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February 14, 2022

Master Sardus Archive Vol #2: Rotten Romances

As much as the horror genre relies on blood & guts to establish tone, at its core the whole genre really is built on relationships. All different kinds of relationships are abundant in horror; killer vs victim, familial relationships (parents, siblings, etc), and of course romantic relationships. These relationships are what make the tales of horror compelling. They build stakes into the violence, with actions and reactions taken throughout the story based on the feelings those relationships induce. This is especially true of the romantic relationships in horror. Romantic relationships in horror run the gamut; it could be the reason that the killer is attacking someone, or the reason why someone is looking to foil the killer out of revenge! Incest, obsession, devotion… a little something for everyone!

There have been many wacky romantic relationships throughout horror movie history, and in honor of Valentine’s Day, here are the top 14 Rotten Romances of horror movie history!( I even included a few bonus picks, just in case you can’t get enough.) Here’s to love; may Cupid’s arrow hit you... right between the eyes!

Note: These movie overviews contain spoilers! Read at your own risk, or skip the bits for the movies you may not have seen! Fair warning!

1) Jack and Wendy Torrance – 'The Shining' (1980):

This is a perfect place to start our list, considering The Shining is one of the most popular horror movies ever made. Despite its popularity overall, the relationship between the two parental characters in the movie might be slightly OVERLOOKED (see what I did there… hehehe). The bottom line is that Jack and Wendy are in a broken marriage, desperately looking for a fresh start anywhere they could find one. This (and a quiet place to write) is why Jack even entertains the winter caretaker job at the desolate resort hotel. Wendy is looking for any possible redeeming quality in Jack she could find to justify staying with him in the interest of their young son Danny. This job in the middle of nowhere- by themselves for the winter is proof that this is probably, in her eyes, the last chance she is going to have at mending their marriage.

Once Jack begins his descent into madness, the obvious first target is going to be Wendy. The spirits of the Overlook desperately want to corrupt Jack’s mind and trick him into murdering his family to join the ranks of all the people that have been overcome by the spirits through the years. His only adult obstacle at the hotel is dear ol' Wendy. However, we should never underestimate a mother protecting her child. So despite Jack’s violent outbursts and attempts at slaughtering his family, Wendy maintains enough composure to navigate herself and Danny to safety. In spite of that success, Wendy has to live with the guilt that giving her fuck-up husband “one more chance” led them into this situation at the hotel in the first place… not the easiest thing to deal with, even as a survivor.


2) Fred and Jane –' Macabro' aka' Macabre' (1980)

Extra-marital affairs are nothing extraordinary in cinema, often providing a compelling baseline for the plot to many a movie. But this is Lamberto Bava… so it can’t simply be “an affair”. Fred and Jane are carrying on a torrid relationship behind the back of Jane’s family. Her husband and kids have no idea that mommy is rendezvousing with her side piece daily at a local boarding house. Jane becomes so consumed with Fred that she begins to ignore her motherly responsibilities. It is also causing her teenage daughter Lucy to become oddly suspicious, thus acting out. On one occasion she is tasked with watching her younger brother while mommy goes to get hers. Enraged, Lucy drowns her brother Michael and makes it look like an accident. Jane gets the call and immediately asks Fred to drive her home, but they have a terrible accident that leaves Fred decapitated. Losing her son and lover simultaneously, Jane leaves her family and goes off the deep end.

The funny part is that where it STARTS to get weird. Apparently Jane is still having a relationship with her dead lover… she can be heard moaning and calling out his name. Her landlord suspects something is off with Jane, as does her daughter Lucy. But she seems to be carrying on pretty normally in her newly single life. So both of them probe for more information, constantly finding clues that Fred may actually be around. Seems as if Jane is still having a relationship with Fred, albeit an unconventional one. That doesn’t stop her from loving his decapitated head as if everything is totally normal! This movie has one of the greatest 3rd act reveals ever (even if it is slightly spoiled by cover/poster art. Be warned!). Love always finds a way…


3) Eli and Hakan – 'Let the Right One In' (2008)

          Not all relationships are born strictly out of sexual desire. Some are created out of opportunity and necessity. This is certainly the case between Eli (a thirteen year old female vampire) and Hakan (a man in his 50s). Eli may SEEM like a petite teen incapable of defending herself, but she is actually a killing machine trapped in the body of a teenager. This would definitely make life difficult to navigate alone, especially over the many years of immortality lying ahead for Eli. So she needs to “recruit” a suitable companion, someone who is willing to serve as her adult guardian and can carry out tasks she is incapable of.

