Hearts of Darkness: The best romances in horror films

by Lillian Csernica



The Devil’s Widow (1970)

Ava Gardner and Ian McShane star in this version of “The Ballad of Tam Lin,” a Scottish folktale about a man held prisoner by the Queen of the Fairies.  He needs the help of a human woman to escape.  The movie updates the story for Great Britain in the ’70s.  Ava Gardner is Michaela, rich and beautiful, trying to stay young by surrounding herself with an entourage of young swinging singles.  Ian McShane is Tom Lynn, her current favorite and content to be so until he meets Janet, the Vicar’s daughter.

Early in the movie we see the young man Michaela has just discarded in favor of Tom.  He behaves like a heartbroken addict desperate for Michaela’s attention.  The other young men in Michaela’s entourage drive him away.  When Michaela grows bored with one of her boytoys, it’s all over regardless of the damage she’s done.  Tom is the first who chooses to leave her, and for a younger, prettier woman.  To Michaela this is unbearable.  Out comes the witchcraft, Tom’s punishment, and serious danger for Janet.  Does Michaela really love Tom?  Or does she love the image of herself she creates to snare her young lovers?  Forcing Tom to continue the illusion of their romance on pain of harming Janet turns Michaela’s “love” for Tom into something much darker.

The Hunger (1983)

Susan Sarandon plays Dr. Sarah Roberts, famous for her research on blood and it’s function in the processes of premature and accelerated aging.  At one of her book signings, Sarah is approached by John Blaylock, who claims he has just started suffering from advanced aging.  John has a gorgeous blonde woman with him.  Sarah thinks John might just be crazy, but when she sees him a few hours later she’s stunned by how much he’s aged in that small amount of time.  The hot blonde is Miriam Blaylock, John’s wife.  Miriam is responsible for John’s condition.  She’s a vampire queen who can grant eternal youth to her mortal loves thanks to the peculiar nature of her own blood.  Like most immortal seductresses, Miriam is not a one-man woman.  John is her latest lover, soon to be replaced.  The mark of Miriam losing interesting is the rapid aging and decay.  The price for Miriam’s love is an eternity of human life trapped in a body that’s stuck in permanent old age.

Sarah pays another visit to the Blaylock home.  She wants to know more about John’s condition, but beneath that is the stronger need to explore her mutual attraction to Miriam.  This leads to the movie’s well-known lesbian scene.  Sarah has a unique research opportunity, but to pursue it she’ll have to turn vampire.  Sooner or later, some new lover will catch Miriam’s eye and Sarah will be forced to suffer an endless existence of eternal aging.  Dark love indeed.

The Fly (1986 Cronenberg remake)

Seth Brundle has figured out the secrets of matter transportation.  The scientific community has been more than skeptical of his experiments, so he decides the smart thing to do is give an investigative journalist an exclusive on his discovery.  Veronica Quaife is sharp and sexy, easger to pursue this once in a lifetime story.  (The chemistry between Seth and Veronica takes on a new dimension thanks to stars Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis being in love with each other at that time.)  After successfully transporting a living creature, Seth can’t resist the temptation to try it on himself.  They say the Devil is in the details.  The one detail Seth misses is the fly trapped inside the transportation booth with him.  Seth’s seeming success is a triumph.  He experiences a surge in strength and other physical skills.  That’s the good news.  The bad news comes when the traits of the fly begin to emerge.  Veronica stands by Seth despite his increasing secrecy and isolation.  The also say “Love conquers all,” but it’s not easy to conquer the genetic mutation Seth suffers and his body undergoes a horrifying metamorphosis.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Francis Ford Coppola, 1992)

I have seen several versions of Dracula.  For a long time my favorite starred Frank Langella.  That was a very romanticized version of the classic story.  Then I saw Francis Ford Coppola’s visioin.  The romantic tragedy of Vlad’s wife Elisabeta committing suicide upon receiving the incorrect news of his death leads to the Orthodox priest (played by Anthony Hopkins) forbidding her a Christian burial in sacred ground.  Vlad’s rage and grief drive him to desecrate the altar cross.  His punishment for this crime is the curse that renders him nosferatu.  Gary Oldman’s performance as Dracula longing for his lost Elisabeta is both heartrending and horrifying.  In his charismatic human form, Dracula sweeps Mina off her feet.  As soon as Van Helsing brings his fearless vampire hunters, Dracula reverts to the monster with all its unholy powers.  Few actors could preserve Dracula’s aspect of love and devotion to Mina while retreating into the shadows, then emerging as a horde of rats.  The Dracula that Gary Oldman creates is closer in spirit to Quasimodo than Max Shreck’s Nosferatu, clinging to the love for Elisabeta that is his last link to his humanity.

