13 Horror Films For The Lovelorn...
...on this, Valentines Day, certainly the most horrifying holiday for thousands of people the world over. Men and women alike. Well, we here at The October Country don't celebrate the big VD, not really. We're too busy nursing our blackened, stone cold hearts below room temperature. Is it because it's a corporate creation? We never got asked to the dance? Who knows. Perhaps we're entirely too cynical (me thinks that's it). However, we have found that Valentines Day is the perfect holiday to get down with many a scary sickies. Love, unrequited and otherwise, making for a delicious, dramatic through-line in horror film after horror film for decades. Love, catalyst for a collective sky-high body count that would make Mr. Voorhees weep with envy. The heart being as it is, a deep dark well with which the blackest of human emotions can and do pour. Just think of how much cinematic bloodshed would have been spared if people had continued worshiping Eros, the god of sex and lust, as nature intended instead of stupid Cupid. I suppose David Cronenberg still would have gotten mileage of such a social practice, but few others. Certainly my genitalia has never made me homicidal (unless ya know, that's your thing) but my heart on the other hand....
Anyways and without further ado, The October Country proudly presents 13 of it's favorite archetypes of deadly devotion. Some of them classic and unmistakably great. Others mere guilty pleasures. Either way they are certain to provide an entertaining alternative to all the mushy platitudes of undying love consuming otherwise rational people today, without a doubt a sight scarier than anything contained herein.
13. Harper's Island (2008) -
Conceived as a horror / mystery / slasher stretched out over 13 episodes and 546 minutes, Harper's Island sets it's action on the isolated titular location amongst a celebration for what it supposed to be the most romantic of all romantic occasions, a wedding. At least one guest (or as many as five) are gruesomely killed off per episode (in what must have stretched network television's standards and practices to the limits) as the series marches toward it's final reveal (but not before plot twists are stacked higher than it's body count). An unexpected consequence (and real pleasure) of spending such an extended amount of time in Harper's Island's world is that, though all the typical character cliches are present for just such a endeavor i.e. the "jock", the "prankster", the "vapid pretty girl" and so on, by the series conclusion you've actually come to genuinely care about the fate of many of them (which as we all know, can only enhance suspense). A feat much harder to pull off with a film that has a 90 minute running time and more cannon fodder than you can keep straight. Endure the rather soapy initial episodes and you will be rewarded with a series that plays out like a protracted final act of any number of Friday the 13ths (yes, in this instance that is a compliment). Which is to say, due to its length, intensity that just won't quit.
12. Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993) -
Bearing little resemblance to it's predecessors, the third outing for this seminal brain munching franchise drops the comedy and tongue-in-cheek nature that came before it and instead focuses itself as a mostly effective, largely serious dark romance. Or, a slight Romeo and Juliet for the zombie set. When Curt's (J. Trevor Edmond) girlfriend Julie (Scream Queen Melinda Clarke) is accidentally killed in a motorcycle accident our young hero does what any heartbroken teenager would do in such an instance; break into his father's military base and revive his dearly departed with the aid of 2-4-5 Trioxin gas, naturally. It isn't long before Julie begins turning her decaying body into a pincushion of self mutilation out of an effort to curb her desire to devour everyone in her path (the pain quells the hunger, you see), including her beau. Released to generally positive reviews back in the day, part 3 remains the only other high note in Return's history and the last one worth anybody's time before the franchise devolved into insufferable mediocrity. A hidden gem!
11. Mulholland Dr. (2001) -
Deceptive in so many ways, one thing that Mulholland Dr. hides beneath all it's mystery and ghastly, surreal horror is that at it's core, it is a love story. As much as it is an allegory about Hollywood being the city of broken dreams (accent on dreams), David Lynch's labyrinthine masterpiece also reveals how far one will go to mend a broken heart, not to speak of the fantastical delusions they will spin to protect themselves from it's unbearable pain. Bizarre, frightening, erotic, thought provoking and immensely felt, by the time the final tragedy unfolds and Angelo Badalementi's moving score swells to soaring heights, you'll be hard pressed to ignore that lump in the back of your throat as the film freezes on it's last, ethereal closing image; the realization of love and companionship in much happier times. Even if it was all a dream born of heartache.
10. Bride of Chucky (1998) -
A real shot in the arm to an all but dead, dormant franchise, Bride of Chucky sees our demonic Good Guy Chucky (Brad Douriff) make his long awaited return to the screen, though with a new wrinkle (and sidekick); Chucky is reunited with an old flame, who just happens to be an equally unbalanced psychopath. And once Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly, a hoot) , his betrothed, is made as diminutive as he, woe be unto anyone who crosses their pint sized path. Steering the series into more comedic territory, writer Don Mancini (who has been with the franchise every step of the way) expertly alternates the abundance of humor and scares insomuch that we here at The October Country count Bride as one of the all time great horror / comedy balancing acts. Undoubtedly the horror genre is positively littered with mad couples brought together through their mutual lust for death and destruction (Mickey and Mallory, Billy and Stu) but none of them holds a candle to this pairing, beyond a doubt one of the bloody funnest couples in horror movie history. "I give them six months, three if she gains weight". Smart, biting satire.
