Horror might seem an unlikely source of touching, memorable romantic relationships but it ceartinly is.
Critics who deride the romantic relationships in horror are generally working off assumptions and stereotypes. Working on this blog, I realised there are far, far more examples of relationships done well in horror than done badly.
I think the worst offender for shallow, pointless romances are action movies and novels, not horror. Usually there is little chemistry between the characters, no reason for them to end up together and no depth at all. That is awful, unbearable to watch or read, but doesn’t seem to attract the same ire.
Let’s consider what does and doesn’t work when it comes to couples in horror.
Relationships done well in horror
Relationships are well done if they serve an important point in the plot, are believable and make you care about the characters. A nameless victim being chased through the forest by a machete wielding maniac can be exciting in an adrenaline filled sort of way. However, if you care about the character, the scene becomes more filled with dread. You know her boyfriend is desperately trying to get to her in time but he might not make it. Also, most of us have someone in our life we care about, so you can’t help but project them into the situation. Now that’s real horror!
A good, well written relationship is different from a good relationship as in a positive one.
Even if the relationship is toxic and destructive, as long as it makes you care and pulls you in, great. It would be rather dull if every relationship was a sickly sweet union of loving partners.
Wendy and Jack Torrance in The Shinning: Their dysfunctional relationship both in terms of Wendy fearing that she is becoming like her mother, her jealously over Danny and Jack’s relationship, Jack’s alcoholism. It is a messed up relationship but crucial to the plot.
The Fly: Seth Brundle and Veronica had an interesting relationship, loving and caring at the start but it rapidly falls apart as he becomes the fly. We care about the relationships which makes the end when he becomes a full monster and kidnaps her all the more horrifying.
Crimson Peak: The romantic relationship is at the heart of this film, it is not tacked on, and the shift from charming to sinister is handled very well.
Warm bodies: The romance isn’t incidental, it is vital, helping the undead rediscover their humanity.
I could go on and on, these are just the ones I remembered sitting here on a Sunday morning.
Relationships done badly
If you look at the bargain basement of horror movies, there are plenty of relationships that really serve no purpose. Think of the Friday the 13th series, I have watched the entire series more than once and there was not a single memorable relationship in the entire franchise.
Lazy writers also see relationships as a cheap way to make us care.
“You need to be worried about her, she has a husband”
Not really. You have to earn that, making one of your characters care about the other does not mean the audience will.
If the relationship doesn’t matter at all, perhaps don’t include it. The Thing is about a bunch of guys in an Antarctic research station. No romantic relationships because it wouldn’t work and wasn’t necessary.
There are other relationships horror does equally well, parent and child, best friends, and I will be discussing those in the future.