13 Most Romantic Horror Films
Article By: Tony Timpone
Ah, Valentine’s Day, the favorite holiday for lovers everywhere and for Hallmark greeting card executives looking at the bottom line. Most people think of Valentine’s Day in relation to boxes of chocolates, flowers and tear-jerking Nicholas Sparks movies. Horror film fans, alas, don’t have to sit out this dreamy day. Sure, two My Bloody Valentine movies will satisfy the bloodlust, but what about quenching those romantic yearnings? Fortunately, fright followers can fall in love with today’s Chiller 13, the most romantic horror films of all time! (Titles arranged according to year of release.)
1. The Mummy (1932)
How about this for devotion: centuries ago, Egyptian prince Imhotep (an intense Boris Karloff) was buried alive for attempting to bring his lost paramour (the exotic Zita Johann) back to life. A 1920s expedition accidentally awakens Imhotep’s Mummy, who later, masquerading as a cultured academic, discovers that his adored princess has reincarnated into a modern woman. But only through death can the two Egyptian royals be reunited eternally… Directed by Dracula cinematographer Karl Freund, who ended his long career shooting I Love Lucy episodes, this classic launched a series of Universal Mummy films and remakes. The old chestnut set the standard.
2. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
Love means never having to saying you’re ugly… In medieval France, disfigured hunchback Quasimodo (Charles Laughton), toiling as the bell-ringer at the famous cathedral, falls head over heels for fetching gypsy Esmeralda (Maureen O’Hara). The righteous woman offers water to Quasimodo during a brutal whipping, and the Hunchback returns the favor by rescuing the lass from the hangman’s noose in an exciting rescue scene. Filmed many times, Victor Hugo’s novel shone the brightest in this superlative Hollywood production, bolstered by Laughton’s touching humanity and pathos.
3. Cat People (1942)
This milestone of suggestive horror from esteemed producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur gives new meaning to the expression “strange love.” After sultry fashion designer Simon takes a shine to (and later weds) Kent Smith, she refuses to consummate the marriage because she fears she will turn into a panther when aroused. This adult fairy tale still holds up in the shivers department and sparked a run of quality horror productions at RKO. The 1982 remake replaced the original’s suspense and mood with gore and sex.
4. The Fly (1986)
This David Cronenberg remake topped its 1958 predecessor in many ways, especially the love story at its center. In a botched teleportation experiment, the DNA of scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) and a common house fly merge, instigating Goldblum’s eventual metamorphosis into a horrifying creature. Geena Davis plays a journalist who becomes smitten with the lab nerd, and we observe the love and devotion between the couple, particularly during the story’s tragic conclusion. The fact that Goldblum and Davis were sweethearts in real life makes The Fly that much more effective.
5. Hellraiser (1987)
Some women will do anything for their man. Case in point: the driven adulteress Julia (Clare Higgins) of author Clive Barker’s directorial debut. When demons tear her lover Frank apart, she learns that spilt blood will allow him to reclaim his flesh. So Julia invites one-night stands home and bashes their heads in. The arrival of stepdaughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) creates further stress to the family dynamic when she accidentally unleashes the hellspawn Pinhead (Doug Bradley), who wants to break up the happy couple and collect a few more souls. Visceral, scary and original, Barker’s tale of dark love continues to garner praise as one of the ’80s best horror films.
6. A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)
An Asian movie masterpiece, A Chinese Ghost Story resembles a cinematic pu pu platter: there’s something here for everyone, from amazing martial arts fights to scenes of Evil Dead-style horror to crazy comedy to an epic love story. The late Leslie Cheung stars as an unlucky traveling tax collector forced to spend the night at a haunted temple. There he meets a wild assortment of characters, including a swordsman, a tree devil (with giant retracting tongue!) and a gorgeous female ghost (Joey Wang), beholden to the evil tree devil. Ghost and mortal hit it off in a big way, and the man vows to reincarnate his ethereal love’s body by voyaging to the underworld to vanquish an even more powerful demon. We could describe another paragraph’s worth of plot, but it’s the supernatural romance of Cheung and Wang that keeps A Chinese Ghost Story flying above the tree tops.
7. Ghost (1990)
Fear fanatics may blanch at the strains of “Unchained Melody” or cringe during the scene of Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore getting hot and heavy over spinning globs of wet clay, but there’s also a horror story beating beneath Ghost’s passionate heart. Murdered by a duplicitous business partner, Swayze’s Sam returns as a spirit to protect sweetheart Molly and express his eternal love before he moves on. Directed by laugh specialist Jerry (Airplane!) Zucker and scripted with metaphysical and paranormal panache by Jacob’s Ladder’s Bruce Joel Rubin, Ghost dives into its supernatural world in a realistic and convincing fashion. And those malevolent spirits mean business!
