Friday, February 19, 2010

Stalk Like a Man

While researching titles for last week’s column on Valentines-appropriate genre flicks, several films kept appearing with alarming frequency: Fatal Attraction, The Phantom of the Opera, High Tension, to name a few. Now these luscious journeys through cinematic lust are certainly romantic in nature, but to call a tale about unhealthy obsession a “love story” seems creepy and wrong.

Naturally, creepy and wrong is what we do best at this little corner of the interwebs and thusly do I present 8 Tales of Unrequited (and Obsessive) Romance:

1. May

It's not easy being May, even if you are played by the adorable and genre-friendly Angela Bettis. A lazy eye and awkward demeanor makes socializing a challenge and dating nearly impossible. Fortunately, some corrective surgery brings out May’s beauty and before long, she’s the excitable girlfriend of indie moviemaker Jeremy Sisto. Unfortunately, this skinny vet's assistant is not so sharp when it comes to detecting social cues and quickly misinterprets his cinematic passion for cannibalims as a genuine fetish. The relationship may be short-lived, but a little taxidermy and May gets to enjoy the best parts, consent or no consent.
Basis of Obsession: Soft hands
Warning Signs: Chick’s best friend is a porcelain doll; chick not disturbed by violence to animals

2. Phantom of the Opera

Many a list dubs this 1925 silent classic a love story, but while many a lass would willingly surrender to the tortured musician of the title, wimpy Christine Deae has her heart set on a rich and handsome dullard with better wedding photo potential. Hence, it's not so cute when a malformed, musically gifted cellar dweller makes it his mission to train and kidnap the young diva-in-the-making. Some women are just more ungrateful than others.
Basis of Attraction: Soprano voice, prone to fainting
Warning Signs: Dude gives free opera lessons

3. Misery

People respond to their celebrity crushes in many ways: fan letters, Twitter follows, locker photos, locks of hair collecting. Some, like Kathy Bates’ Annie Wilkes, take a more extreme route. In the case of this 1990 Stephen King adaptation, such a method involves rescuing a literary hero, nursing him back to health, then breaking his ankles in a bid to force the just-retired novelist to resurrect his recently killed heroine. It's not romance per say, but Annie is clearly enamored--no, infatuated beyond control--with the character Paul Sheldon has created. When given the opportunity to direct his next literary pursuit, she's simply doing what her heart--and most likely, millions of fellow readers--demand. 
Basis of Attraction: Better writer than Nicolas Sparks
Warning Signs: Chick’s mouth is cleaner than Howie Mandel’s toilet

4. The Collector

Not to be confused with the recent Saw-like horror, this 1965 chiller (based on a controversial novel of the same name by John Fowls) epitomizes the dark and tragically wasteful nature of unrequited love. The icy Terrance Stamp is Frederick Clegg, a bland banker who wins the lottery and celebrates by buying a secluded estate and kidnapping Miranda (Samantha Eggar), a pretty art student he’s declared ideal. What follows is a fascinating interplay between two mismatched people and a true tour de force by Eggar (giving an Oscar nominated performance) as she tries every trick in the Intelligent Hostage Handbook to escape her captor. Indifference, seduction, insult, resignation...nothing can penetrate Stamp’s cold and self-declared adoration. His steely resolve is terrifying in its quiet persistence and how it demonstrates the true irony of obsession: Clegg knows deep down that the liberal-minded, college educated beauty will never really give in and even if she did, such an act would yield her disappointingly mortal. It's a tragedy for both characters and a haunting ride for the audience.
Basis of Attraction: Red hair, artistic ability
Warning Signs: Poor Miranda never gets the chance to detect them, as Clegg’s blank nature means she, like most of her town, simply doesn't him before her basement enslavement. I reckon then that the moral is to simply be aware of windowless vans.