9. Deadgirl (2008) -
As far as portraits of lonely, disaffected youth are concerned, movies don't come much darker than Marcel Sarmiento's & Gadi Harel's Deadgirl. Awesomely revolting and sadly tender all at once, Deadgirl tells the tale of two high school misfits who discover a black as pitch secret hidden away in the basement of a disused mental hospital; the shackled corpse of a nude, once beautiful young woman. Her decaying, nubile flesh proves to be to tempting to the horny, lovelorn boys and before you know it, their hormones make short order of their decency and common sense. One after the other, the young men climb atop their deceased "prize", and as they do so over and over, fall deeper and deeper in a black hole devoid of humanity. Into this arrives the unsuspecting, pretty young thing that is the true object of affection for our off-kilter male lead, along with the realization that one needn't be breathing to lavish a crush with your carnal intentions. Recommended for the adventurous and brave amongst you, Deadgirl is a stunningly disturbing odyssey into the bleakest realms of human behavior, where with each attention starved thrust, one's redeeming light fades further and further away from sight.
8. Haute Tension (aka High Tension, 2003) -
Lauded and hated in equal measure, Alexandre Aja's Haute Tension has been accused of being everything from a masterpiece, to ridiculously nonsensical to dreadfully homophobic. My two cents; it is unquestionably the former and as far as the latter two gripes are concerned, well, pay attention to Cécile De France's off-screen murmurings during the opening credits sequence as an indication as to who's warped perspective the entire story is being told from. Admittedly no, you cannot have a car chase with yourself but that hardly matters when the entire event takes place within your own demented imagination. Homophobic? Possibly. But even the gays can have a few bad apples in the bunch. Plus, the lesbians have always known how to wield those heavy duty power tools amirite (hands down one of the most frightening uses of a buzzsaw in cinema history). As far as the age old if-I-can't-have-you-nobody-will narrative device is concerned, they don't come much more violent, bloody or nail bitingly intense than this French bonanza of unrequited love and off it's rocker affection.
7. Monsters (2010) -
The titular monsters of Gareth Edward's impressive low budget feature film debut, behemoth alien beasts with gigantic tentacles and a destructive disposition, are almost inconsequential to larger story being told here. That is, the romantic feelings that develop between a cynical journalist and a shaken American tourist while they try to navigate their way through Mexico's "infected zone" (the creatures' current habitat and breeding ground) and reach safer territory across the border. Those expecting a balls out monster movie will be sadly disappointed, but those in the mood for a quieter, more reflective film about how love can spark in the most unlikely, direst of situations are in for a real treat. Think of all those groan inducing, half baked "love connections" between countless film leads in horror films, shoehorned into story after story ad infinitum for no other reason other than that is what expectations, lack of imagination and worthless screenwriting classes dictate should occur. Now, imagine those love connections in more capable hands, given the time and attention to naturally grow into fruition and behold, you have Monsters. One of 2010's best!
6. Hellraiser (1987) - Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. It's easy to forget amidst so many of Hellraiser's impressive bells and whistles (sadomasochistic demons, reanimated skinned corpses, kinky sex and wince inducing gore that will take your breath away) that at the end of the day, Hellraiser is a blackly conceived love story. Clare Higgins (par excellence, and always meant by creator Clive Barker to be the story's chief villain if it ever expanded into full blown franchise, and boy did it though sadly without her) stars as Julia Cotton, a woman unhappily married to the dull as dishwater Larry (Andrew Robinson). When her family relocates to Larry's family home in London, awakened are not only the memories of Julia's torrid, secret affair with Larry's deceased brother Frank (Sean Chapman, hello Mr. Sleazy, get out of my dreams and into my car) but also Frank's corpse, brought back to life when Larry spills a drop of his blood on Frank's final resting place; the house's attic. The two lovers reunited (still, in secret and Frank nothing but a walking , talking sinewy husk of of exposed muscle and dangling flesh) Julia sets down a path of self-discovery wherein she realizes that there is nothing she will not do, nothing, to nurture her man back to health, including but not limited to violently butchering men to feed Frank's regeneration and the evading of demonic entities from Hell determined to reclaim their possession; Frank. If Hellraiser's puzzle box, the Lament Configuration, is a gateway to anything, certainly it is a doorway into the bottomless recesses of man and womankind's darkest hearts' desires. Every bit as powerful, terrifying and strangely beautiful as it was the day it was released, Hellraiser remains one of the finest achievements in modern horror cinema, and a warning to those who would follow their heart's every whim, to the peril of all.
