Friday, February 12, 2010

Love, Doll's House Style

Love is in the air, and it smells an awful lot like rotting flesh. That's an aphrodisiac for some of the characters we'll take a look at as, in honor of Valentine's Day and all its Hallmarky symbolism, we venture into some of genre cinema's best onscreen romances.

Cat People

Most men would feel no sympathy for John Heard for having to choose between cute girl-next-door Annette O’Toole and feline Natassja Kinski. Most people also despise this 1982 remake of Val Lewton’s classically terrifying original, made forty years prior with way more skin and way less tension. If you take Paul Schrader’s eroti-thriller on its own terms, however, Cat People features a surprisingly sexy love triangle (temporarily squared by Malcolm McDowell’s seductively incestuous brother). Is it scary? Not unless you really love Ed Begley Jr.’s arms (and who doesn’t?) but spending 90 minutes watching kinky transmorphing love scenes scored to David Bowie music sounds way hotter than squirting adult shop massage oil on your loved one's human back. Bore-ing.

Not really a horror and on the surface, hardly a romance in the traditional sense, but Takeshi Miike’s 2001 hybrid does feature one of the sweetest and most refreshing love stories of the last ten years. The film itself--a quirky musical about a cheerfully dysfunctional family trying to make ends meet--is fondly remembered for its claymation uvula-eating goblins, dancing zombies, and karaoke ready numbers, but Mr. & Mrs. Katakuri’s 20+ year marriage is the steadily beating heart of what could easily have been a chaotic mess. It’s rare enough to see a genuine relationship built on support rather than drama in the movies, much less a funny and touching family foundation expressed through disco and directed by a man better known for dead puppies. Chalk it up as a point for the middle aged, financially insecure, musically gifted lovebirds out there.

I hesitate to recommend this 2007 horror/blackomedy/thriller not because of its quality, but simply due to the fact that its driving-force love story is the weakest aspect of what is otherwise a near-great genre film. Telling the tale of a fictionalized city infected by a Crazies-like virus spread via television waves, The Signal focuses on a cheating wife and the affair that leads her and her redheaded lover through blood-soaked streets and wacky dinner parties turned Irreversible. The good news is that you get a truly frightening massacre AND a bloody good comedy for a decent hour; the bad news is the film's final thirty minutes drag on like a dull blind date. Then again, you get to finish the almost-anthology fooling your loved one into believing that he/she has just watched a genuinely appropriate romantic movie, and isn't the end result all that really matters?

Miracle Mile

Is there anything more charming than geek love at first sight? Ask Anthony Edwards' Harry Washello, a trombonist and history museum groupie (seriously) who falls quickly for spiky haired Mare Winningham in this 1988 nuclear thriller. What starts as a nerdily adorable romance quickly delves into Twilight Zone levels of tension, as Harry tries to make up for a missed date by staking himself at a diner payphone, only to instead intercept a frantic warning about an upcoming Soviet bombing. Are these the ramblings of a mad man, or genuine classified information? Does it matter when you have the chance to save the life of a cute girl and her sweetly separated grandparents? What follows is an increasingly suspenseful race against a doomsday clock that may or may not be ticking. Harry’s adventures change the course of LA (and possibly, the world) but at its heart, Miracle Mile is a documentation of how to plan the most memorable second date ever.

A Perfect Getaway

AKA Couples Retreat for an audience with better taste. This 2009 film was cursed with a misleading ad campaign and terribly timed release date, but from its newlywed leads to gorgeous Hawaiian (aka Puerto Rican) setting, A Perfect Getaway is the perfect date movie for a cold February night. Three attractive couples (well, Steve Zahn's nerdy screenwriter is questionable but everybody is somebody's type) end up in an isolated beach location, which would be fine if hazy Internet headlines weren't reporting a Mickey & Mallory pair on the loose. To say anything more would toe spoiled waters, so I'll tempt both sexes with this: while the gents enjoy the trifecta of blond hippie Marley Shelton, Georgia peach Kiele Sanchez, and the always bonily beautiful Milla Jovovich while the ladies are more than satisfied with a gleefully over the top Timothy Olyphant in a performance so good, it’s near Jedi status.

