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Love does not ignore horror, it embraces it. Classic horror writers such as J. Sheridan Le Fanu knew this well. His novel, Carmilla, is one of the first to explore love and sexuality through the horror lens. Classic films such as Dracula (1958) and Dragonwyck (1946) also greet the audience with lust, love, and bloodshed. These titles are among the most famous to make up the gothic romance genre. The films within the genre have a heavy atmosphere and reveal a side of horror that is as poignant as it is spine-chilling. Gothic romances are often full of vampires and cannibals. For what is love but the desire to devour another?
The symptoms of love and fear are very similar. The heart beats faster, and adrenaline courses through the veins. This proves that love is not horror’s opposite, but its equal. Both feelings are so intense and primal that they lead to the most captivating stories. Dark stories wherein lie kindred spirits for all who are lost. In the dark hallways and gloomy landscapes that make a horror film, outcasts find each other. Perhaps the characters offer the same kinship to the audience. Keep reading this list to discover films that will send shivers down your spine while pulling at your heart.
The Best Love Story Plotlines in Horror Films
Seymour and Audrey are meant to be together. Unfortunately, they’re both in terrible relationships that are keeping them apart. Audrey is with an abusive dentist named Orin, and Seymour is being controlled by a sentient, bloodthirsty plant named Audrey II. Little Shop of Horrors has two different endings, so Seymour and Audrey’s love story plays out quite differently depending on the version you see. But either way, the innocent love shared by two characters who are losing their innocence to outside forces is the highlight of this musical-comedy-horror film.
Having nowhere else to go, Ning Tsai-Shen (also written as Ling Choi San) takes shelter in a temple. He isn’t the only being who has found comfort within these ancient walls, however. Ghosts soon capture his attention while a beautiful woman, Nieh Hsiao-Tsing (also written as Lip Siu Sin), captures his heart. When Ning Tsai-Shen discovers that the woman he has fallen for is among the dead, he will do anything in his power to save her spirit. Even if it means battling an ancient entity that already possesses Nieh Hsiao-Tsing’s soul and wants to hold it hostage.
Though he has lived for hundreds of years, Dracula refuses to stop looking for love. When he sees a photo of Mina, he travels across countries and seas to be by her side. His vampiric undead nature doesn’t bother her. Instead, Mina is drawn to him and all the dark mystery that he possesses. Made of equal parts passion and violence, this film brings Bram Stoker’s classic gothic novel to life.
Does “till death do us part” still apply when the dead don’t stay dead? That is a philosophical question for most people, but for Francesco Dellamorte the implications are all too real. Francesco is the caretaker of a cemetery where the dead rise as zombies, and it is part of his job to kill the undead for good. When he falls madly in love with the beautiful widow of an old man whom Francesco and his assistant Gnaghi bury, he begins a love affair that leads to death and madness. Theirs is an all-consuming and tragic love story right from the start.
When Pauline and Juliet find each other, a deep connection instantly forms. The girls grow closer as they write a fantasy world together. Eventually, they become so close that they practically fuse, even in consciousness. Though based on a true murder case, the story is told with surprising softness. “Our intention was to make a film about an intense relationship that went terribly wrong,” says Director Peter Jackson. To give the feeling of childlike whimsy, this blended genre film integrates fantastical visual effects into the live action.
Even though Sidney is the main focus of most of the Scream movies, the tumultuous relationship between Dewey and Gale is the heart of the franchise. In no other movie is their love so pure and hopeful as in Scream 3. Despite beginning the movie in very different places after having already dated and broken up, the two of them find each other again and decide to really try to make things work. But sometimes, no matter how much you love someone, no matter how strong your bond is, the realities of living a life together just never works out.
Many people think Cloverfield is a found-footage monster movie. Those people are correct. But also, maybe even more importantly, Cloverfield is a love story. The driving force of the story isn’t the monster, the military, or the destruction of New York City. Cloverfield is really about one man’s fight to trek across town and rescue the woman he loves after the pair became separated earlier in the evening after an argument. For Rob and Beth, risking everything to be with each other is the only thing to do.