5. The Loved Ones (2010) -
Solidifying once and for all that there may be no greater terror on earth than a young, heartsick teenage girl in love, The Loved Ones has come come along to prove not only this to be true, but that horror films are without a doubt di rigor date movies. You might think you've seen all this before; shy Lola (Robin McLeavy) asks dreamy, introvert Brent (Xavier Samuel) to take her to the prom. Brent politely declines. Before you can say "holy smoldering, stalking stares from afar", Lola sets into motion her plot to get exactly what she wants, namely Brent on prom night, at whatever cost . And you'd be right, you probably have seen all that before. But sweet Jesus, not like this dear readers. A critical and festival darling in equal measure, Sean Byrne's Australian indie is one of the liveliest, friskiest, twisted little fucked up love letters to horror fans in eons. Though, the less said about the film's story beyond what I already have the better (beware, the effective if irritating trailer does a fine job of spoiling just about every one of the film's plot twists), The Loved Ones as of this writing remains frustratingly unavailable to North American audiences. However, there are those amongst you enterprising enough to watch it regardless. Godspeed dear readers. And hang on tight.
4. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) -
A Gothic masterpiece without exception, Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic story of undying love is quite obviously, one of the genre's best depictions of romance at all costs. If there is one film on this list that most likely every reader has seen, it would be this sucker, and rightfully so. Lush, romantic, stylish, moving, erotic, horrific and one of the most insanely atmospheric films of the 90's (still to this day, it has few contemporary equals), Bram Stoker's Dracula is nearly flawless in every way (save for one glaringly miscast role, I'm looking at you "Ted"). Yes, you've probably already seen it (and dozens of times at that) but like a fine vintage claret, it only gets better with age, and like Dracula himself, it never gets old.
3. Shaun of the Dead (2004) -
This is how you make a contemporary zombie film boys and girls. Paying homage to all the greats that came before it with loving respect (up to this point, namely Romero's unequaled efforts) and then charting it's own charmingly unique identity from there on out. Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead achieves the unthinkable; crafting a successful hybrid of genuinely scary horror with seriously wicked humor from this very simple concept, it is "a romantic comedy...with zombies". And yes, despite their silliness, by gum you care when these people die. Certainly a film that every couple could (and should) agree on, I have never in my life met a single soul who was not won over by Shaun's infectious sense of fun (yes, being scared is and can be, fun). One of best zombie movies ever made, period. In addition to being one of the greatest date movies ever conceived to boot. Quite the illustrious reputation if I say so myself.
2. The Fly (1986) -
Say "The Fly" to someone and they are likely to conjure up a whole host of of iconic imagery; the Brundle-Fly museum of bodily castoffs, the utterly horrifying birth of an over sized larvae via a human womb, regurgitation of stomach bile as a means to disarm (and cripple) one's victim, the most cringe-inducing match of arm wrestling ever filmed (matched only by Ilsa's)...but if you were to say "The Fly" to me, the first and foremost thing that would come to mind would be that of the doomed love affair between Jeff Goldblum's eccentric scientist Seth Brundle and Gina Davis' determined journalist Veronica Quaife. When it comes to star crossed lovers making their ways through the pratfalls and speed bumps of what the horror genre can throw their direction, it doesn't get much more tragic than this. Or, sickly romantic. Written as a cultural metaphor for AIDS, one need not have been personally touched by the ravaging disease to feel every ounce of suffering and heartache as experienced by those who have, epitomized by The Fly's ill-fated lovers Seth and Ronnie. As a disgusting special effects extravaganza, it is superb. As a horrific tale of disintegration and disease, it is masterful. As a soul-wrenching story of true love slipping away as matter of nature's course, it packs a wallop. Right to the heart.
1. My Bloody Valentine (1981) -
Unquestionably the granddaddy of all Valentines Day themed horror films (admittedly a rather small pool to draw from), there are few other slasher films in existence that can rival Valentines' rich atmospherics and creepily crafted chills. Released to little fanfare by Paramount Pictures (looking for the next, bankable franchise) in 1981, Valentine initially took it's time in finding it's audience. Building for itself (slowly but surely over the years) an increasingly favorable reputation, many now look back and marvel at how supremely scary it is capable of being. Now, in 2011, it is generally all-out adored by fans of expertly made slice n' dicers (it is one of this writer's favorite horror films of all time). It does so much right with the formula it still confounds me that this has remained as overlooked as it has, for as long as it has. Shooting the last act in real mines was a masterstroke on the filmmaker's part, as they get a supremely eerie, unsettling mileage out of that genuine location that no fake studio "mine" could ever hope to duplicate. The heroine, Sarah (Lori Hallier) is one of my feisty favorites. The villain, Harry Warden (in head to toe miner's garb) is genuinely frightening. The kills are memorable (even if they were legendarily censored by the MPAA). The characters are well drawn and sympathetic (for this sort of thing) not to mention I give it extra points for choosing to make them all small town, blue collar workers rather than your typical bubble-headed college students. And alas, it contains two of my fave horror hunk boners in the characters of Mike (Thomas Kovacs) and John (Rob Stein, the latter of whom gets to inexplicably survive). Only the original Black Christmas trumps My Bloody Valentine in this writer's heart when it comes to excellently executed slasher films. Finally, an unheralded classic is getting it's due. Avoid the abysmal 2009 re-make at all costs.