"If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear!" ― Mary Shelley
For some, the love of horror was inspired by its unforgettable kiss (once bitten, forever smitten). Or perhaps you were seduced by the allure of something more taboo ― an inexplicable feeling that you shouldn't be here; the awakening, a transformation ― maybe even the touch of a dark embrace. Sex ― the forbidden fruit laid bare ― is all part of this twisted fantasy, but there is a longing for romance (at least once a year, right?), in which it is often drenched in blood. Bleeding hearts are replaced with jet-black humor, longing, relatable pains, eroticism, and dangerous desires. Here, "love is a monster." So, hold hands as Cupid dips a poison arrow and aims for anywhere but the heart… you'll be horrified from the start. Crack open those chocolates, you sadists. Love 'n lacerations to all.
1. Only Lovers Left Alive
Although a similarly quiet approach can be seen in Ana Lily Amirpour's A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, nobody lingers so much on the mundane as Jim Jarmusch; it is a refreshing approach to horror. A true auteur, if anyone was to capture (perfectly) a deliberate slow drive of death standing, then Jarmusch's idiosyncrasies paint the ultimate immortal reminder of how being a vampire is more a blessing than a curse. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are immediately iconic as Adam and Eve; hardly the first of creation, but certainly lacking a thirst for recreation as they procrastinate, savoring moments so easily ignored by us mere mortals. Not since Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark have vampires looked so cool.
2. Bram Stoker's Dracula
It would be a sacrilege not to place a version of one of the true original Gothic horrors on the list. Francis Ford Coppola's lavish adaptation of Stoker's classic 1897 novel isn't perfect by any means, but what it lacks, it more than makes up for it with Michael Ballhaus' ripe cinematography and Thomas E. Sanders' rich production design. This is a romantic's wet dream wrapped in a Gothic nightmare, and it is a testament to the power of cinema that such an intricate production heightens the romance at the story's center. Two actors at the height of their career elevate this rendition of the text even further in the shape(s) of Gary Oldman ― losing himself completely in Dracula's transformations ― playing in complete contrast to Anthony Hopkins' world-weary Abraham Van Helsing.
3. A Chinese Ghost Story
Forced to spend the night in a haunted temple, a humble tax collector, Ling Choi-san ― played by the enigmatic (and much missed) Leslie Cheung ― is visited by a mysterious and alluring woman by the name of Nip Siu-sin (Joey Wong), who he immediately falls in love with. However, Choi-san discovers that Siu-sin is a ghost who lures travelers towards a more ominous threat in the shape of a 1000-year-old Tree Demoness that consumes her victims. Produced by Tsui Hark, director Ching Siu-tung provides a haunting atmosphere and lavish set pieces, a perfect backdrop for wire-fu action as strange apparitions leap and bounce from wall to wall. The film retains a genuinely effective romantic horror comedy vibe even with all of this action.
4. Cat People
In the 1930s, Gothic sensibilities we often associate with horror and romance tended to take second fiddle to effects and atmosphere. Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Mary Shelley's seminal literature defined Hollywood's monsters during this period. Any semblance of romance reanimated and stitched together, such as in the monstrous marriage in Bride of Frankenstein. Val Lewton changed all of that with Cat People in 1942, with director Jacques Tourneur crafting a truly modern romance that explored everything from female anxiety, the trappings of relationships, and coded queerness that have helped the film retain its wider appeal. These more subtle and metaphorical slants on horror ― outsiders and the "monstrous other" ― can still be seen today in other 21st-century horrors caught in their "bad romances"; from Lucky McKee's May to the superb Norwegian horror Thelma… that just missed this Fango Cupid cut.
5. Daughters of Darkness
Romance is but a subplot in this kinky cult classic. Wrapped in Gothic psychological undertones and draped in art-house eroticism, Harry Kümel's film is not to be dismissed; its feminism, queerness, and traditionalist approach to filmmaking and narrative are of the highest caliber. Daughters of Darkness refuses to be labeled, it is a work of art as elusive as its central antagonist, Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory (Delphine Seyrig). Residing in a Belgian seaside hotel, accompanied by her (seemingly) timid aid, Ilona, Báthory preys on newlyweds Valerie and Stefan. As the tension mounts, the pervasive nature of the plot begins to reveal itself through the fatal consequences one would expect from a vampire movie. The film's artistic influences can certainly be seen in Tony Scott's feature debut, The Hunger ― which could easily take this slot ― along with Park Chan-wook's Thirst.