8. Candyman (1992)
Based on the Clive Barker short story “The Forbidden,” Candyman introduced one of the screen’s few African American bogeymen. Graduate student Helen (future Oscar winner Virginia Madsen) studies urban legends, and they don’t get any scarier than the titular ghost. Say his name five times in a mirror and Candyman appears. And he’s pissed off too: centuries ago, this post-Civil War black man made the mistake of falling in love with a white woman, so vile racists tortured him with bees, chopped off his hand and left him to die. When the disbelieving Helen calls forth the ghost, he begins a new reign of terror, implicating Helen with each swing of his bloody hook. At the same time, Candyman takes a shine to Helen and would like nothing more than to seduce the woman to join him in death for eternity. With his looming presence and deep voice, Todd makes for a truly frightening villain, but we can also feel the ache in his heart for a thwarted romance. You can watch Candyman five times and discover new chills each occasion.
9. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
Godfather director Francis Coppola and screenwriter James V. Hart alleged fidelity to their source material unlike any previous adaptation of Dracula, and for the most part, they succeeded. However, the romantic engine that drives this hearse came directly from the filmmakers and not Stoker. Borrowing the reincarnation angle from The Mummy (see above), Gary Oldman’s Dracula pines for his lost love Elisabeta, whose spirit turns up in Victorian lady Mina (Winona Ryder). Some 400 years before, Dracula turned to evil after Elisabeta’s terrible death, and he’s eager to pick up where he left off with her. Although Dracula bites her friends in London, Mina grows attracted to the amorous vampire’s charms (he even takes her to the movies!), which are a breath of fresh air from the usual stuff shirts (likeg Keanu Reeves) who want to keep her in a corset. Her agonizing wail after Van Helsing and company kill Dracula says it all.
10. Zombie Honeymoon (2004)
It’s a case of love after death in this low-budget horror sleeper from New Jersey. During their honeymoon, Danny (Graham Sibley) gets attacked by a zombie. Gradually, wife Denise (Tracy Coogan) notices something not right with hubby, like when his skin starts peeling off while they canoodle. Despite Danny’s slow decomposition, life goes on as usual for the happy couple: they enjoy candlelight dinners, invite friends over, etc. When Danny begins rotting away, Denise sticks by her man, not unlike other committed couples enduring a serious illness. In this regard, Zombie Honeymoon clicks as a compassionate statement on the bonds of matrimony—in sickness and in health—while dishing out a few helpings of gruesome gore.
11. King Kong (2005)
In 1933, Fay Wray screamed her lungs out at the sight of him, then Jessica Lange displayed some genuine remorse in the 1976 version when the big ape took a dive off the Twin Towers. But only Naomi Watts’ Ann Darrow in the 2005 King Kong did the petite beauty really harbor any true emotions for the 25-foot-tall beast. Unlike the previous takes of the immortal tale, Peter Jackson’s lavish remake presents Kong in mostly heroic fashion, as he repeatedly comes to Ann’s aid on the dinosaur-infested Skull Island (most notably in an awesome battle with twin Tyrannosaurs). Woman and ape begin to bond, and Ann even performs for the supersized simian to calm him down. Ann later becomes the protective one when greedy Carl Denham (Jack Black) abducts Kong and takes him to New York. After the giant ape escapes, we experience the film’s most tender moment when Kong and Ann go “ice skating” on a frozen lake in Central Park. Sadly, this relationship won’t end well…
12. Let the Right One In (2008)
Love between vampire and mortal, a common genre staple, received its finest treatment in this brilliant Swedish horror film. Evocatively set during winter, the story revolves around a bullied 12 year old named Oskar. At his drab apartment complex, the lonely kid meets Eli, a strange new neighbor. The odd girl happens to be a vampire of indeterminate age, and the two begin hanging out together. A rash of horrible murders begins to point to Eli, but before she moves on, she will help Oskar settle his school problem… Director Tomas Alfredson carefully juggles this unusual story with both sensitivity and an icy detachness. Anyone can relate to Oskar and Eli’s mutual loneliness, and despite the challenges, we want their caring friendship to blossom. The US remake, Let Me In, ain’t bad either.
13. Warm Bodies (2013)
The Twilight series got all the press and box office, but the “supernatural romance” that worked the best for us is this lovey-dovey zombie flick. Despite a PG-13 rating and a teen-girl demographic, Warm Bodies takes its horror seriously too; these zombies will eat you. Similarly, the movie gets the romance right, helped along by two appealing leads. When the undead R (swoon-worthy Nicholas Hoult) saves living girl Julie (Teresa Palmer) from a zombie pack, warm and fuzzy feelings begin to develop between the couple. Never mind that R ate her boyfriend’s brains and Julie’s remorseless dad rules the post-plague land as chief zombie hunter. With Warm Bodies, writer/director Jonathan Levine (adapting Isaac Marion’s young adult novel) whips up a unique twist to the living dead formula, and it’s a refreshing touch to see the flesh-eaters ultimately regain their humanity. Love’s the best medicine!
FANGORIA editor emeritus Tony Timpone wrote the foreword to Sean Abley’s horror filmmaker interview collection Gay of the Dead, which you can read about here.