5. High Tension

What’s scarier than a killer trucker with necrophiliac leanings? How about a manic pixie nightmare girl with inexplicable strength, uninhibited obsession, and a complete lack of mercy? While the twist ending (which actually equates to a completely different film than what you see on first viewing) continues to fuel high spirited film geek debate, High Tension maintains a special place as the film that helped and put modern French horror on the map. For most of its brutal running time, High Tension is a terrifying experience in new slasherdom. When we discover the killer's identity and motivation--sheer passion and impossible love--it takes on a different type of horror. Yes, it's Alex who loses her entire family and probably future sense of safety, but poor Marie is forever trapped wanting something she could never honestly have.
Basis of Attraction: Flirty brunette
Warning Signs: Your college roommate seems to be spending a lot of time practicing chainsaw and shotgun skills and judging your sex life

6. Fear

It scares me how much teenage girls are riveted by tales of obsessive and underage romance. I have vivid memories of my fellow 8th graders rushing home to tape (ahh, pre-DVR days) the made-for-TV movie No One Would Tell, wherein a weirdly grown-up Fred Savage abuses insecure girlfriend Candace “DJ Tanner” Cameron to the point of hilarious death. That was kid stuff compared to Fear, Mark Wahlberg’s big break-through thriller about a charming drifter becoming violently infatuated with 16 year old Reese Witherspoon. Classic cars are trashed, dogs decapitated, and Alyssa Milano gets smacked. On her butt cheek. And yet, every Titanic-seeing classmate I knew was smitten. If only Wahlberg had aimed his doorbell shout at them.

Basis of Attraction: Witherspoon’s innocence, even if it gets questioned in one of the most memorable roller coaster sequences since National Lampoon's Vacation
Warning Signs: Soft-spoken Boston accent, subtle flirtation with stepmom

7. The Hand That Rocks the Cradle

I imagine nanny screening is an intense pursuit more difficult than shoe shopping or choosing a college major. Hence, it’s easy to forgive Annabella Sciorra’s Claire Bartel for eagerly hiring Rebecca DeMornay’s Petyon Flanders when she appears to saves Baby Joey from a (staged) choking. For a while, Petyon seems like the best thing in babysitting since Mary Poppins. Too bad she’s actually harnessing a jealous rage towards Claire for destroying the perfect life Peyton almost had with her successful--and perverted--gynecologist husband. Like Annie Wilkes, Petyon isn’t romantically  obsessed with the heroine (or even her dense husband) but when it comes to getting what she wants, that icy blond charmer is one productive go-getter. What is it she covets? How about Claire’‘s identity and all that comes with it: beautiful house, successful husband, adorable/thirsty baby, and decent child actor of a daughter. Good thing picket fences are pointy.
Basis of Attraction: Living the perfect life after causing another woman's naughty Hippocratic oath-abusing husband to kill himself, greenhouse skills
Warning Signs: Chick has better breast milk, clumsy near perfume

8. Patrick</b>

Clara Barton Syndrome strikes with full force in this 1978 Aussie thriller. Three years in a coma, what else can a bug-eyed young chap do but fall in love with the smart and sassy nurse assigned to change his diaper, well-played by Susan Penhaligon (the nurse, not the diaper, cursed dangling modifiers). Gifted with telekinesis but restricted by body and basic ugliness, Patrick attempts to woo the young woman with an unorthodox approach: nearly drowning a suitor, burning her estranged husband, and writing her letters as so:

Surprisingly, the feelings aren’t reciprocated.

Basis of Attraction: Top bedpan skills, good listener
Warning Signs: Inappropriate spitting, Dude causes inconvenient blackouts 

Obviously, I may have missed a few. Already names likeThe Crush, Obsessed, and Fatal Attraction pop up, although --hold her monocles--I've never seen these titles which explains their omission. Add your own and remember: secret admirers may seem romantic, but you never know what that mysterious paramour wants in return for a few overpriced Godiva chocolates.


  1. But...But... I sent Viggo Chili in a heart shaped bowl too! You Hussy!

  2. Mine included chopped up bits of Ken Foree, which probably explains why I'M the one he treated to a Elvish backrub.

    Know your competition.