If we were talking "Top 10 Divorce Horror", then Polish director Andrzej Żuławski's cathartic masterpiece would surely be "numer jeden." For the most part, Possession is a film that completely detaches itself from anything romantic ― the same could be said of Takashi Miike's unforgettable Audition ― and more an exploration of what remains of a relationship… if anything at all. In terms of its genre hybrid approach ― drama, Lovecraftian nightmare… espionage thriller?! This only adds to the fragmented mindset of Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill's fractured couple Helen and Mark, as they struggle to exist in each other's company. Their deterioration is displayed through both relatable anxieties and a raw and inexplicable terror, and it is only in the final moments that their (lost) romance and belonging arrive too late. Having recently created some noise via Shudder, this unforgettable maelstrom of cult cinema heralds one of the most disturbing horror scenes of all time. This overall mood and madness are only ever hinted at in Heather McIntosh's perfect companion piece, Honeymoon. Check out Post-POSSESSION: Andrzej Zulawski's SZAMANKA at Twenty-Five.
Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson have retained a unique voice in horror ever since their debut, Resolution, in 2012. Their second feature is one of the best examples of this crossover of genres, mainly because of its clarity and focus on character; how the horror is a peripheral part of the plot that surrounds an individual's situation. We can refer to the Lovecraftian elements as much as we like ― it's coincidental ― but out of all the examples on this list, this is a film that is primarily a romance, presenting an endearing relationship (first and foremost) that feels closer in tone to Richard Linklater's Before trilogy than it does the trappings and conventions of a horror movie. Moorhead and Benson are thoughtful and intricate filmmakers, Spring is as much about escaping the plague of illness and death as it is about embracing love. Therefore, these human conditions seem inseparable; in this instance, a man's grief and guilt manifest once again as something monstrous, he cannot help but fall in love with.
8. Nina Forever
Okay, so Shaun of the Dead doesn't quite make this spot for zom-rom-com (bite me), but the Blaine brothers' necromantic love triangle deserves to be in the top three for many reasons, if only for further (and much-deserved) recognition. Balancing its dark and twisted narrative with the blackest of British humor, this is a deeply moving (often overlooked) film that manages to explore trauma via a beautiful bloody canvas ― mainly the bed sheets. No "warm bodies" under these covers, I'm afraid, just cold and broken ones unable to move on from the wreckage. Despite its heavy subject matter, Nina Forever remains cathartic, poetic, quirky, and sexy in the kinkiest and most twisted fashion. Turned on and off in equal measure, this visceral experience manages to push the mixed tones of romance, comedy, and horror to its absolute limits as a budding romance (or rebound?) descends into a haunting ménage à trois. Grab yourself a pomegranate, this is a "fucked up fairy tale," if ever there was one.
9. An American Werewolf In London
Landis' lycanthropic tale may be considered a horror/comedy primarily, but let us not forget the beautiful (and tragic) relationships on display that make the film all the more memorable. Of course, there's Jack Goodman and David Kessler's bromantic tour of Europe cut short on the Yorkshire Moors, but it is the brief love story between David and Alex Price that helps ground our cursed protagonist further. This fleeting relationship between the two only emphasizes the cultural divides between an American Jewish tourist and the English nurse with whom he finds shelter and solace. Jenny Agutter, in particular, mesmerizes the audience; her force-feeding and reading of Mark Twain a (subtly) seductive foreplay to the needle drop shower scene. An American Werewolf in London effortlessly navigates (and reinvents) genre filmmaking, shocking while also making us howl with laughter. Agutter carries the ending with an incredible sense of anguish, Alex's love for David is not quite powerful enough for her to break his curse.
10. The Fly
From one tragedy to the next, Cronenberg's classic delivers another harrowing sucker punch of an end. This modern horror is untethered from lore, reinventing both the monster and the love story for a new age. As a romantic horror, this reimagining of George Langelaan's Playboy short story from 1957 remains the definitive example of where love, life, and death (literally) merge. Aside from the glorious gore on display ― surrounded by body horror and baboons ― there is certainly no escaping the chemistry between real-life couple Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis that lends genuine heart and humanity to this masterpiece. Although certainly not as surreal as his recent return to the genre, Cronenberg's more commercial effort carries the DNA of Shelley's Frankenstein, presenting deep-rooted Promethean fears without feeling weighed down by the questions it raises. The Fly doesn't bite, it vomits, and while it also buzzes with subtext, it equally transports and inevitably disintegrates us all by the end with a final shotgun to the face.