Exhausted from constant bullying, Oskar dreams of revenge. Finally, he finds someone who will make his dream a reality. Eli is not only comfortable with blood, but she craves it as badly as Oskar does. “[Eli] is all that violence that is inside of him that needs to come out,” director Tomas Alfredson says of Eli and Oskar’s relationship. “He can’t fight back because he’s too weak or he’s too scared so she becomes that, all the violence inside of him.” As the two come closer together, the world around them falls apart. This snow-covered Nordic film looks dark and cold. Yet, warmth radiates from the young couple at its center.
Sometimes you can’t see that the person right in front of you is the one you’re meant to be with. This is true for Tree when, on her birthday, she wakes up in Carter’s bed after a night of drinking. Tree is mean to Carter (and pretty much everyone else around her), but luckily for her she is in a time loop. That means she’s able to relive her birthday over and over until she realizes/develops her feelings for Carter. Unluckily for Tree, the time loop also involves getting murdered over and over on her birthday.
Love is timeless, but in the Fear Street trilogy, a love story is told over more than 300 years. Sort of. When we first meet Deena in Fear Street Part 1: 1994, she is hurting over her breakup with her ex-girlfriend Sam. But when Sam becomes the focal point of a series of supernatural killings tied to their town’s past, Deena does everything she can to save her. In the third Fear Street movie, Deena has a vision of a story from 1666 in which she experiences a doomed love between two young women that, in a way, parallels her and Sam. Knowing the truth, Deena might finally have the answer to saving her love in 1994.
Maren struggles to control her impulses. As she sets off on a road trip, she meets Lee, someone who craves the same thing she does—human flesh. While traveling the USA, the two cannibals fall in love with each other. The weight of their moral dilemma feels lighter once shared. “The fascinating thing about Maren and Sully,” Taylor Russell says of her character’s relationship with the film’s main villain played by Mark Rylance, “is that it’s not like she’s completely freaked out by him. It’s not black and white. She feels a sort of familial draw to him.”
In Knock at the Cabin, the love created by Eric and Andrew has the power to save or destroy the world. At least, that is essentially what they are told by four strangers who break into their cabin. Eric, Andrew, and their daughter Wen are told that one of them must sacrifice themself, otherwise an apocalypse of biblical proportions will occur. As they struggle to come to terms with their situation, flashbacks of the struggles Eric and Andrew went through to form the strong relationship they currently have add tremendous weight to the decision they are being forced to make.
More Horror Films with the best Love Story Plotlines
- Cat People (1942) – Irena Dubrovna is in love, but she fears if she becomes too passionate her people’s curse will overtake her.
- Dead Alive (aka Braindead, 1992) – Paquita believes that she and Lionel are fated to be together, but Lionel has to get over his mommy issues first. His zombified mommy issues.
- Return of the Living Dead III (1993) – It’s like Romero and Juliet, but Juliet/Julie is a zombie who craves fresh human brains.
- Saw III through Saw 3D (2006-2010) – John Kramer and Jill Tuck didn’t have the most stable of relationships, but it does say a lot when a woman will defend her ex-husband even when she completely disagrees with his killing ways, and when a man will try to ensure that his ex-wife is protected (or avenged) even after his own death.
- Thirst (2009) – Falling ill from an experimental injection, Sang-hyun is given a blood transfusion. The blood that now runs in his veins is contaminated and leaves him craving more, and the wife of his friend is attracted to the newfound vigor Sang-hyun possesses.
- Warm Bodies (2013) – An unusual zombie forms an attachment with a living person. As their relationship deepens, the two must work together to fight opposing forces.
- Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) – In a romance that spans hundreds of years, a family of bohemian vampires tries to survive modern society.
- Crimson Peak (2015) – When an author falls in love she moves into the estate of her new husband. Her new home is grand but has halls that are as haunted as she is by ghosts of the past.
- What Keeps You Alive (2018) – Newlyweds Jackie and Jules remote getaway doesn’t go as planned. Their quality time turns deadly when true intentions are revealed and deadly plots uncovered.