After a brief hiatus, ladies and gents, Dark Side Cinema returns just in time for the most trite of holidays: Valentine’s Day. Now whether you are a die-hard romantic or subscribe to the idea that Valentine’s was invented by Hallmark to sell more cards and candy and crap, it’s still a holiday we’re all aware of. Valentine’s is the celebration of romantic love, so as a special treat I rounded up five of the most demented movies centered around romance. Full of grisly gore and uncomfortable subject matter, these aren’t the kind of romance movies you want to show on a first date (and probably not even any subsequent dates, really.) Better than chalky candy hearts with bullshit written on them, here’s Dark Side Cinema’s Vile Valentines.
The Loved Ones (Unrated, 2009)
Australia’s The Loved Ones is a little bit batshit in the best of ways. The film tells the story of Brent, a popular kid in high school who swerves to avoid a ghostly figure in the road and kills his father in the ensuing wreck. He becomes a dejected stoner, his loyal girlfriend trying to help him get over his grief and guilt. When an unpopular girl at school asks him to prom and he refuses, she begins to plot revenge. The revenge involves kidnapping him and forcing him to be her date for her own private prom run by her father… and then things start to get weird.
The girl, Lola, tortures Brent in a whole slew of ways. She carves her initials into his chest in a big heart with a box cutter, nails his feet to the floor, forces him to pee into a cup while she holds his… you get the point. All the while, her attentive father looks on and encourages her, even passing her new tools of destruction when she begins to run out.
Lola and Daddy Dearest aren’t content at just torturing poor Brent though – they want to make him a permanent resident of their home. The duo have already given Lola’s mother a lobotomy, forcing her to sit and stare blankly forward for the rest of her miserable existence. Brent’s next unless he does something.
There is romance in The Loved Ones, it’s just not between Lola and Brent. Brent and his girlfriend, Holly, have some genuinely romantic (and sexy) moments, and there is a secondary plotline with Brent’s best friend. However, the romantic parts are brief and most of the movie is a twisted torture-fest with a great set of twists and one of the most satisfying endings a viewer could ask for in this kind of movie.
Entertainment Value: 7/10 There’s something bizarrely enjoyable about this movie. The little-girl glee that actress Robin McLeavy injects into Lola makes the whole thing seem like some really, really dark comedy with horror elements. It’s not for the squeamish, but it’s a lot more fun than most Dark Side movies.
What kind of romance? The obsessive kind, the genuine kind, the fumbling/awkward/teenage kind. Lots of weird love to go around!
Appropriate for: People with really sick senses of humor, gorehounds, anyone who ever thought someone in their school might secretly be a serial killer.
How disturbing is it? Medium. The torture’s pretty yucky, some of the father-daughter relationship stuff is skeevy, and things get really crazy in the second half, but there’s definitely worse out there.
Audition (Unrated, 1999)
Ah, Audition, the first really twisted movie I ever sank my teeth into. Takashi Miike’s take on Ryu Murakami’s 1997 book of the same name is a slow-burning little gem about the consequences screwing around with people’s hearts. Especially when those people are crazy.
Widower Aoyama is on the lookout for a beautiful new bride, so he and his friend devise a plan to use auditions for a fake film to find the perfect woman. That totally couldn’t go wrong, right?
Aoyama ends up meeting and falling for Asami, who seems perfect on the outside but has a shady past and seems very secretive. No one seems to like Asami besides Aoyama, including his film-producer friend who set the whole thing up and his 17-year-old son, Shigehiko. Asami begins revealing things about her past to Aoyama, who comes to believe that she is a fragile flower who has been wounded and that he must protect her.
Audition is brilliant because even if you’re expecting Asami to turn on Aoyama and hurt him in some way, the setup is so tense and the few uncomfortable twists so brutal that it still feels like a horrible surprise when she finally does go off the deep end. The last fifteen minutes have become infamous and for good reason – it’s a turn that few movies have the balls to make.
Entertainment Value: 5/10 Audition is very slow. For a first-time watcher it works because there’s a kind of tension that needs to be built up, the characters more thoroughly established, but it doesn’t lend itself to repeat viewings. The final act is worth any and all pacing issues someone might have with the movie, however.
What kind of romance? The obsessive kind (again!) and the broken, lonely kind. There’s actually a really sweet sex scene and there are tender moments that seem like they belong in something less awful.
Appropriate for: Anyone who likes Miike’s other work, Hitchcock fans, people who hate Beagles.
How disturbing is it? Mild-Medium. The ending is brutal and there are some weird flashback sequences, but the majority of the movie is pretty tame.
Antichrist (NR, 2009)
Antichrist is a go-to movie for anyone recommending disturbing films, and there’s a reason why: it’s really fucked up.
Lars Von Trier’s bizarre and beautiful rumination on the relationships between men and women contains a dead baby, artsy close-ups of penis-in-vagina, mutilated animals, and graphic genital mutilation. About two-thirds of the movie is just He (Willam Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) talking about women, misogyny, and mental illness, but the other third is chock-full of nightmare-inducing insanity.
The movie is gorgeous, as Lars Von Trier movies should be. The cinematography is perfection, the acting is fantastic. The plot is meandering and way too pretentious and ultimately strange, but that’s kind of what you expect with ole Larsy-poo. People either analyze every last bit or start cracking up when the dying fox Dafoe finds in the woods rears up and says “chaos reigns” like some kind of satanic entity. (I am the latter.)
