What do I know about romance?
That’s a good question, and I will freely admit that I have no more insight on the subject than anyone else. Depending on the litmus test, probably even less.
I do know one thing, romantic love as an emotional and physical response leaves you vulnerable, which is something that can be very rewarding and fulfilling when things go right. On the flipside, love can go wrong, leaving you susceptible to all manner of pain and sorrow. The fact is you just don’t know how a relationship is going to turn out. That’s the risk. So there’s always an element of fear whenever we enter a new relationship.
H.P. Lovecraft famously said, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” That applies to love and romantic relationships. If the horror genre does anything, it exposes our fears and confronts them head on.
This is the time of the year when love reigns supreme and hope springs eternal. You welcome the promise of a new beginning, embrace the anticipation of a fresh start, and declare your love for that special someone on Valentine’s Day. For all of us here who also enjoy horror in all its guises, it’s the perfect opportunity to take a walk together and explore what lurks beyond romance’s moonlit path. I thought a fun way to do that would be to explore a few of 1980’s top horror films that have elements of romance.
I chose to evaluate five, avoiding more obscure movies, while considering the more iconic films, or at least those that are well-known enough so that most people have seen or heard of them.
You will note that I titled this article, Five “Top” Horror/Romance Movies From the 1980’s, and did not use the word “Best” because this is a subjective list. This article is meant to be a fun way to encourage some interesting conversation, maybe even trigger a spirited debate, as each reader considers the films they would put on their own short list. Everyone’s list is likely to be considerably different, and that’s how it should be. This is my selection alone, so keep that in mind.
At number five on my list is Joel Schumacher’s teen vampire picture, The Lost Boys. The melodrama is high, and the horror may be a bit understated, but the fish-out-of-water formula about a mother and her two teenage sons relocating to a new town inhabited by a gang of super cool vampires works to perfection. When the oldest son, Michael, played by Jason Patrick, falls in love with Star, the undead girlfriend of David, the spike-haired lead bloodsucker played by Kiefer Sutherland, that’s when the action really take wing. The cast includes Teen Beat heartthrobs Corey Haim (Sam) and Corey Feldman (Edgar), with Jami Gertz as Star.
It’s pop cinema at its finest. The vampires hang out in the creepy lair of a derelict building, which is where Michael takes a drink of what he believes to be wine, but is in fact David’s blood. The side effects of his imbibement is, you guessed it, ‘vamporization.’
There are also plenty of light comedic moments, especially when Sam first realizes that his brother is a vampire. The film’s ending is fulfilling, with a bit of a twist most do not see coming. If you haven’t seen it already, you will enjoy watching The Lost Boys, a guilty pleasure courtesy of 1980’s filmmaking.
My next selection is a horror film that involves dark, obsessive love, which might just be the most destructive kind of all. John Carpenter’s direction of a Stephen King novel, Christine, is not your typical horror/romance flick. The love interest of the main character, Arnie, portrayed by Keith Gordon, happens to be a car.
Who ever said love can only exist between two people, and not between man and machine. Even the hot girl at school, Leigh, played by Alexandra Paul, whom Arnie begins dating, takes a back seat to Christine.
The movie tagline, ‘True love never dies. You can’t destroy it. It’s eternal,’ is accurate, as the car takes on a maniacal life all its own and cannot be destroyed. However, immortality is not something that other characters in the film can boast, including Arnie, who during the course of the film is transformed from an unassuming dweeb to a brooding, smug little snot. And all because his head got turned completely around by a pretty frame. Christine is a beauty all right, a shiny red 1958 Plymouth Fury. Arnie desires to possess it, but the car-fatale ends up possessing him. With vengeance being the driving force behind the violence, it’s satisfying to see the victims meet their fate. Even Arnie gets what he deserves, but like love itself, Christine endures.
Ghost is the next movie on my list. Now, I realize that there are those among you who might take exception with this choice for a couple of reasons, perhaps foremost being that it was released in July of 1990. Categorized as a romantic fantasy, distinctions that are hardly in doubt, some might call into question a horror tag applying to this film. I am not one of those. At the same time, I’m not suggesting that Ghost is in the hardcore horror ranks like the other movies on this list. However, considering it more broadly, with horror being a widely inclusive designation, it can affectively be argued that there is an overlap between horror and the supernatural, one of several elements in Ghost. There is a clear speculative aspect to any ghost story, where you have human interaction with someone existing in another dimension. A film like The Sixth Sense, would also fall into this gray area, though with an even larger overlap of the genres.
