Not everyone loves Valentine’s Day. If you’re single or recently had your heart broken, it’s a bit of an exclusive holiday. Romantic comedies aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Or maybe you’re just worn out from all the Hallmark Christmas movies on Netflix. In this Chopping Block column, I have a list of five ‘alternative’ romantic horror movies to get you through this February 14.
5 – Return of the Living Dead III
Like Def Leppard once sang, ‘Love Bites’. The second sequel to Dan O’Bannon’s horror-comedy gem, Return of the Living Dead, Part III has little in common with its predecessors. Aside from the ‘living dead’ and references to the Trioxin contaminant, this sequel is tonally different from the Parts I and II, opting for a more serious approach to the material. The story followers a rebellious teenager, Curt, who sneaks his girlfriend, Julie, into the military base where his father works. Not surprisingly, Curt’s teen hijinks end badly. Julie is killed in a motorcycle accident. To revive his love
As expected, Return of the Living Dead Part III boasts the expected explicit gore of a zombie movie. Moreover, this sequel continues the series’ tradition of fun, gross-out creature designs. Its fetish-inspired body modification scenes also somewhat tap into the punk rock aesthetics that have defined this zombie series. But it’s the unexpected Curt and Julie’s romance that anchors everything. For what’s essentially a B-movie, their teen romance is surprisingly moving. The tragic ending is almost the zombie equivalent of Shakespeare. Almost.
4 – The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Love conquers all. Before David FIncher’s Se7en or Saw, there was Vincent Price’s classic revenge tale, The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Price is Anton Phibes, a doctor, musician, and biblical scholar, believed to be dead after a car crash. Inexplicably, Phibes survived the crash, but is horribly disfigured. Now the crazed Phibes seeks revenge against the nine doctors responsible for his wife’s death on the operating table.
Fans of the nihilistic Se7en should see some parallels. Phibes orchestrates elaborte deaths for his victims based on the plagues unleashed on the Egyptians. But that’s about the only comparison between the two movies. The 1970’s produced quite a few idiosyncratic horror movies. Not surprisingly, Dr. Phibes is a product of its time period. This Price classic is rife with deliciously dark offbeat moments. In addition, Price gets to ham it up as only he could. Arguably, it’s one of Price’s better movies. So if you’re feeling down on Valentine’s Day, Dr. Phibes is a quirky testament to how far someone will go for love.
3 – Audition
Takashi Miike’s Audition straddles the fence between the mystery/suspense genre and outright horror. Its story revolves around a widower who sets up sham auditions for a movie role to screen potential girlfriends. Consider it a cautionary tale for anyone embellishing their Tinder profile. Audition takes its time as Aoyama falls in love with the young woman he auditioned, Asami. Miike drops little hints here that something isn’t quite right. This is a slow-burn done right.
Don’t go into Audition expecting traditional jump scares. Miike is more interested in disturbing and getting under your skin. One scene in Asami’s apartment, with a large duffel bag, in the background will leave you with an uneasy feeling of dread. Its final act is an endurance test with one of the more infamous scenes of violence in horror film history.
2 – The Loved Ones
Australian director Sean Byrne turned heads with his feature film debut, The Loved Ones. Popular Brent politely declines awkward Lola Stone’s request to accompany her to the prom. Unfortunately, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. On the night of the prom, Lola’s over-zealous father abducts Brent and ties him to a chair in the family kitchen. One way or the other, Lola is getting her own special prom night.
The Loved Ones is Oz-plotiation at its best. Byrne’s alternates between quiet mounting tension and swift brutal violence. The result is well-executed and timed shocks that elicit maximum discomfort from audiences. All the acting performances are top notch. In particular, Robin McLeavy gives a truly unsettling performance as ‘Lola’. Sadly it took Byrne almost eight years to release his next movie, The Devil’s Candy. Let’s cross our fingers and hope we don’t have to wait that long for his next film.
1 – The Bride of Frankenstein
The Bride of Frankenstein is one of the better, if not the best, of the Universal Monsters monster movies. Following the success of Frankenstein, The Bride continues Henry Frankenstein’s story as he’s forced to create a mate for The Monster by former mentor, Dr. Pretorius. Like the best of the golden era monster movies, director James Whale seeps his sequel in rich atmosphere and dark gothic shadows. In addition, Bride continues the humanization of The Monster, once again masterfully played by Boris Karloff. When The Monster finally sees his ‘Bride’ and hopefully asks, ‘Friend’, and she screams in terror, you can almost feel the poor guy’s heart break.