In honour of the February holiday that dare not speak its name, the Anatomy of a Scream squad got together to chat about our favourite horror “love” stories. Here’s a selection of the doomed affairs, the killer lovers, the twisted one-sided relationships and the heartache / heart breaks that drive us wild with passion!
Spoilers for several films follow
Divorce rates were at an all time high in the 1980s and Sam Neill’s character in the 1981 gross-out horror, Possession, appears to be just another drop in that bucket when he comes home from a business trip to a cheating, flighty wife. Viewers of Possession, however, are in for a ride with more obsessive love and bodily fluids than they could’ve ever imagined.
Bathed in a blue colour palette, Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession has the beauty and sophistication of an Oscar-worthy drama. In fact, one of the film’s most interesting aspects is the recognizable drama narratives woven into Possession’s canvas. There is a young attractive couple, Mark (Neill) and Anna (Isabelle Adjani), who live in a nice, metropolitan apartment with their young son, Bob. Mark and Anna face common marital woes — unfulfillment in the bedroom, infidelity, and emotional distance. However, Żuławski takes this crisp, white, yuppie canvas and splatters it with a thick layer of “what the fuck?!”. Possession has it all — doppelgangers, sex, monsters, aliens, religion, blood, ballet flashbacks, and a whole lot of vomit.
So get your Valentine date in the mood by reminding them of all the marital woes you have to look forward to. Make their heart feel warm and fuzzy by watching Mark’s sharp mental decline as he struggles to follow his wife’s every move. Treat their eyes to Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani’s amazing performances, both of whom are attractive and talented enough to please all sexualities.
Directed by Anna Biller, The Love Witch (2016) is a horror-comedy that leans into camp, but its take on love really resonates.
The film follows Elaine (Samantha Robinson) as she looks for her perfect lover – a partner that will love her as unconditionally as she loves him. Each man that becomes bewitched by Elaine disappoints, hurts or betrays her, however, so they all end up dead.
It’s not that Elaine is a cold-blooded killer. It’s just that straight men are incapable of accepting a woman’s love and loving her properly. Even with heightened situations, the film highlights how women carry the weight of emotional labour in relationships while rarely receiving the same attention and care from their male partners. The acting style highlights the performative nature of relationships confined by conservative gender roles, where women are expected to be sexy, motherly and all consumed with pleasing a man.
Biller really captures what it feels like to be unappreciated in a relationship, of giving to the point of smothering out of a compulsive need to be loved and how that can ultimately destroy you. It’s not a gentle take on love, but it’s an accurate one.
A lot of horror movie narratives capitalize on the ways love, romance, sex, and lust can take disturbing turns, and Navin Ramaswaran’s Poor Agnes (2017) builds on that trend. In this Canadian indie horror film, an unsettling relationship forms between serial killer, Agnes (Lora Burke), and a private investigator, Mike (Robert Notman), whom she takes captive in her isolated cabin.
With a hint of Stockholm Syndrome and a definite power dynamic at work, the main characters convey a nightmarish display of the ways in which romantic and/or lustful feelings leave us vulnerable to others. Agnes hides behind the facade of emotional and physical connection to maintain control and to justify manipulation and violence. As Agnes proclaims, “I never feel sorry for the people I hurt, because I always hurt the right people”.
Sometimes love is pain, folks.
Most of us have had the daydream of traveling to a faraway land and meeting a tall dark stranger who we immediately fall in love with, right?
Those fantasies typically end with a happily ever after, but in Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s Spring, the story gets a bit twisted. Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci), reeling from the recent death of his mother, hops on a plane to Italy to reset his life. Immediately, as if from a junior high diary, Louise (Nadia Hilker), a beautiful med students picks him up.
From their awkward introduction, we see their courtship meander through the ancient small town streets and lend itself to mythical proportions. Although Louise’s ‘affliction’ should really be more glorified; the reveal is that Louise is actually an immortal creature who technically consumes humans to regenerate or else she turns into a literal monster mashup. Still, unlike many of the other horror films highlighted in this column, Evan and Louise’s story ends with love conquering all.
Or most of it at least.
As tempted as I am to trot out the epic love affair between Frank and Julia Cotton from Hellraiser, I’m pretty sure everyone has tired of that particular horse (see Grim No. 1 for my ode to the goddess of gore if that doesn’t ring a bell).
Instead, I’ll go with a tried and true back-up: Ripley and the Xenomorph. Yes, it’s a bit of a polyamorous relationship spread across four different films, but this is quintessential love/hate, galaxy-spanning love we’re talking about.
Wherever one goes, the other goes.
If one dies, the other does, too.
There’s phallic imagery, plenty of dicey attempts at (let’s just say it) rapey penetration and the toys that this crazy pairing introduces to liven stuff up errs on the side of gargantuan. But through thick and thin, bad baby bleach jobs, G.I. Jane haircuts and several surrogate children deaths, it just seems like Ripley and the Alien are a pair made in the stars above.
They’ll always have my heart (and my Ripley clones) encased in glass jars.
Can we even talk about twisted, horrific love stories without mentioning Sean Byrne’s The Loved Ones (2009)? Not if I can help it. (It’s hard to discuss the infatuation at the core of this film without giving away a plot development best left as a surprise, so this is your spoiler alert.)
This deliciously deranged Australian gorefest is wrong in all the right ways. In my review, I called it a “a hot pink jawbreaker with a surprisingly vicious core” — it has all of the trappings of the traditional high school prom film with the DNA of Gothic torture porn. But it offers more than just shock value. It’s smart and funny and absurd and — dare I say? — feminist. I’ll quote myself again: “For all of its giddy indulgence in a pop-art pastiche of grim violence subverting rites-of-passage, this is a film that is deeply concerned with grief.” Both the A and B plots take insightful approaches to the horror of loss, with one storyline offering a nuanced and heartbreaking rebuke to slut-shaming.
But we’re here to talk about the love story, aren’t we?
Lola Stone’s out-of-control Electra Complex manifests in such an absurd, subversive, and over-the-top way that the love story between her and her father is as entertaining as it is disturbing. Lola (a pitch perfect Robin McLeavy) has long been on a search for her prince, only to finally admit to herself that he’s been under her nose all long — in the form of her submissive and adoring father (John Brumpton). The two actors lean way into the exaggeratedly grotesque subject matter, reaching near-feverish levels of camp with a dark undercurrent of knowing wit and menace. It feels weird to say that it is a joy to behold, but here we are.
Their story doesn’t (and shouldn’t) end happily, but journey is pretty electrifying (No pun intended.)