Terrifying Love: Ken’s Ten Recs for a Horror-Filled Valentine’s
Valentine’s Day is almost here, dear readers, and as we all know, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of having someone’s heart in your hands… at least until it stops beating. But when roses, chocolates and wine fail to satisfy that special gorehound in your life, what’s a horror fan to do? Lucky for you, Fango wants to help make your Valentine’s a bloody perfect one, so cozy up to your demented darling, queue up these romantic fright films and re-animate your love life!
Even though I know there are many audible and disheartened horror fans out there, it’s hard to argue that love isn’t a great focus for the genre. After all, isn’t there so much about love that’s terrifying? The fear of loneliness and abandonment? The moments of obsession and paranoia? Even the predatory aspects of our own lustful desires?
Face it: love and horror are meant to be together. Of course, any story can be elevated through a significant and well-written romance, but horror offers a unique take on love, one where psychological stakes are much higher than that of life or death. Considering we each have different definitions of love, I tried to comprise my list of horror films that I felt portrayed love in all of its variety and, of course, resonated with this writer. So without further adieu, read on and discover a tender terror for your bloody valentine…
Honorable Mention: BUG (2006, dir. William Friedkin)
While not necessarily my favorite collaboration between William Friedkin and playwright Tracy Letts, BUG is a disturbing, disgusting and thematically chaotic descent into mad romance unlike anything the world had really seen before. As a romance sparked by two emotionally traumatized people the movie ends up in unimaginable, self-destructive horror, rooted in insane conspiracy theories and a need to make physical their inner mental pain. In some ways, these two psychopaths have become so alienated from the rest of society that their passion is somewhat beautiful and poetic. If they’re going to Hell, at least they’re not going alone.
10. THE SIGNAL (2007, dir. David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry, Dan Bush)
Although unconventional, the romance portrayed in this independent chiller proves to be the unintentional catalyst for survival during a haywire apocalypse. It’s hard enough for a film to portray a realistic relationship, let alone one that appears genuine in the face of sporadic, brutal violence. Furthermore, the unlikely antagonist of the film is the lover’s scorned husband, played by AJ Bowen in his breakout performance. Despite the scatterbrained nature of the film drawing away from the main story, THE SIGNAL is still a legitimately touching horror flick, and far more hopeful than most jaded horror movie romances.
9. WAXWORK 2: LOST IN TIME (1992, dir. Anthony Hickox)
The first WAXWORK film may have towed the line in terms of its varied horror influences, but the insanity factor is turned up to full volume for the adventure-inspired sequel. Devoting its storyline to the romance of the first film’s survivors, there’s a certain investment made to developing the relationship between Mike (Zach Galligan) and Sarah (Monkia Schnarre) and, in turn, creating a greater audience investment over the pick-’em-off goodness of WAXWORK. It may be campy and rough around the edges, but I’d like to see a single horror movie that has the rogue romantic sensibilities of ROMANCING THE STONE encapsulated better than WAXWORK 2: LOST IN TIME.
8. A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE (2010, dir. Adam Wingard)
Who could have imagined the aesthetics of mumblecore romance blending so well with the conventions of the serial killer subgenre? A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE shows one of the most sincere and realistic relationships in horror, offering a sweet, charming side to its lead psychopath. And while the story is one of recovery and overcoming terror, the film’s climax even attests to the pure nature of the initial romance, which holds a level of narrative responsibility not often seen in our beloved kill-crazy genre.
7. THE LAST CIRCUS (2010, dir. Álex de la Iglesia)
One of the most genuinely screwed-up love stories in horror, THE LAST CIRCUS is a disturbing film about two clowns in a Spanish circus and the masochistic woman who gets between them. Violent and darkly hysterical, THE LAST CIRCUS features more than enough mutilation and psychological torment to satisfy genre fans while also attempting to bring you an untraditional love story. It’s not very complimenting in its depiction of romance, but the love that drives Javier (Carlos Areces) to insanity is romantic in its own twisted, reprehensible way.
6. NEAR DARK (1987, dir. Kathryn Bigelow)
Young love and vampiric metaphors go together like butter and toast, and yet there are few vampire films that feel as quite mesmerizing as Kathryn Bigelow’s NEAR DARK. A tale of young lovers’ passion with grave consequences, Bigelow’s vampire western has that supernatural romance to anchor even the bloodiest of sequences, which are bolstered by a pair of fantastic performances from Adrian Pasdar and Jenny Wright. And even though everyone can appreciate the vast array of bloodletting and mutilation, it’s the couples in the audience who will truly celebrate NEAR DARK’s bright ending.
5. SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004, dir. Edgar Wright)
One of the most universally beloved romantic horror comedies, SHAUN OF THE DEAD has stood the test of time for a reason. Not only is the film really funny, but it’s also extremely genuine in its character relationships, with a childlike sense of mischief to its horror elements. A crossover breakthrough in every regard, the story’s central romance between Shaun (Simon Pegg) and Liz (Kate Ashfield) is complicated, often times verging on ending, but the chemistry between the two is very apparent. It’s not a conventional tearjerker or even a conventional zombie flick, by that measure, but it’s a hilarious and loving look at a flawed relationship against apocalyptic odds.
4. DEAD RINGERS (1988, dir. David Cronenberg)
There are few directors who have mastered the art of the dark romance as well as David Cronenberg. And while films such as THE FLY and VIDEODROME have shown the many grim faces of romance, there’s no entry in his filmography that encapsulates it with realistic elements of obsession and despair as well as DEAD RINGERS. A psychological horror that is incredibly effective and, in equal measures, depressing, it’s unrequited love that takes hold of the narrative and refuses to let go, much like the characters themselves. It may not be the most hopeful of love stories, but it’s a perfect romantic horror film for the cynical fright fan.
3. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981, dir. John Landis)
Between this film and his other major horror feature, INNOCENT BLOOD, John Landis has strived to focus on romance for the central conflict of his tales of terror. However, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON is much more poignant and touching in its romance, slowly driven apart by the horrors of lycanthropy. David (David Naughton) and Alex’s (Jenny Agutter) young lust may have begun their relationship, but by the end of the heartbreaking climax, the fictional romance carries a heavy, authentic emotional weight, which is a rare feat for films this horrifying.
2. DEAD ALIVE (1991, dir. Peter Jackson)
Cartoonish slapstick, kung fu priests and maternal zombie horror may be what most remember of Peter Jackson’s DEAD ALIVE (aka BRAINDEAD), but don’t forget that at its heart, DEAD ALIVE is a love story. The innocent attraction between Lionel (Timothy Balme) and Paquita (Diana Peñalver) is nothing short of charming, and the lengths that Lionel goes to defend Paquita, whether it be against hordes of the undead or his own reanimated rat-mother, is even more endearing. It’s possibly the most gleaming romance on this list, making DEAD ALIVE most suitable for star-crossed fright fans.
1. THIRST (2009, dir. Park Chan-wook)
Perhaps the definitive mix of love and horror, the element of danger that seeps through THIRST is a damn-near perfect reflection of new love. While the taboo ferocity of adapting to vampirism opens the eyes of Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho) and Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin), the recklessness of their love is what truly drives them. Each becomes slaves to their habits and their emotions, yet still, scenes of their exhilarating, power-enhanced courtship are just as affecting as the scenes of their raw sexuality. It’s a naked and powerful film with multidimensional and bloodthirsty vampires ultimately consumed by the power of love and its many forms, whether it be in the way of deception, loneliness or even murder.