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Romantic Horrors

Posted by Christina Harlin

My favorite holiday is coming! Each Halloween I indulge one of my great weaknesses: the horror movie. Looking over my list of possible rentals for this year, I noticed that romance and horror don’t often mix. Of all the scary movies I’ve seen, very few of them contain a memorable love story. Horror movies are typically anti-romantic, as scares come from people being estranged, alone, or betrayed. After all, it’s kind of hard to make an audience feel terrified when there is a sexy romance cooking up. And these days, as often as not, a movie-couple’s romance can be destroyed by that perpetual deal-breaker: one of them ends up trying to kill the other. Ah well.

To celebrate Halloween, horror and romance, I’ve made another list! These are some scary-movie romances I have found memorable.

Poltergeist (1982). Now considered a classic, this haunted-house-in-suburbia movie is famous for the snow-screened tv set, the diminutive psychic, the scary-as-hell clown doll and little Carol Ann’s “They’re heee-eeere.” Easy to forget that the parents of the household, played by Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams, are a loving, happily married couple who never stoop to blaming or bickering when their lives are turned upside down. They support each other to the end, fight for the safety of their children, and act as a unit in all things. One of the best portrayed movie marriages I have ever seen, and done effortlessly.

Tremors (1990). A horror/comedy masterpiece, and one of my favorite movies, Tremors’ simple plot isolates a small town of lovable oddballs with some underground maneating monsters and lets the fun happen. The aimless slacker Val, played so nicely by Kevin Bacon, has a stereotypical image of the perfect girl and it ain’t grad-student Rhonda, who is brainy and brave, and keeps up with the guys step-for-step in saving their necks. What these two have in common, I’m not sure, but their chemistry is a delight, and the movie knows it. You can tell by the ending shot.

The Frighteners (1996). An early effort by Peter Jackson, this movie has some mixed reviews. I liked it a lot because it is imaginative and entertaining. Michael J. Fox plays a man who can “see dead people” thanks to his own near-death experience when he lost his wife. Now a grief-stricken, guilt-ridden con artist, he plays at exorcisms until an afterlife threat strikes his home town. He becomes tentatively involved with a beautiful widow whose own husband was a victim. Their romance is underplayed, but each strikes a chord in the other, and she can obviously heal his broken heart.

Near Dark (1987). A cult classic, this is a modern-day vampire tale. A young man, played by Adrian Pasdar, is smitten with and then bitten by a lovely sweet vampire who runs with a very tough crowd through the skanky bars of the southwest. He must gain acceptance by her murderous group and then he must find a way to rescue them both; understandably he is not thrilled about the notion of taking lives. Fun and gory, worth watching for the appearances of Lance Henrikson and Bill Paxton.

The Company of Wolves (1984). Another love-it-or-hate it movie, this early Neil Jordan film is one of the best fairy-tales I’ve ever seen filmed. It’s a hodgepodge of werewolf stories, with a great Little Red Riding Hood retelling at its core. There is no specific romance, or maybe there is, if you like your coming-of-age tales to be extremely Freudian. The atmosphere is really the most romantic thing about it, highly charged with the sexual curiosity of a young woman faced with a very, very dangerous man.

Dracula (1979). Frank Langella. Is. The. Hottest. Dracula. Ever. Nuff said.

Wolf (1994). Another imperfect movie, but Jack Nicholson and Michele Pfeiffer have a powerful love story in the midst of the hoopla: she’s an ice princess, he’s a nice guy who is also a werewolf, and you can totally believe that they would find each other irresistible.

Tale of a Vampire (1992). Some folks find this vampire romance starring the prettier-than-his-costar Julian Sands to be dull, but I liked its centuries-spanning love story. Julian is a lonely vampire who once had his true love stolen from him; now in modern days he finds her lookalike and does his best to win her—though his seduction skills are a bit on the toothy and unpracticed side. Enter into the picture a mysterious troublemaker who is determined to thwart their odd romance. Very atmospheric and sexy, and a good bet for anglophiles.

Let me know what you think. Let me know of any I have forgotten. Then, go out and rent some scary movies!


