Valentine’s Day is almost here. Though it’s technically a ‘holiday’, no one gets a day off and just a month and a half removed from Christmas, we’re forced to spend more money. So even if you’re in a relationship, there’s no guarantee you’ll be happy with the holiday. And for those going through a break-up, Valentine’s Day is agony. Fortunately, if you’re not a fan of rom-com’s, the horror genre understands your pain. Plenty of horror movies revolve around tough break-ups. From David Cronenberg’s The Brood to Midsommar, this edition of The Chopping Block takes a look back at eight examples of break-up horror movies just in time for Valentine’s Day.
The Brood (1979)
Divorce can be an ugly thing. Some couples would rather set the world on fire than watch their ex walk away with anything that feels like a win. Enter a young David Cronenberg fresh off a handful of indie body horror successes, Shivers and Rabid. Oh, and Cronenberg had also just gone through his own divorce. What he offered audiences was The Brood – a gonzo tale of Hal Raglan, a man investigating the controversial Somafree Institute of Psychoplasmics where his estranged wife is institutionalized. Amidst their bitter custody battle, Hal discovers a series of murders connected to the Institute. Did I mention that the murderers are the deformed offspring of wife, Nora, birthed from her deep-seated rage and trauma? Not surprisingly, The Brood is grotesque, uncomfortable, and compelling. At the very least, The Brood will make you feel better about your own break up.
Beware casual horror fans – Possession earns every bit of the ‘cult’ in its cult status reputation. Andrzej Żuławski’s story of the dissolution of a West Berlin spy’s marriage is a gonzo arthouse horror movie beyond description. Thematically complex and narratively opaque, Żuławski crafts a surrealist nightmare that is more of an experience than engaging with a traditional story. On one hand, it’s the kind of movie made for critics or film studies majors. Yet there’s no denying the visceral nature of the onscreen imagery that’s more disturbing than much of what you’d find in contemporary horror. Like Roman Polanski’s Repulsion or David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, Possession is nightmarish movie that sears itself onto your brain – watching it is unforgettable. You just likely won’t have a clue what you just watched.
Fatal Attraction (1987)
When it was released in the late 80s, people coined Fatal Attraction the psychological thriller that scared husbands into fidelity. Not only was this stalker flick a global box office sensation, Fatal Attraction earned several Oscar nominations, including one for Glenn Close’s memorable turn as the dangerously obsessed ‘other woman’. Plenty of stalking thrillers have copied this blueprint to much lesser results. Some critics have rightly pointed out that there’s something a bit sexist about the ease by which the successful business woman Alex Forrest turns into a ‘mad woman’. But there’s no denying that Fatal Attraction is a supremely effective suspense movie with a fantastic final jump. And if you own a pet rabbit, you may want to make sure it’s safe in its cage before watching this one.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Now here’s how you mix horror and comedy into some fun and compelling. After slacker man-child Shaun’s girlfriend dumps him, all he wants to do is have a pint with his mate, Ed, at the Winchester. And then a zombie apocalypse really throws a wrench into Shaun’s day. Today, writer and director Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Last Night in Soho) is rightly regarded as a master of his craft. And Shaun of the Dead isn’t just a great zombie comedy – it stands as one of the best horror movies in the last 20 years. Wright effortlessly blends laughs, zombie carnage, and genuine heartfelt emotions into a movie that can be watched over and over again. Some Oscar bait movies struggle to capture a fraction of the feelings you’ll have for Wright’s characters. By its finale, Shaun of the Dead will have you rooting for Shaun to win back Liz.
Splat pack member Adam Green’s second major feature, Hatchet, boldly claimed it was a return to ‘old-fashioned American horror’. Imagine a late 80s Friday the 13th sequel dialed up to an ’11 out of 10′ on the gore scale and that’s Hatchet. Still reeling from breakup, Joel David Moore’s (Grace: The Possession) college student Ben decides to skip on Mardi Gras parties for a haunted swamp tour. Not surprisingly, it’s a bad idea for Ben – but a great choice for gorehounds. Simply put, Hatchet is a wild homage to the excesses of the 80s slasher. Horror fave Kane Hodder (Jason Goes to Hell, Death House) stars as the massive Victor Crowley alongside some insane practical gore effects. Two decent sequels rounded out the story followed by an ill-conceived, belated sequel.
The Strangers (2008)
On its initial release, critics weren’t overly receptive to The Strangers. But audiences didn’t much care and drove this creepy home invasion thriller to cult status, earning a belated sequel in the process. Regardless of its critical reception Bryan Bertino’s thriller benefits from a simple concept executed to near perfection. An engagement gone wrong coupled with an isolated locale and creepy antagonists, The Strangers delivers edge-of-your-seat suspense and a bleak ending that lingers with you long after the final credits. Both Scott Speedman (Underworld) and Liv Tyler are excellent in their respective roles. Throw in a trio of genuinely unnerving villains and the line, ‘Because you were home’, should send chills down your spine.
Burying the Ex (2014)
Joe Dante has some good movies over the course of his career – The Howling, Gremlins, Piranha. Too bad Burying the Ex isn’t one of those movies. There’s a lot of talent behind this story of a meek man whose manipulative, controlling, and now dead girlfriend returns from the grave to spoil his new relationship. Anton Yelchin (Green Room, Fright Night), Ashley Greene (Twilight series), and Alexandra Daddario (We Summon the Darkness, Texas Chainsaw) all bring a bit of charm to the proceedings. But Burying the Ex is neither funny nor scary. Outside of a few sparse moments, this horror-comedy mostly plays out as tedious. Somewhere in this effort Dante has a clever premise about how tough it is to get out of a toxic relationship. As it stands, however, you’d be better off just dumping Burying the Ex.
Is there a better horror movie dealing with break-ups than Midsommar? Not likely. Following up on his debut classic, Hereditary, Ari Aster showed no signs of a sophomore slump. Following the tragic death of her family, Dani tags along with her boyfriend Christian and his friends on a trip to a Swedish commune. Hester’s story of a bizarre cult juxtaposed with a slowly fracturing relationship is the ultimate in slow-burn, elevated horror. Aster’s approach to genre conventions are so restrained – almost muted – that it actually adds to their shock-value. And Florence Pugh’s performance Oscar-worthy performance has you absolutely identifying with her gaslit Dani. When Christian gets stuffed into that bear carcass you can’t help but silently cheer a bit.