“Do you believe in destiny? That even the powers of time can be altered for a single purpose? That the luckiest man who walks on this earth is the one who finds… true love?” – Count Dracula (Bram Stoker’s Dracula 1992)
There was a time in horror when romance was an integral part of the story, where love and the actions that characters would take for it were what moved the plot forward. Films such as the aforementioned Bram Stoker’s Dracula spring to mind as do many of the classical Universal monster films, Cronenberg’s The Fly, Carpenter’s Big Trouble In Little China, and countless more.
With tomorrow being Valentine’s Day, I thought that I would share my thoughts on the topic of romance in horror and why it seems to have faded.
If we look at some of the great horror films for examples, we can see that many of them used romance as the foundation for the story.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula – The moment that Count Dracula sees the picture of Mina that Jonathan Harker carries with him, she becomes his ultimate mission. She is a physical copy of his beloved Elisabeta, his wife who committed suicide after false reports said that he had died in battle. Everything from this point on in the film centers on his belief that she is the reincarnation of his wife.
The Fly – What begins as a story of a journalist shadowing a scientist on what might be the most important invention of modern science turns into the story of two people falling in love. However, as with most films of this nature, something gets in the way and it just so happens to be the fact that Dr. Seth Brundle is turning into a giant fly. Still, throughout the entire transformation as his body literally falls apart and mutates, one things remains unchanged: his love for Veronica Quaife. And in the end as he lays on the ground, an aberration of nature, it is by her hand that he begs for release. Weeping, she grants him his final wish.
Big Trouble In Little China – I can already hear many of you scoffing and picking at this selection. Is it horror? Is it a love story? Let me clear the air by saying that this IS a horror film just as it is a comedy, action, romance, martial arts, fantasy film that is easily one of my favorite films of all time.
But coming at this from the prospective of horror and romance, let’s take into account the depths that both Jack Burton and Wang Chi for their personal romantic interests. Chi, from the beginning of the film, is infatuated with Miao Yin, the woman for whom he has saved every penny for years. Her being kidnapped in front of Chi and Burton is the impetus for the story. Chi’s only mission now is to do whatever it takes to get back Yin, even if it means going through the Hell Of The Upside Down Sinners, facing The Three Storms, and even entering the lair of Lo Pan.
Meanwhile, Burton has TWO love interests in this film: his truck (which is stolen by Wing Kong) and Gracie Law. In the end, the truck wins over Law, but Burton sure does have to go through a hell of a lot to get both of them. But as Jack Burton always says, “It’s all in the reflexes.”
And let’s not forget about the fantastic Shaun Of The Dead, the romantic comedy with zombies in it. The entire purpose of this movie is to show a “Guy who will do anything to show his love for the woman of his dreams,” and it just so happens to be during a zombie apocalypse.
What these movies have is a protagonist (or multiple protagonists) who makes it very clear that love will drive them to do anything, which is honestly somewhat terrifying if you think about it. Throughout literature, cinema, and even history, people have done insane things for love.
But somewhere along the lines, horror lost the element of romance. Instead, vengeance, family, or self-preservation became the focus. If we look at some of the most popular films of the past several years, we see that romance is not what drives the film.
For example, Scream is about a boy whose family disintegrated because of his father’s indiscretions. His vengeance upon Sydney and her family result from his own pain. Saw is about a man frustrated that people do not appreciate the value of the life they have. Cabin In The Woods is simply about saving the human race at the cost of a few souls.
Now, I’m not saying that the mixture of horror and romance isn’t a big box office draw. Just look at the Twilight saga or Warm Bodies, the former of which has drawn in over $3.3 billion dollars in worldwide box office while the latter surprised the industry by coming in number one on opening weekend with $19.5 million.
There is obviously a connection between the ideas of romance and horror but I would be completely wrong if I were to say that the audiences were the same. After all, the standard Twilight fan wouldn’t know the original A Nightmare On Elm St. if Freddy came into their dream and slaughtered them mercilessly.
I can’t say what it was that made love and romance in a horror film so repugnant and vile. Was it simply a fad, much like many of the other fads that horror goes through (such as the current found footage craze we’re in or the “torture porn” era)? Or is it something else, something deeper? Have our ideas of romance changed so dramatically in the 100 years of popular storytelling that film has given us?
If so, that’s a damn shame. Because just like how a person would do anything to save their family (such as in The Hills Have Eyes), the things a person would do for love are just as intense and visceral. After all, remember High Tension?