          Finding someone to fill this role can’t be an easy task. They have to be ok with the whole idea of making believe that Eli is their daughter, while also being ok with her feeding habits. Enter Hakan, who is especially qualified for the job due to the fact that he is a pedophile! It is implied that Hakan has been with Eli for quite a while, filling the role as guardian/father/grandfather over the years while Eli stays the same age. Hakan's motivation may be the fact that he lusts after the young girl, even if she is a killer who could dispatch him in a moment’s notice. Eli uses this fact to her advantage, assuring Hakan’s loyalty in return for financial compensating him (being a convicted pedophile, job opportunities may be few and far between!) The prospect of eternal life, being around a young girl, AND being taken care of monetarily makes Hakan’s choice a simple one. He is loyal to Eli to the end… and who is going to fill that role once he is gone? Not a traditional relationship but one that is understandable when you get past the questionable ethics of it all.


4) Aoyama & Asami – 'Audition' (1999)

          May-December relationships have been around as long as men and women have desired each other. The idea that ‘age is not important” is a constant, especially regarding older men dating younger women. There is nothing that controversial to this kind of relationship… unless you turn Takashi Miike loose on it!

          Miike is known for his controversial movies that feature ultraviolence and explicit gore. So when we meet sad sack widower Aoyama, who is stuck going through life missing his dead wife, we instantly feel compassion for him. Urged by his own son and his flashy movie-producing friend Yoshikawa to find a new companion, Aoyama is not very enthusiastic about the idea. After all, who would want a guy as old as him with all this emotional baggage? Yoshikawa comes up with the idea of holding a casting call to find Aoyama his new mate. They will put feelers out to tons of young, attractive actresses and maybe one of them will score the "part" as Aoyama’s new love interest. Initially, the experiment seems to be a failure, until we meet the meek and subtly beautiful Asami. She is interested in Aoyama despite being much younger, and agrees to begin seeing him. Very mysterious, none of her qualifications or information on her resume seem to check out. Hmmm. But, despite these red flags, Aoyama still pushes forward because of how desperate he is for companionship.

On a trip to his house, Asami sees a picture of his long-dead wife and it enrages her. She is someone who loves deeply and absolutely… there is only room for HER in Aoyama’s life. What unfolds next is some of the wildest body horror and torture porn of the last 30 years. Will he learn to see it the same way as her, or will he face her jealous wrath forever? This is Miike, so either fate will probably involve some pain.


5) Frank & Anna - 'Maniac' (1980)

          Few films capture the lunacy of a killer as well as William Lustig’s Maniac does. Frank Zito is a brutal killer, completely unhinged from reality and unapologetic about seeing his urge to kill out on a nightly basis. This is not someone conflicted over the idea of taking lives. On the contrary, he seems to relish it. Frank prowls the grimy streets of old New York City looking to relieve the world of any beauty that exists in it. Should you happen to cross paths with him and fit that profile, it is sure to be a long (and probably painful) evening for you. Until he meets up with Anna… one random meeting changes his impulsively violent behavior on a dime.

          Astounded that he can resist his normal urges to kill when it comes to Anna, he takes her out for a date. They talk about his mom and visit her grave in the hopes of connecting on a deeper level… but this just sets Frank off into one of his violent fits. He attacks Anna and luckily she escapes, but Frank is in full freak-out mode. Anna definitely gets off lucky… for now. You never know how crazy someone could be until you start that relationship.


6) Seth & Ronnie - 'The Fly' (1986)

          Love is a powerful thing, one that can overcome many obstacles. When two people are in love they can find a way to get past things like distance, infidelities, and even betrayal. But would two lovers be able to find a way to make it work if one of them transformed themselves into an insect? Leave it to David Cronenberg to try and answer that question!

          The relationship is plagued with trust issues… and not the typical ones. Seth is obsessed with pushing the limits of his scientific experiments, completely disregarding the pleas of his helpless girlfriend Ronnie. When she outright refuses to be complacent in his experimental procedures, he procures another female to take her place. In spite of all this absurd behavior, Ronnie still loves Seth. What she doesn’t know is that Seth wants to fuse his transforming body with hers (and their unborn child's) to create the ULTIMATE FAMILY! This is truly terrifying because Seth wants to give Ronnie the relationship she wants, but only under his bizarre scientific terms. Not exactly a cookie-cutter family existence.


