While Valentine’s Day will, and arguably should, be a time of reflection on the concept and meaning of how love manifests itself within us, the corny Hallmark-holiday doesn’t capture what love is to everyone. Netflix is certainly pushing its new release “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You” and staple Nicholas Sparks adaptations like “Dear John” and “The Notebook” in preparation for the holiday, but it skips over films which depict love differently than the corporate interpretation of Valentine’s Day.
However, despite the cultural impact standard heteronormative romance films had and continue to have on pop culture, the horror genre consistently intersects with the romance genre, subverting the values of these films and providing a different, deeper description of love. While basic interpretations may write these films off as shallow or equally poor displays of romance, the genre is full of complex, often subversive romantic ideology beautifully disguised in the subtext of horror.
While iconic romantic-horror films like “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935), “My Bloody Valentine” (1981), “Bride of Chucky” (1998) and “Only Lovers Left Alive” (2013) definitely belong in the category of the films below, the following films are the best this genre has to offer:
“NEKRomantik” (1987) Written and directed by Jörg Buttgereit
Internationally known for its explicitly transgressive plot, Jörg Buttgereit’s film was stuck with limited accessibility in the United States for many years. While Buttgereit describes the film as a rebellion against the strict German film rating system during this period and an attempt to shock as many audience members as possible, he, perhaps inadvertently, created a story which dissects the sexual insecurity of fragile men.
“Frankenhooker” (1990) Written by Robert “Bob” Martin and Frank Henenlotter, directed by Frank Henenlotter
Co-written by original Fangoria editor Bob Martin, Henelotter’s iconic film of video store exploitation also struggled to gain traction upon its release due to the overtly misogynistic, sexual content in the film. Yet, beyond the film’s grotesque, gory elements and the obviously ridiculous exploitative plot lies a somewhat poignant story of a grieving husband obsessively attempting to bring his late wife back to life.
“Trouble Every Day” (2001) Written by Claire Denis and Jean-Pol Fargeau, directed by Claire Denis
Claire Denis stormed onto the stale vampire genre scene in 2001 and brought a female voice to the male-dominated genre. She brought with her master cinematographer and longtime collaborator Agnès Godard, and together they injected new life into the dying genre. Denis tells the story of a newlywed American couple on their honeymoon in Paris, but the film is anything but a sappy, cliché tale of young love. Denis picks apart modern understandings of love and sacrifice and stirs doubt within her audience about the motives of their significant other.
“Antichrist” (2009) Written and directed by Lars von Trier
Lars von Trier is a staple of the European arthouse scene, but proved his worth as a horror director by combining the two distinct styles. As with many films on this list, von Trier’s film struggled to receive a release in the United States and was never officially submitted to the Motion Picture Association of America. The film follows a couple as they retreat to a cabin in the woods to grieve the loss of their young child. Equal parts an exploration of toxic masculinity and how grief manifests itself within each person uniquely, the film couldn’t be summed up in other words except the famous quote from the film, “chaos reigns.”
“The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears” (2013) written and directed by Bruno Forzani and Hélène Cattet
The french couple Bruno Forzani and Hélène Cattet have created numerous works which explore married relationships, but this film is their most well-rounded. Ironically, this film is also their most abstract, classic Italian giallo-style film, but the emotion evoked on screen resonates regardless of the fluid filmmaking style. The plot follows a husband who embarks on a frantic search throughout an apartment complex after he returns from a business trip to discover his wife has gone missing. Forzani and Cattet clearly draw from personal experience in this film of the fragile dynamic of a married relationship.
“You and the Night” (2013) written and directed by Yann Gonzalez
Yann Gonzalez is internationally known for his queer horror filmmaking and his overt subversions of heteronormative approaches to filmmaking. Despite his inexperience as a filmmaker, Gonzalez has already strongly established his voice and style. His film, which follows the story of a couple and their maid waiting for guests to arrive for an orgy, is a purposefully heavy-handed exploration of gender roles within romantic relationships. The film pairs beautifully with the original soundtrack, which was created by Yann’s brother and leader of the French-American electronic band M83, Anthony Gonzalez.