The plot revolves around He and She having hot sexytime in the shower while their baby crawls out a window and falls to his death. She, understandably, goes a bit nutters from grief and demands that He fix her (because he’s a psychiatrist). The two go to their cabin in the woods, Eden, to try and piece She back together again.
Most of the movie is spent at the cabin with She picking apart her old senior thesis on misogyny and the inherent evil of women (she must have watched Audition and The Loved Ones) while He wanders around finding all manner of gross animals, including Mr. Demon Fox. Eventually She goes completely off the rails and decides to punish both herself and her husband by making sexual enjoyment impossible for them ever again. There are things scissors should never be used for, and she definitely goes down that road.
Entertainment Value: 3/10 The movie is really pretty and the acting is good, which helps a lot. Unfortunately, the movie drags in a lot of places and there’s nothing entertaining once things pick up and get moving in the final third. You don’t watch Antichrist to be entertained, you watch it to squirm or to think.
What kind of romance? Genuine marital love. The sex in the beginning is actually pretty damn sexy, if you tune out the part where the baby is crawling towards its death.
Appropriate for: Arthouse fans and arthouse fans only. Gorehounds might enjoy the climax, but that’s about it.
How disturbing is it? High. Did you not read the part about the dead baby and the mutilated genitals?
Thirst (R, 2009)
Thirst, a film by Oldboy director Park Chan-Wook, is a profound and visually stunning vampire love story. Sang-hyun is a devoted priest who volunteers for a vaccine development project meant to get rid of a deadly virus. Instead it nearly kills him and he is given a blood transfusion, but the transfusion contains vampiric blood and he turns into a vampire. He must overcome his bloodlust and then his regular lust when his friend’s wife, Tae-ju, asks him for help escaping her life.
The movie manages to be funny, poignant, and amazingly sexy. Sang-hyun turns Tae-ju into a vampire and the two begin a new life together. The priest breaks vow after vow and must come to terms with his new identity as a godless man, but he is willing to do so as long as Tae-ju is by his side. It’s actually beautifully romantic, the relationship between the two damaged individuals.
Unlike the rest of the films on this list, Thirst is disturbing on an existential level. Antichrist tries to get there but ends up crushing any real despair with gore; Thirst manages to sink its hooks into the viewer’s heart and soul and refuses to let go. The vampiric couple are so well-written and acted, so genuine and real, that their descent into evil is just as painful for the viewer as it is for them. By the time the credits roll, you’ll feel a little broken inside.
Entertainment Value: 6/10 The film is slow in places but it manages to break the monotony with gallows humor and quick moments of intensity. It’s not the kind of movie you watch repeatedly, but you definitely won’t be bored.
What kind of romance? Two broken souls finding one another. It’s deeply, painfully romantic.
Appropriate for: Vampire fans, arthouse fans, anyone who genuinely wants to see a vampire love story that’s better than Twilight.
How disturbing is it? Medium. There are some gross, gory parts, and there’s a lot of really emotionally raw stuff here. How disturbing someone finds it depends on their worldview, really.
Slither (R, 2009)
Slither is one of my favorite films of all time. It is absolutely balls-to-the-wall disgusting while still managing to be kind of sweet.
The film revolves around two men in love with the same woman. Starla (Elizabeth Banks with an adorable Southern accent) is beloved by both her high school friend and county Sheriff, Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) and her rich husband, Grant (Michael Rooker). She married Grant for money but does care genuinely about him. Their marriage is strained and Grant drunkenly wanders off into the woods with another woman after being turned down for some late-night nookie with Starla. There, he discovers an alien egg-thing that shoots him in the stomach and begins turning him into a tentacled, Cronenbergian monster.
Animals start going missing, then people. Grant impregnates someone full of giant worms that try to take over the townsfolk by crawling into their mouths and taking over their brains, Invasion of the Body Snatchers-style. Pardy, Starla, the Mayor, and a local girl try to stop Grant before the entire town is controlled by slugs.
Alien Grant still loves Starla, so she’s the only real hope at stopping him from world domination. It’s kind of sweet in a super gross way, as the grotesque monster that makes the Thing from The Thing look like a cute puppy attempts to woo Starla. There’s also the sexual tension between Starla and Pardy, lurking just beneath what they’re willing to say to one another. It doesn’t hurt that Fillion and Banks would be a kind of geek power couple to rule the ages and their on-screen chemistry is fantastic.
Despite being very funny and sort of sweet, Slither is really gross. Director James Gunn (yeah, Guardians of the Galaxy James Gunn) had only previously directed Troma films. To those not in the know, Troma films are the Garbage Pail Kids of movies. They are intentionally full of bodily fluids, gore, and the nastiest crap you can put on celluloid. You know what, go watch The Toxic Avenger.
Anyway, Gunn hadn’t quite gotten the vileness out of his system yet, because Slither is an exercise in controlling your gag reflex. It’s nasty, but it’s so much damn fun.
Entertainment Value: 9/10 I have personally watched Slither so many times that my DVD stopped playing and I had to go buy another one. It’s genuinely, laugh-out-loud funny, it’s kind of scary and tense in places, and it’s just overall a good time.
What kind of romance? Love triangle! It’s pretty genuine, however.
Appropriate for: Anyone who can stomach it.
How disturbing is it? Mild. It’s gross, but it’s all just gag stuff. There’s nothing here that crushes your soul.
Until next time, I’m Dani with Dark Side Cinema. Go enjoy some chocolate, drink some wine, and make regrettable decisions.