7) Julia and Frank –' Hellraiser' (1987)

          Evil people need love too. Hellraiser is proof of that. Clive Barker’s adaptation of his novella, The Hellbound Heart, illustrates that no matter how bad people may be, they desperately need relationships just like the rest of us. They need companionship, they need people to depend on, and most importantly they need someone who is physically fit to procure victims for them to murder when they're a skinless corpse making their way back from hell. You know… your basic relationship stuff!

          Julia is the worst kind of wife humanly possible. She is an awful stepmother to Kirsty, mistreating the girl at every chance she gets. She banged her husband Larry’s brother Frank before their wedding, which on its own is pretty awful. But when Frank reappears as a skinless corpse after a stay in Hell with the Cenobites, Julia immediately is smitten with her former lover, becoming his accomplice. They begin murdering people and letting Frank drain them of their blood, restoring his physical appearance along the way. Julia does this so that Frank will take her with him, away from the boring suburban housewife role she is stuck in. There is only one problem; Frank is a hedonistic murderer who has escaped from Hell! Is this the kinda guy you WANT to end up with? "Damaged" doesn’t even begin to describe this relationship!


8) Mickey & Mallory – 'Natural Born Killers' (1994)

          Destiny is a funny thing. When you believe in predestination as a concept, you are acknowledging that no matter what the circumstances, the results will be the same. That outcome is inevitable… there is no avoiding it. This is the story with Mickey & Mallory, America’s favorite spree killers in the Tarantino-scripted/Stone-directed opus. These two maniacs come from vastly different situations in life, yet find some sort of solace in each other. The synergy that is created is amazing for them… and terrible for pretty much everyone else they encounter on their cross-country trip.

          Murder, torture, robbery and much more are on tap for the duo. There is nothing that could stop the storm of this combined force. Even after they are incarcerated, they find a way to generate a shit storm of chaos that ultimately results in their bloody reunion. Death seems to be the only thing that can keep these two star-crossed lovers apart, and even that may not be the case. There is a special place for this couple in Hell based on their “accomplishments” during their short time on the road.


9) J.D. & Veronica - 'Heathers' (1989)

          Teen films in the 1980’s painted a rosy picture of kids coming of age during the Reagan era. Even the films that did tackle the “wrong side of the tracks” tropes (The Breakfast Club, Stand By Me ) usually end up with relatively happy endings. So why not create a film that shows the other side of teenage life: the clinically depressed, less-than-popular kids dealing with the torturous trappings of high school? Heathers does just that, and uses the characters of J.D. & Veronica to highlight both sides of the disenfranchised.

          The couple are quite different, yet have the same ideas about conventional teen life at their high school. Veronica is one of cool kids, but she hates everything about that lifestyle. She misses the old days when she was friends with less popular kids and had no pressure to conform to her popular friends behaviors. J.D. is a recent transfer, and he is the typical rebel without a cause. He stands up to the local jock bully and is immediately on Veronica’s radar. As the two begin to spark a romance, they bond over sticking it to the ruling class of popular kids. But when J.D. starts to cross the line to murder (set up to look like suicides) will Veronica join him as his accomplice? Sometimes you have to be careful of the relationship you wish for, because you just may get it… and the murders that come along, as well!


10) Sidney & Billy – 'Scream' (1996)

          There are many motivations for starting a romantic relationship, but revenge usually isn’t one of them. Seems kind of contrary to the whole idea of bonding with someone intimately. Yet this is the case for Sidney & Billy of the original Scream film, two people brought together by sinister events.

          On the surface Sid and Billy’s relationship seems above boards; typical teenage movie tropes shows them carrying on a sensual and loving relationship. But with the one year anniversary of her mother's murder approaching, a new killer resurfaces in her town, committing horrible crimes while contacting/taunting Sidney.  At first she suspects Billy may be tangled up with the killings, but this fear is put to rest pretty quickly. Billy becomes Sidney’s symbol of protection against the possible murderer, offering her someone she can depend on to watch her back. But sometimes you have to go with your gut. Not only is Billy the murderer, but he has other dark connections to Sidney that tie all the way back to her dead mother. Maybe she should have listened to her heart when she suspected Billy, but now it’s far too late for that. Sidney… meet Ghostface.