Deadly Friend

Gents, having trouble finding that perfect gift for the lady in your life? If you’re a super genius and your girlfriend is dying, has Wes Craven got a solution for you: implant your pet robot’s memory into her brain. True, she may develop a slight case of homicidal mania, but most of her victims are fairly deserving. How long could you possibly live next door to Anne “Owen, you lazy poop” Ramsey before giving into the urge to make her brains explode by hurling a basketball its way? And hey, you’re legally excused if you sic your blond baggy eyed girlfriend to do the dribbling. There are many words to describe Deadly Friend--awful, awesome, atrocious, amazing--but the nearest to someone with a Kristy Swanson and/or robot fetish is love.


Take a vengeful South Korean self-taught martial arts master, add a young sushi chef with warm hands and--okay, we’ll stop there. If you’ve seen Chan-wook park’s 2003 classic, you’re probably squirming in your cubicle right about now but even in your instinctual disgust, you can’t deny that Oldboy is a film? The controversial romance probably wouldn’t put your Valentine in the mood for anything other than a cold shower, but you get naked when you shower, right?

Bride/Seed of Chucky

Will those crazy kids ever make it work? As we know by one of the best silhouette sex scenes of all time, the answer to that is, like many a married couple, occasionally. Chucky introduced the world to his one and only in this 1998 horror comedy and boy was she ever adorable. Tiffany, played by Jennifer Tilly and bleach-blond bridal doll with one foul mouth, is everything you’d expect a murderous plaything to find attractive: innovative kill style, emerald green eyes, and a tenacity that just can’t be tamed with electrocution or fires. As we see in both this film and its underrated followup, the Lee Ray union is rockier than Pamela Anderson and any one of her husbands du jour, but doesn’t that make for more entertainment? Especially when the product of such love is an awkward young doll with identity issues and gender confusion? Would we expect any less?

Let the Right One In

Everybody remembers their first kiss, but most don’t spend the rest of their lives surrounded by blood-drained corpses as a result. Let the Right One In is a film about many things--friendship, childhood, vampyrism--but perhaps the most good-natured filter to use is that of simple old fashioned love story. Director Tomas Alfredson carefully develops the tentative relationship between the bullied Oskar and ageless Eli, starting as a charming playground meet-cute and ending with a train ride more romantic than anything that happens on board  Before Sunrise. Yes, if you spend any time considering the inevitably tragic future of the young(ish) couple, you’re left in a state of sad doom, but in its understated running time, Let the Right One In is as innocent as a middle school dance.

Shaun of the Dead

The beauty of this well-loved zomedy lies not only in its genius homages, surprising suspense, and cheeky humor, but also in not one but two love stories brimming with affection. For those with a soft spot for can-these-darn-kids-make-it-work stories, Shaun's misguided attempts to keep his long-suffering girlfriend are sweet and sadly, easily identifiable. Those who'd rather simulate 2D love with XBox 360, on the other hand, can take comfort in the genuine bromance between Shaun and his lovable loser of a best friend. Something for everyone, with Evil Dead references to boot.

The Fly

Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis had an offscreen romance while filming, because nothing lights the flames of passion faster than body horror and AIDS metaphors. Lightheartedness aside, The Fly is arguably one of Canuck love machine David Cronenberg’s best films due in no small part to the tragic chemistry of its two vertically gifted leads. I have minor quibbles with career woman Veronica’s tendency to fall in bed with all the men she works with, but The Fly remains as much an adult love story as a gooey creature feature, delving into attraction, jealousy, and sacrifice better than any Nicolas Sparks adaptation your soon-to-be-ex-girl (or boy)friend might unwittingly drag you to this Sunday.

And a few honorable mentions that didn’t make the cut primarily for not being fresh enough in my mind to merit a full paragraph:
An American Werewolf In London
Bram Stoker’s Dracula 
Cemetery Man
Dead Alive
Little Shop of Horrors
Near Dark
Return of the Living Dead 3
The Toxic Avenger

So this Valentine’s Day, introduce your partner to a new world of cinematic intimacy the right way: with genre films about sexually active toys, androgynous vampires, NBA caliber robots, leprosy-ridden scientists, and more. How can you possibly go wrong?


  1. Watching that scene just never gets old.

  2. I love how Ramsay screams before anything happens. Like she KNOWS the power Swansons wields as she picks up that basketball.