FANTASTICA Presents: The Bad Romances of HorrorFearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
With our inaugural issue of FANTASTICA hitting exclusively in our upcoming Valentine’s Box, we over here at FANGORIA would like to give you fright fans a taste of what to expect. And with Valentine’s Day itself creeping around the corner, it’s only appropriate for our focus to turn to the more romantic aspects of the horror genre. However, as fright films will frequently remind us, love hurts (and mutilates and maims and kills), and so our first FANTASTICA PRESENTS will cover the baddest, bloodiest types of horror romances…
THE OBLIVIOUS LOVER
Perhaps one of the most frustrating element of any horror movie that involves romance, the oblivious lover is a particularly bad partner in that they’re either completely unaware or in denial of their relationship’s most terrifying aspects. In more extreme cases, the oblivious lover essentially accepts their helplessness in the face of the supernatural, or turns their head when faced head-on with the horrific. Of course, the most extreme case of this comes from boyfriend Jerry Anderson in THE ENTITY, who even comes under assault from spectral rapists and even still remains skeptical of his situation.
In other cases, the oblivious lover is one who ignores multiple warning signs, often out of convenience to the screenwriter, and eventually winds up in their lover’s murderous gaze. After all, small red flags are one thing in a relationship, but sometimes the entire relationship is wrapped in a giant red flag. While this kind of relationship is quite common for the horror genre, a good contemporary example would be in MANIAC (2013); after all, even the most eccentric, open-minded woman in the world might figure out the creepy, rail-thin guy who runs the mannequin store might have a screw loose.
Another type of oblivious lover is the one that turns a blind eye to killer baggage, which is basically guaranteed to come back to bite them. This writer isn’t talking about the likes of STOKER or THE STEPFATHER, where even the creepiest behavior can be hidden behind charm or looks. Moreover, this kind of oblivious lover is closer to the likes of Sharon from BASKET CASE; while attraction is one thing, not realizing that the guy carrying around a giant basket who shows up coincidentally on the day of your boss’ murder is an entirely different thing altogether.
THE DEAD HORSES
This is one that we all might empathize with a bit, and one that is surprisingly sparse throughout the genre: the lovers who don’t realize how dead their relationship actually is. Luckily for gorehounds, these lovers often times join their relationships in the grave shortly after, but these desperate or obsessed spouses do make for exceptional genre fodder. In fact, it’s the desperate need to preserve a relationship that fuels the likes of Ben Wheatley’s SIGHTSEERS, which appropriately ends alongside its own hopelessly romantic ideals.
In other situations, it’s these dead horses that fuel the dynamic of the horror film, even if they don’t fare well for the couples themselves. Both THE STRANGERS and VACANCY covered couples who found themselves as prey to masked predators, but only after being on the brink of total relationship annihilation. Obviously, in the real world, these situations might play out a little differently then the “victimization brings us closer” angle of those films, but that angle does make for a more intense tale of terror.
Lastly, the dead horse themselves can also pose a threat to their relationship, even in the face of an even bigger threat. A good example of this type of dead horse character would be Lewis in 2007’s THE SIGNAL, whose abusive, controlling tendencies over his flatlining relationship throw our protagonists into the world-gone-mad. Of course, obsession is no stranger to the horror genre; it’s just more horrific when love is involved.
THE LOVE DRUGS
It’s probably the least original metaphor in history, but people have compared love and drugs for as long as this writer can remember. And it’s that addiction to love that these hellbound romances find their greatest flaws, giving way to some seriously demented relationship dynamics. For fans of art house horror, there’s no love drug relationship as flat-out frightening as the one at the center of POSSESSION. Mark is the definition of addicted in the film, and its that addiction that changes his reality and lures him into indescribable evil, which comes in the form of the woman he can’t forget.
Of course, the love drug relationship doesn’t necessarily have to be established over the long term either. In fact, some times, a single sensual indulgence is all in takes to fall into a psychosexual nightmare. Take, for instance, Takashi Miike’s AUDITION, in which the love drug dynamic has startling and irreparable repercussions for its protagonist. And like most drugs, all the warning signs are right in front of the lovers face, but they’re willing to make the plunge for the emotional high.
However, sometimes the love drug dynamic goes into horror territory because of how mutually beneficial- and self-destructive- said relationship can be. The contemporary kings of this dynamic are William Friedkin and Tracy Letts, whose collaborations dig into the darkest and most disturbing regions of modern love. While BUG is a much more isolated version, KILLER JOE is really where the love drug dynamic gets really horrific; the lengths that the titular character goes to ensure his love is as brutal as it is frighteningly endearing.
THE MUSICAL CHAIR
There’s few things as tormenting as a love triangle, and the horror world certainly knows it. And while delusion, deception and degradation are some of the many things that come from starry-eyed trysts in reality, they’re merely the ground floor for frightening fiction. Sometimes, these perpetually-changing relationship woes are played up for both scares and laughs, as one can see in DEATH BECOMES HER. In that example, the horror of the situation, which includes various forms of mutilation and murder, actually comes secondary to the twisty and absurd relationship on display.
However, perhaps the most classic example of the musical chair relationship in horror comes from the master of horrific cinematic love, David Cronenberg, in THE FLY. THE FLY has always been known as one of the strongest and most empathetic love stories in horror history, and that’s pretty much undeniable considering the on-screen chemistry of Davis and Goldblum. What is arguable, however, is just how two-sided that relationship is; while the relationship between Stathis and Veronica is all but over towards the beginning of the film, it certainly becomes visible once Brundle is off the reservation.
Yet sometimes, the musical chair dynamic is one that’s questionable from the start, and yet adds a whole new dimension to the subtext of the film. In the case of a film like James Gunn’s SLITHER, the relationship between Starla and Grant is one that is suspect from the beginning, which means that her burgeoning attraction Bill Pardy all the more curious. In fact, it’s Grant’s perpetual suspicion and territorial jealousy that lends itself to his monstrous nature, which makes the climactic battle all the more curious.
THE LONG CON
The last, and probably the most aggravating to rational horror fans. is the relationship this writer identifies as “the long con.” It’s a plot device that’s all too familiar, in which one member of a relationship has been planning a months-to-years long scheme to enact something particularly horrifying. However, in the horror genre, it’s often for a heightened or ridiculous reason, and is the mark of a truly villainous caricature rather than a believable character. After all, who would believe the son of the killer from I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER would do something as over-the-top and time-consuming as sabotaging and entering a relationship with Julie in I STILL KNOW?
Out of all the horror romance “long cons,” the most believable of the bunch would likely be that of Guy Woodhouse in ROSEMARY’S BABY, whose deal with the devil would require at least 9 months of deception and then an indeterminable amount of lying and falsities? Even as a generally shitty thing to do, a plan of that magnitude would require so much elaborate lying that it’d nearly be impossible to execute, especially considering the baby is being at least partially raised in the same building. And even if the Satanists are the master manipulators in ROSEMARY’S BABY, Guy is clearly the weak link of the bunch.
However, just because it’s implausible doesn’t mean it’s not effective, or even heartbreaking. The most effective, and all in all horrific, example of “the long con” would be the relationship in the third segment of TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE. For those who have never seen the film, the twist is too big to risk spoiling here, but it’s possibly the most devastating break-up in horror history, and one that feels not only earned by its supernatural base but is also executed wonderfully. It’s the worst case scenario of horror romances, and it’s one that will rip more than just a fictional heart out.
To pick up FANTASTICA #1, you can get the FANGORIA Valentine Box while supplies last here.