Cupid is blind and when romance blooms, it blooms for everyone regardless of race, creed or hideous facial growths. With Valentine’s Day upon us, we want to celebrate every blissful couple out there (as well as those still searching for their mate, or who choose not to search and celebrate their singleness). We want to… but in a few cases, we just can’t. Either deliberately or by accident, the movies have delivered a slew of couples whose “romance” actually gives us all the creeps. In some cases it’s deliberate – horror movies can make serious bank by playing this card – while in others, the filmmakers clearly come from some alternate universe where making our skin crawl is the local equivalent of a warm fuzzy. Either way, they constitute the wrong kind of Valentine’s Day examples for happy couples to emulate.
Spoilers lie ahead. Fairly warned thee be says I.
They make the perfect Halloween duo: a pair of beings stitched together from corpses and designed only for each other. But their dark beginnings steadily infiltrate their souls, rendering them isolated even from their mutual monstrosity. The Bride’s shriek of horror at the sight of her would-be beloved seals their doom: the agonizing knowledge that they are both truly alone in a universe that cares absolutely nothing for their pain. Director James Whale understood the nature of that horror, and eighty years later, it still resonates with sad, inescapable power.
Admittedly, Irena Galler (Nastassja Kinski) never hooks up with her brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell): the only way either of them can consummate their passions without turning into a leopard and disemboweling someone. The enforced incest is unsettling enough, but when Paul’s persistence turns tragic, he leaves Irena trapped in a loveless life. Her ultimate choice implies a heroic sacrifice, albeit one that underscores how powerless she is in the face of her destiny. The suggestion of what she’d have to do to achieve happiness lingers most hauntingly in the mind, however, and McDowell’s quietly eager gaze speaks to appetites that no rational mortal should ever contemplate.
Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) feels the connection between sex and death better than most. He loses the love of his life, only to see her return again and again in various different forms. It’s implied that their endless cycle stems from their frustrated romance… which creates nothing but unholy decay in the world around them. At least Dellamorte’s assistant Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro) doesn’t let a little thing like death stop him. When his beloved is decapitated and returns as a zombie, he happily takes up with her severed head. Which couple is creepier? It’s hard to say, but at least Gnaghi is enjoying himself.
David Cronenberg delivers a creepy couple seemingly with every film (two of them grace this list, and we might have filled the whole thing with them). The more realistic they were, the more unsettling they became, as in the case of Dead Ringers’ twin gynecologists (both played by Jeremy Irons) who shared everything in their lives… including their women. When they embark upon a romance with an infertile actress (Geneviève Bujold), it upsets their fraternal connection and ultimately creates a mutual plunge into oblivion. Their blurred identity would be unsettling enough, but when you add Cronenberg’s biological deformities and merging of flesh with artifice, it becomes pure nightmare fodder… all the more unsettling because of its ostensible reality.
One of the secrets to Cronenberg’s classic horror reboot is its use of romance. The first half of the film is practically a romantic comedy, buoyed by a clever screenplay and the immense chemistry between Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. Their blossoming love affair hooks us as well as any Nora Ephron effort… until Goldblum’s fateful lab accident merges his DNA with that of a housefly. His increasingly gloppy condition compounds their mutual horror and pity, culminating in a perverse plan to merge with Davis in an effort to make himself more human. The idea is all the more skin-crawling because we’re so invested in the characters. We know what they once had and we see the perverse logic in his new scheme, a fact that doesn’t change its ultimately horrifying results.
Opponents of gay marriage fail to understand what monstrousness they unleash by attempting to deny the natural state of those different than they. Had Pauline Parker (Melanie Lynskey) and Juliet Hulme (Kate Winslet) met in a more open-minded time, they might have been quite happy together. As it stands, the combination of their repressed imaginations and societal intolerance drives them to a unique form of madness… one that ultimately ends in murder. So terrifying was the pair’s devotion that the community forbade them from ever meeting again: a perfect example of cultural evils unfairly projected onto a convenient pair of outsiders.
Interspecies romance is rarely pleasant, though in some forms it can hold an intense eroticism (think of Data and the Borg Queen). Howard the Duck hits new lows, however, as we’re forced to indulge in the inexplicable attraction between Lea Thompson’s rock star and a midget in an animatronic duck suit. The outfit is just convincing enough to suggest an actual creature, turning its otherwise obvious artifice into the stuff of bug-eyed terror. The screenplay piles further ooginess onto the equation, such as Howard’s early job in a sleazy spa and the nude images he eyes in the pages of “Playduck” magazine. The sight of Thompson caressing the rising feathers on his skull is enough to make viewers declare celibacy for life... regardless of creed, sexual orientation or possible duck-o-philia.
Incest. Icky, icky incest… in the name of revenge. The careful orchestration of events that leads Oh-Dae-Su (Choi Min-sik) to unknowingly consummate with his daughter (Kang Hye-Jeong) creates an ideal trap: one that can never be erased in the mind of its intended victim. The fact that we remain as ignorant of the circumstances as he only heightens the skin-crawling elegance of the scheme, and the way it completely skeezifies the film upon subsequent viewings.
Luke and Leia: two parts of the original trilogy’s love triangle, with Luke playing dependable nice guy to Han Solo’s roguish bad boy. Who will Leia choose? The question nagged at us for two movies… until Lucas decided to cut the Gordian knot by making them brother and sister. This, despite the fact that they’ve been locking lips and making eyes at each other for years. Sure, they were chaste kisses, but that’s what good boys like Luke do. He’s still kissing his twin freaking sister, turning would-be sweetness into uneasy giggles at every screening since.
Alfred Hitchcock was a sick bastard, and even within the confines of Hays Code censorship, he found new ways to exploit sexual perversity. The finest example takes place in Vertigo, as Jimmy Stewart’s traumatized detective remakes Kim Novak’s would-be love interest into the dead woman he thought he’d lost years before. Novak’s character is that self-same woman, however – alive through a complex series of circumstances and allowing Stewart to work his sick fantasies upon her through a mixture of love and guilt. On the surface, there’s nothing odd or unusual about their connection, but the psychological underpinnings are exquisitely twisted… all the worse because they spring from very understandable desires.