When it comes to epic romances that tug at your heartstrings and bring a tear to your eye, horror films don’t normally come to mind. Of course, true horror fans know that the genre can encapsulate a wide array of emotions and themes. Trying to pigeonhole horror into a tiny little box of blood and guts is not only reductive, but it’s disrespectful to the long heritage of filmmakers who have managed to use the genre as a platform for a multitude of stories representing various life experiences. Furthermore, fear is often derived from the sense of loneliness or solitude. To exploit such emotion it can become necessary to build dichotomy into the story. Those opposing forces can often be represented by love and whatever evil seeks to destroy it.
With that in mind and with “love day” just a blink of the eye away, I decided to round up 10 of the most romantic horror flicks to help set the Valentine’s Day mood. Perhaps, not so surprisingly given the preamble above, it was difficult to narrow the list down to only ten! The films follow in no particular order.
Nightbreed: Director’s Cut (1990)
Clive Barker’s classic “who’s the real monster” tale of a clan of Nightbreed eking out an existence below a crumbling graveyard, only to have to fight for survival once they’re discovered by humans- was butchered by the studio upon its initial theatrical release. Thankfully, a rabid fanbase with the assistance of Scream Factory managed to rescue a large portion of Barker’s original vision. At the heart of the story is Boone, a tormented young man drawn to the Nightbreed, and his lover, Lori. She’s drawn to Boone, wherever he may go. While their romance exists in the theatrical cut, it’s the Director’s Cut that truely places their romance front and center. The newly revived climactic scene is enough to pull a few tears from the eyes of the hopeless romantic in us all.
Let the Right One In (2008)
At its heart, Let the Right One In is a beautiful tale of young love withstanding the odds in order to build a bond stronger than the world could ever possibly tear away. However, at the core of the beating heart are some icky, perma-slave, quasi-pedo elements. But, let’s not dwell on that, shall we? The most heart melting moments throughout the film are those involving the duo’s communication via morse code through their thin, adjoining apartment walls. Naturally, that talent also comes in handy for a vampire who has to stay cooped up inside of a wooden box during the daytime. Knock. Knock. Many prefer the American remake, Let Me In, but personally, this Swedish original is where it’s at. Nonetheless, either version will make perfect viewing if you’ve been struck by cupid’s arrow.
Cemetery Man (1994)
From the “I wish you were still making movies” director Michele Soavi (Stagefright, The Sect) comes an ambitious, sometimes hallucinatory vehicle for star Rupert Everett, Cemetery Man (aka Dellamorte Dellamore). Loosely based off the comic Dylan Dog, Everett plays bumbling groundskeeper Francesco Dellamorte at a cemetery where the dead continuously rise from the grave. As the last bastion between the living and the dead, he manages to keep things mostly under control until he falls for a beautiful widow, who despite certain unfortunate events seems to keep reincarnating herself in Dellamorte’s eyes. Cemetery Man is deeply loved by almost all who’ve had the chance to see it. Unfortunately, it seems to be still criminally underseen. So, if you and your loved one want to stay in this Valentine’s and avoid the crowds, this lovely gem comes with one of my highest recommendations.
The Whip and the Body (1963)
Another Italian entry on the list is from the godfather of Italian horror, Mario Bava. The Whip and the Body is the only true gothic horror film on a list that could potentially be made up of only gothic horrors. Upon its release here in the states, the film was heavily edited due to sadomasochistic themes running throughout. Thankfully, it exists now in its uncut glory. Christopher Lee as a sadistic ghost with a whip? Yes, sir, may I have another? While fairly tame by today’s standards, Whip maintains that beautiful Bava style, haunting gothic atmosphere, and enough kink to satisfy those more adventurous couples out there.
The Fly (1986)
One of the most disgusting films on the list also happens to be one of the most traditionally accepted as a romantic horror film, 1986’s The Fly. How’s that for dichotomy? It’s likely due to the powerhouse name of director David Cronenberg and then-peak performances from Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum. While the love between Brundlefly and Veronica might turn your stomach, if you’re in the mood for a double feature, you could do worse than following this up with The Fly II. Sure, Daphne Zuniga and Eric Stoltz are no Davis and Goldblum, but it’s a charming enough sequel directed by the former’s special effects artist, Chris Walas. So, you know it’s just as gooey as the romance at its center.
Fans of Richard Linklater’s The Before Trilogy need take notice of this similarly-vibed tale from Resolution duo, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. In Spring, Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci of the Evil Dead remake) travels to Italy after the loss of his mother. Aimless and seeking adventure, he meets the mysterious Louise (Nadia Hilker) who refuses to give him the time of day at first. What follows is “hangout” flick bolstered by gorgeous scenery and strong performances. Of course, this is on a horror list, and Louise’s relationship threatening secret is bigger than your typical romantic drama. No, she doesn’t have a fiance. And, no, she didn’t start dating him just to win a bet. True love can always overcome a few skeletons (or monsters) in the closet.
Bride of Chucky (1998)
Don Mancini, the mastermind behind the entire Child’s Play franchise, has never been afraid of reinvention. In the late 90s, horror was making a huge comeback and the studios were dusting off their catalog of 80’s horror icons. Mancini knew he would need to breathe new life into the franchise in order to keep Chucky relevant in the post-Scream era. Ultimately, the direction he went with Bride of Chucky proved polarizing to some fans. This fan, however, was all in for the story of Chucky and his bride to be, Tiffany. Bride sees the Bonnie and Clyde of the rubber doll set on the run along with a pair of forbidden lovers who just may end up unknowingly taking the fall for the murderous Good Guys in their presence. Bride has its tongue firmly-in-cheek and the doll on doll sex scene proved there’s nowhere a Chucky film was afraid to go.
Psychos in Love (1987)
Psychos in Love was touted as “Too Gory for the Silver Screen” and promoted as the first film made for the video market. That fact is still up for debate, but whatever the film’s origins, Psychos is a zany delight. The epitome of independent cinema, shot entirely on weekends with short ends, the story chronicles the relationship of two murderous nutjobs who find love and struggle to keep the spark going despite the numerous difficulties of serial murder. This one is for those couples who’ve been together for years and need to spice things up a bit.
Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993)
After the perceived failure of Return of the Living Dead 2, the rights changed hands. The vastly underrated Brian Yuzna (Bride of Reanimator, Society) along with writer John Penney (The Kindred) were brought in to find a new direction for the series. The decision was made to drop the comedy angle of the previous films and focus on a tale of starstruck young lovers. Return of the Living Dead 3 is one of a million modern riffs on Romeo & Juliet, but it’s elevated by amazing makeup effects work from a conglomeration of SFX houses. There’s also the go for broke performance from Melinda Clarke as the Trioxin infected Julie(t) who resorts to self-harm to alleviate the pain of being dead. There are a number of zombie love stories out there, but ROTLD3 is simply one of the best.
Beyond the Darkness (1979)
This recommendation is for the genuine sickos out there. Beyond the Darkness is one of the full-tilt nastiest flicks from Italian sleaze provocateur Joe D’Amato. Frank is a taxidermist who toils away in his dingy lab preserving animals and shares a deeply uncomfortable connection with his housekeeper from childhood, Iris. He’s also madly in love with his fiance, Anna. Unfortunately, the breastfeeding time that Iris shares with Frank just isn’t enough, and she turns to voodoo to erase Anna from the picture. Let’s just say, Frank doesn’t let a little thing like death get in the way of him and his beloved. He is a taxidermist after all.