Something author Tiffany Reisz once said has always stuck with me — that, to her, the closest genre to BDSM romance is horror. Presumably because they both involve facing and conquering fear. As a horror movie junkie, I totally acknowledge that if there’s a shippable pair thrown together against the threat — or maybe it’s the protagonist and the threat — I am all for it. Because there’s nothing like the combination of passion and terror. Everything is heightened. The stakes are astronomical. It’s not just hearts on the line — it’s lives, too.
Horror also tackles so many fascinating tropes — taboo relationships, us-against-the-world, lovers-on-the-run. But, unlike most mainstream romances, horror happily exposes the creepy underbelly of those plots. Just look at 2013’s Stoker, written by Prison Break’s Wentworth Miller and gorgeously directed by Park Chan-wook. Mia Wasikowska stars as India Stoker, a young woman who develops an intense attachment to her charismatic uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode). The incestuous elements are the least troubling bits of the film — and I could not look away! I don’t know what this says about Mia’s career choices, but she’s also in two other films I’d recommend to romance readers: 2015’s Crimson Peak and 2013’s Only Lovers Left Alive. (Both co-star Tom Hiddleston, which is a huge selling point for me). Guillermo del Toro and Jim Jarmusch’s respective aesthetics are gorgeous. Just like a good romance zeroes in on the protagonists, so does horror — to an almost claustrophobic extent. These are both films about being stuck — and, honestly, I’m never going to complain about being trapped with Tom Hiddleston, whether he’s an incestuous gold-digger or an emo vampire.
Speaking of vampires, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It’s so lush and epic and ambitious. I don’t know if Francis Ford Coppola really pulled it off, but Gary Oldman definitely runs away with the movie. Mina (Winona Ryder) discovered her sexual power through the legendary bloodsucker, and so did many viewers! But if you want something a little less decadent and overwrought, there’s Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark. Released in 1987, it’s gritty and violent and maniacal and so entertaining. The late Bill Paxton is riveting as the biggest threat to young vampire lovers Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) and Mae (Jenny Wright), and you spend the entire film hoping they’ll make it. (Spoiler alert: They do!)
Another thing horror movies have in common with romance is a focus on the human body — except that it’s not so much about 9-inch erections or rosy nipples. Yeah, this is where I bring up David Cronenberg, whose 1986 cult classic The Fly probably has one of the most screwed-up romances of all time! Jeff Goldblum literally falls apart and turns into a murderous insect after boning Geena Davis! If that’s not a great analogy for relationship dysfunction, I don’t know what is! Cronenberg’s body horror aesthetic also runs through a film he co-starred in: Clive Barker’s 1990 Nightbreed — based on my favorite Barker novella, Cabal. It’s a gorgeously freaky story about love and loyalty and finding your people. Lori’s (Anne Bobby) faith in Boone (Craig Sheffer) is unshakeable, even when he’s accused of brutal murders, even when he’s presumed dead, and even when he begins to transform into something else. Talk about #relationshipgoals. Horror takes those “I love you just the way you are” moments from romance and ups the ante. It asks you to embrace the monster — both internal and external.
Last but not least in my musings on love and terror…? Aliens. Perhaps the most significant horror film about motherhood and fighting for your family, the 1986 James Cameron fan-fave is also one of the most poignant romantic missed opportunities of all time. Badass warrant officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and laconic corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn) never kiss. The closest they get physically is some sexually charged firearms training and leaning on each other when wounded. But their emotionally intimacy in just a handful of scenes has stood the test of time. Hicks believes in, and admires, Ripley from the beginning — and when she realizes he’s the most competent of the Colonial Marines, that respect and admiration is quickly returned. I refuse to acknowledge Alien 3, which killed off Hicks, because I want to believe Ripley and Hicks fighting all those xenomorphs on LV-426 and escaping with little Newt meant something.
Good horror, like good romance, means something — and I’d like to think the core message is that you can face anything if there’s someone there to hold you when things go bump in the night.
Originally published on HeroesandHeartbreakers.Com