With the passing of filmmaker Joel Schumacher, there has come an accounting of his body of work, both recent and, perhaps more importantly, longer ago. There’s no doubt that his entries in the Batman film series loom largest at first blush. And their excoriation feels current because it never stopped.
But when the conversation starts there, and has as much gas as the conversation people feel moved to have some thirty years after an artist’s peak years, it quickly ventures into much more interesting ground, and few filmmakers have dark, disused corners to their filmography quite like Joel Schumacher does.
He was a director of emphatic and eclectic tastes, careening wildly from horror to legal thrillers to the campiest of superhero movies and back again, never quite getting stuck enough in one spot that he couldn’t ease his way back into or out of cinematic respectability. Don’t forget these movies.
In the most 80’s stretch of the 80’s, Joel Schumacher corralled the bulk of the Brat Pack at their young peak for St. Elmo’s Fire, one of the more notable dramas of the era to handle the trials and tribulations of young adults with some kind of respect.
Powered by most of the Breakfast Club plus Rob Low, Demi Moore and Andy MacDowell, the poignant film accumulated over $37 million on a budget of $10 – an enormous success by any measure in a genre that for all intents and purposes no longer exists in cinema and which garnered a Grammy nomination for its score to boot, which presaged Schumacher’s routine excellence on the musical side of the business. The film’s success, however, was belied by its middling to poor reviews, which similarly was a hallmark of Schumacher’s work.
Two years later, Schumacher had eschewed drama and found his way to horror, but retained the milieu of youthful social circles, turning out an all-time classic in the vampire subgenre. The film boasted not only an effectively scary atmosphere and effects, but memorable performances from Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric, Coreys Feldman and Haim and a whole slew of other newcomers, not to mention acclaimed older performers like Dianne Wiest and Edward Herrman.
Like St. Elmo’s Fire, it was a smash hit at the box office, making more than $32 million dollars on a relatively modest budget of $8.5 million, but unlike the earlier film, The Lost Boys came in for uniformly positive reviews, and remains influential to this day for its emphasis on youth in a type of film that had historically highlighted older actors.
A year after the die had begun to be cast with the release of Batman Forever on how Schumacher’s career was to be defined, he went right back to classier fare with the adaptation of John Grisham’s A Time To Kill. Though flawed in multiple notable ways, It was a blockbuster hit with widely positive reviews, and highlighted Schumacher’s skill with adult drama and thrills that had not diminished with the later Phone Booth.
From there, one could look to Falling Down, Flatliners, cult favorite Vietnam film Tigerland, even to his early writing work that included The Wiz. And one might, while we’re at it, revisit the purity of vision and the undeniable fun of his Batman films without expecting them to be as dark, gritty and serious as real life has so rapidly become.