  1. Hey Christina-

    This is a great list! I can't really think of anything, other than in most horror films where some unsupsecting couple gets slashed right at the beginning (of course after the girl has flashed the screen)... I wonder what it is horror film writers and directors have against strong romantic elements? lol


  2. Hi Danielle! You are right, there is a tendency for a very happy-seeming couple to die right at the beginning of a movie. That's a good way to establish horror. As I told my mom when I was running this list by her, I couldn't really include movies where one of the couple ends up dead . . . except looking at my list, I realized that lots of them are UN-dead! Romance is complicated!

  3. This girl doesn't do scary, Christina. Life is scary enough without inviting scary in. LOL! Yes, I'm a wimp. My husband's niece had the best line years ago when he asked her if she had seen Cape Fear. She said why the HECK would I want to see a movie with the word FEAR in the title? LOL! Couldn't agree more!

  4. Glad to know I am not the only one who does not do scary, Marie. I am afraid Halloween is my least favorite holiday! The only 2 movies on the list I have seen are 'Poltergeist' and "Tremors.' Oddly, 'Tremors' is one of my favorite movies! I just love it. Love the campy send up of all the classic B-grade 'horror' movies of the 60s and 70s. Great cast, big guns (my hubby likes that part), crazy humor, and just enough suspense to make it a kiler action flick as well. A must-have in any collection! Thanks for the article, Christina. I may not personally like Halloween, but this is the season!

  5. Sorry, I don't do scary movies either. Any movie plays in my head for hours after I leave the theatre--a scary or violent one can play for days and fuel nightmares for years.

    That said, your descriptions with attention to the romantic elements ALMOST made me want to see them.:-)

    However, I do like Halloween and now that I live where there are more children around, I'm looking forward to Trick or Treaters.

  6. My girls love scary movies and they always send me out of the room, because they know I will faint or have a heart attack or something. lol.

    I do love the reviews you gave, and will definitely check out some of them. Right now I'm watching True Blood, half the time peeking through my fingers. I think there is a romance or two going on there, though. I think I can get through the hour, with commercials. Buta movie.
    Hmm. Pass the smelling salts.

  7. Sharon, Marie, MM and Michele! Uh-oh, I didn't know I was talking to so many friends who don't like scares! Well, that's the beauty of the movies: there are all types for all tastes. You all might like Dracula and Tale of a Vampire, which aren't horror movies per se, and Tremors, which isn't scary in a keep-you-up-at-night way. But steer clear of Poltergeist.

  8. Christina,
    My friends occasionally insist I see a certain movie. They reassure me they'll tell me when to close my eyes.
    That's how I happened to see Ghost and Horse Whisperer--both of which I loved, though there are parts of each that I haven't seen.
    Tale of a Vampire does sound interesting and since Sharon, though not a fan of scary, likes Tremor, I might give them a try-- IF I can find someone to tell me when to close my eyes!

  9. I'm not a big fan of scary movies, but I love Halloween! Go figure. Must be the pumpkins....

  10. Great list, Christina!

    I've seen several of them and I'm with Sharon, Tremors is on my list of FAVE Movies of All Time! It is incredibly entertaining and the resolution of the "problem" is ingenious and believable.

    I LIKE scary movies. Truly scary, like Poletergeist or the original Psycho (which the DH and I watched just last week). Not dumb slasher movies where the characters are all TSTL. I also LURVE zombie movies! Sean of the Dead and Fido are two of my favorites and both are humorous send-ups.

    One of my favorite recent scary movies that is a kind of riff on zombie movies is 28 Days Later. A mysterious "infection" decimates 99% of the population of the UK and the story follows a small group of survivors. GREAT STUFF! Highly recommend it.


  11. Aunty Cindy - 28 Days Later was not bad, and had sort of a romance in it, although when running from zombies it is hard to fall in love . . . Jake Weber and Sara Polley managed it in Dawn of the Dead, but you girls who don't like horror need to stay far away from that one!

  12. I am old school and am thinking of Lon Chaney as the mummy. He was always swooping his eternal love into his nasty bandaged arms and carrying her off to his watery grave or to his creepy dark crypt. Too bad she was always a living woman and didn't really appreciate his deep abiding love for her. But, she always fainted dead away during the swooping part so he had no way of explaining to her that it was meant to be. How romantic!

  13. Can I just say that I think I am the only female I know that absolutely HATES and REFUSES to watch anything with the word horror invovled. It drives the men in my life nuts as they would like to watch them, and they can't if I am in the room.


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