’s chair.
Not everything that Schumacher put his name to was critical gold but his films were often well loved with huge cult followings. He was not a one trick pony either, trying his hand at comedies, musicals, horrors, thrillers and of course the superhero film. This is because he is a self-proclaimed “pop culture sponge” who simply loved movies.
In honour of the man who brought his own fantasy to the screen and dared to take projects that nobody else wanted to touch, here are my five favourite Joel Schumacher films.
A cult classic that is still loved by a multitude of fandoms, this 80’s horror comedy poked fun at its vampiric origins and kept the satire stylish and sassy throughout. When two brothers, Michael and Sam move with their mother to California they end up drawn into a gang of bikers who seem to only come out at night. From the fashion to the soundtrack to the dark atmosphere this film was a true teen reinvention of an older monster trope. The Lost Boys helped make vampires cool, rebellious and sexy, especially if you were into mullets. These were the vampires of an MTV generation and the children of the night who knew how to party. As Grandpa says, the problem with Santa Carla is “all the damn vampires.”
The age old question of ‘What happens when we die?’ is at the centre of this psychological horror about five medical students who dangerously experiment with finding out what’s on the other side of life. This ensemble cast, including Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin, Oliver Platt and a return from Kiefer Sutherland, sell the idea of an egotistical group who challenge each other to go further and further into the abyss to try and reach God. This premise could easily fall flat without their character conviction. Schumacher excels in keeping this stylish, witty and focused on the haunting outcomes these experiments have on these would-be doctors.
William ‘D-Fens’ Foster is having one hell of a bad day in this Urban Nightmare film that seems just as relevant now as it was when it was released. Falling Down can be looked at as product of its time, but that is more in execution than it is in concept, there are definitely a lot of racial and misogynistic tones that could be read into. However, the idea of a person breaking from the everyday annoyances of reality definitely strikes a nerve and presents a bleak look at a dark breakdown. Douglas shines as a cartoonish anti-hero who’s gone up to the brink and then dove over it in his journey home.
Hold your boo’s and your Batman judgement and hear me out. Batman Forever is often unfairly maligned due to its connection to Batman & Robin, which I also have a little bit of guilty love for, and not credited for being the fun, campy film that it truly is. Schumacher had the intense task of taking on Gotham after Burton’s two films and he does manage to combine some of the dark gothic tones of the previous films with his own neon comic-centric aesthetic. Batman can be dark, but he can also be Adam West, so it’s not unheard of for there to be wacky and zany iterations of the character. Give it another go, I promise if nothing else you’ll have a good laugh and fun with a capital F.
Phone Booth (2002)
When Stu uses the payphone to secretly call his mistress the last thing he expected was to be stuck in the phone booth with a long range rifle pointed at him and the police surrounding him. Schumacher reconnects with Kiefer Sutherland and Colin Farrell to create a tense thriller with twists and turns aplenty. This is a morality tale that puts a trapped Farrell front and centre and allows him to make or break the full film. He’s caught between a physical threat and an internal threat of exposing himself as the cocky morally bereft cheater that he is. Phone Booth is a riveting thriller that is well worth its short run time.
Schumacher lived an intense life and brought passion and his own sense of fun to all of his projects, whether the world loved or hated them in the end. He was creative and loved by many of the stars that he helped rise up the ladder. His openness about his sexuality gave other confidence in an industry that often calls for people to pretend to be something they are not. Schumacher knew his role as a director and the burden of being the name above a movie, saying “If you love a movie, there are hundreds of people who made it lovable for you. If you don’t like it, blame the director. That’s what our name’s there for.”
Thank you, Joel Schumacher.