11) Clarice & Hannibal – 'Silence of the Lambs' (1994)

          As I've mentioned previously, not all relationships are completely rooted in romance. Mentorship and companionship are also reasons why two people find themselves enjoying the benefits of an entanglement. Both of these things play a key role in the relationship between Special Agent Clarice Starling & serial killer Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter. Clarice is a young cadet making her way through the FBI academy. She has a bright future, but relatively no practical experience. Lecter is serving 100s of years in prison for the brutal cannibal murders he was convicted of. He may be imprisoned, but he is a free spirit and yearns to rejoin civilized society again someday.

          Clarice is chosen by her superior to approach Hannibal to help the FBI with another high profile serial killer case currently going on. It is believe the good doctor's expertise on the killer's psychology could be useful, and hopes to motivate him through offers of special privileges for his cooperation. Lecter sees through the ruse and will help Clarice, but not because the FBI wants him too. He helps her so he can reconnect with another capable human being. As someone he respects, Clarice represents hope for the doctor that he will not spend the rest of his remaining days talking to the cum-throwing" Multiple" Miggs in the next cell, or the smarmy shit heel head of his prison section, Dr. Chilton. Not realizing what they are doing for each other, this relationship blossoms into something much more than either one of them could have expected.

12) Alex & Marie –' High Tension' (2003)

          European sensibilities are quite different than their American counterparts. This is especially true when it comes to romantic pairings. Europeans were light years ahead of accepting non-traditional relationships. That is kind of what makes the complex relationship between Alex & Marie in High Tension special. It is not just a simple friendship, there is clearly something deeper there.

          Marie is visiting Alex’s family's house over some sort of holiday break. The family welcomes her and she seems happy to be there. But on the very first night of her stay, there is a random ring of the doorbell. Alex’s dad answers, and is met with one of the most brutal murders in cinematic history at the hands of an unidentified killer! Witnessing this from the top of the stairs, Marie prepares to try and save her friend's family from the same fate. Marie loves Alex and does not want to see her die, so she goes above and beyond to figure out a way to stop this maniac killer, putting herself in danger (as well as getting herself severely injured along the way). The things we do for love, even if it is harbored in secret.


13)  Evan & Louise – 'Spring' (2014)

          Love is a funny thing and you never know where you are going to find it. When we run away from one complicated situation, we might be heading right into a completely different one. Evan is getting into trouble and being a knucklehead back in his hometown as a result of losing his mother to cancer. After getting into a fight and losing his job, he takes a friend's advice to try traveling a bit in the hopes of finding a new path. On a whim, Evan choses to try out Italy. Upon his arrival, he sees a beautiful young lady. Wanting to know more about the mysterious woman, Evan decides to stay in the small village she's from in hopes of crossing paths with her again. He takes a job at a small farm, and after a few brushes with the woman, he finally works up the courage to talk with her... and it results in a torrid night of sex. But Louise has a secret, and she leaves before Evan wakes in the morning.

          Evan is fascinated by the mysterious girl and continues to pursue her, even though she begs him not to. They begin to grow and converse more, sharing more and more details of their lives. But Louise keeps having these instances where she leaves frantically at the drop of a dime, raising concern in Evan. But Louise’s secret is much worse than drugs or a boyfriend… she is actually a 2000 year old Lovecraftian-type monster who mutates every 20 years to stay alive! Torn between what is due to happen any day and her budding romance with Evan, Louise has a very tough choice to make. Love is tough for everyone, even monsters who might eat their current mates.


14)   Henry & Becky – 'Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer' (1986)

          The final spot on our Rotten Relationships goes to one that is born out of perversity and horrible circumstances. You can’t choose your family. You also can’t chose who your family associates with. Unfortunately you may have to interact with both of those groups as you try to live your life. This is the case for poor Becky, sister to a disgraced criminal named Otis. Otis is a piece of shit petty criminal, and he lives with another criminal that he met in jail named Henry. There is one major difference between these two former inmates; Otis is a small potatoes crook, while Henry is a psychotic serial killer with dozens of kills (including his own mom) under his belt. Perfect group of guys to move in with to save some money, huh?

          Henry takes an immediate liking to Becky, and she does to him as well. The odd man out is Otis. Otis & Henry develop a bond over murdering strangers, while Becky & Henry begin embarking on their own romantic endeavor. This makes Otis kind of jealous due to the fact that he has some incestuous designs on his younger sister, much to Henry’s displeasure. Will this lead to more bloodshed or will this unlikely familial unit find a way to live happily ever after?

 (Originally Published in All We Need Is Sleeze: Black BAAD ASSSS Sleeze issue from February 2022)







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