As for the decade question, Ghost is a 1980’s film in terms of both style and substance. It was filmed entirely in 1989 and it features two megastars, Demi Moore (Molly) and Patrick Swayze (Sam), whose careers began in the 80’s. If that’s not enough to convince you, technically speaking, each new decade, just like a new millennium, actually begins on January 1 of the year ending in —1 (i.e., 1991 or 2001, etc.). In any event, this is my list and I’m including Ghost as a 1980s film.
Ghost might be heavy on the romance, but it’s more than that. At times it becomes a thriller, with strong comedic moments, thanks largely to Whoopi Goldberg’s portrayal of a fake psychic. The supernatural horror is brilliantly captured on screen in a sequence in which a villainous character dies and is quickly taken away, screaming, to some shadowy realm to pay for his sins in eternity. It’s a remarkable film for any decade.
I have An American Werewolf is London at number two. This film is billed as a comedy/horror, and indeed it provides both in abundance, but it also injects a sufficient amount of romance between antagonist, David (David “wouldn’t-you-like-to-be-a pepper-too?” Naughton), and his love interest, nurse Alex Price (Jenny Agutter) to make it on my list. The couple engage in a brief romance that is believable enough because director John Landis takes just enough time to develop their relationship, but not so much as to interfere with the primary business of creating an entertaining and fun romp complete with hair, fangs and plenty of gore, not to mention stunning special makeup effects which earned Rick Baker the first-ever Academy Award for Best Makeup.
In the end, Alex tries but cannot save David from himself. After he transforms into the beast while inside of a porno theatre at Piccadilly Square, she witnesses him being shot to death by police after going on a bloody rampage through the streets of London.
This is one of my all-time favorite horror movies, which I still watch to this day, now more than forty years after its theatrical release.
The Fly is my choice for top romantic horror movie of the 1980s. It’s a standard boy meets girl, boy gets genetically spliced with a fly, boy turns into fly, girl shoots half man-half fly creature.
Sometimes love can go wrong in the most horrific ways, but you never imagine something like this happening. In a David Cronenberg horror movie, however, it’s just what movie-goers come to expect. With The Fly, the Canadian director, known as the King of Venereal Horror or The Baron of Blood, achieves what few filmmakers, if any, have ever done, and that is creating a classic remake of a movie that was already a classic. The original 1958 film starring David Hedison and Vincent Price entertained and frightened audiences. It became a smash hit that spawned two sequels while making a bonafide horror star of Vincent Price.
In the 1980’s version, brilliant, eccentric scientist, Seth Brundle, portrayed winsomely by Jeff Goldblum, is no ladies’ man. He’s awkward, shy, and naïve, but that’s his charm and appeal, and lovely Geena Davis’ character, Veronica, is drawn to him immediately. In fact, this romantic spark is what opens the film, and a relationship starts to bloom long before the horror begins. The natural chemistry that developed between the pair (both on and off screen) is what makes the climax of this film so tragic. They are two characters you care about and can identify with on a deep level.
For me, the horrific tragedy of their romance is exemplified in this jarring line of dialogue that Seth delivers to Veronica at a point in the movie when everything they had is beyond salvation; “I’m saying I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over and the insect is awake. I’m saying… I’ll hurt you if you stay.”
I remember seeing a girl I knew leaving the theatre with her boyfriend at the end of the movie. She was crying, and I initially thought that she had been moved to tears by the tragedy of this love story gone all to hell. I learned some time later that she’d had some sort of argument with her boyfriend that day, and her anguish at the theatre had nothing to do with the film.
Told you I didn’t know anything about romance.
Still, I was deeply moved by the horror and tragedy of what I witnessed happening on the screen between Seth and Veronica, and I suspected others felt the same way, no matter how absurd the ending of The Fly might seem to otherwise rational-minded people. It’s horror after all, and there is a willful suspension of disbelief.