The Mummy (1999 remake)

The chemistry between Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz occupies the foreground here, but it’s the relationship between Anck-su-Namun and Imhotep that shows just how deep and dark love can become.  Anck-su-Namun is willing to cheat on the Pharaoh himself for Imhotep, to conspire with Imhotep to murder the Pharaoh.  She trusts Imhotep enough to believe he’ll raise her from the dead, so much so that she escapes the Pharaoh’s guards by killing herself on the spot.  Imhotep remains faithful to his dearly departed, stealing her body and performing forbidden rites to bring her cursed spirit back from the afterlife.  The Pharaoh’s guards arrive in time to stop him before he can complete the ceremony.  Imhotep is condemned to suffer being mummified alive and shut up inside a sarcophagus with several dozen scarabs, flesh-eating beetles that guarantee a very slow and extremely painful death.  Centuries go by.  Evelyn Carnahan and Rick O’Connell stumble across Imhotep’s undead remains.  Evy foolishly reads from the Book of the Dead, giving Imhotep a way back into our world.  He is determined to be reunited with Anck-su-Namun, which spells the end of the world as we know it.  Can love get much darker than this?

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

What you have here is a romance competing with a bro-mance.  Shaun leads a dull, ordinary life and is not doing well with Liz.  His lack of romantic flair is complicated by his loyalty to his best friend Ed, who is That Guy in pretty much every sense of the phrase.  When the mutant virus strikes and starts turning everyone into zombies, Shaun steps up and leads the pack of survivors which includes his ex-but-now-girlfriend, his mother, and Ed.  There is comedy, suspense, tragedy and gore.  What does this have to do with dark love?  The denouement proves Shaun’s determination to preserve both his relationship with Liz and his lifelong bond with Ed, no matter what peculiar arrangements have to be made.

Let the Right One In (2004 original version)

Oskar is a frail, lonely twelve year old boy whose life is made a misery by the local bullies.  One night Eli appears on the snow-covered playground of the apartment building where Oskar lives.  They talk, and an uneasy friendship begins. There’s a serial killer loose in the area, slitting people’s throats and draining their blood.  Bit by bit Oskar learns Eli is even more of an outsider than he is.  She hates sunlight.  She doesn’t appear to eat.  She can’t pass through a doorway without a specific invitation.  Oskar is smart enough to realize something is very wrong, but by then he loves Eli as his only friend and first romantic attachment.  The hunt for the serial killer has made life in Oskar’s neighborhood too dangerous for Eli, forcing her to leave.  The bullies, kept at a distance by Eli’s predatory presence, swoop down on Oskar bent on serious mayhem.  Just as Oskar had to make a choice about loving Eli, so Eli is forced to make a choice between Oskar’s safety and her own.

The Fog (2005 remake)

Nick Castle uses his fishing boat to run charters from Antonio Island, off the Oregon coast.  He’s a descendant of one of the town’s four founding fathers, who are about to be honored with a statue of all four set up in front of the courthouse steps.  In a strange display of serendipity, Nick’s former girlfriend Elizabeth Williams pops up after a six month absence.  Nick is happy to see her and the flame of passion is rekindled.  Elizabeth’s return coincides with the arrival of an unnatural fog that engulfs the town.  People start dying in ugly ways.  An old journal explains how the town’s founding fathers did some rather nasty things to preserve the health and safety of the island.  The story leads you to believe it’s Nick’s love for Elizabeth that will save the day.  Nick’s got a rival.  This is where the dark love aspect of the story reveals itself.  Elizabeth is at the center of all the unnatural happenings.  She is not what she appears to be and never was.

Blood: The Last Vampire (2009)

Back int he days of feudal Japan, a young samurai named Kuronuma Ukyo is attacked by ronin and left for dead.  A beautiful woman comes to him with the power to save his life.  He accepts her offer, condemning himself to life eternal as a different kind of killer.  Flash forward to the present.  A police detective is investigating the death of a maid in the house of Miyako, Kuronuma’s rescuer.  Miyako sends the detective after Kuronuma, whom she wants to be rid of forever.  Despite losing Miyako’s affections some time ago, Kuronuma remains obsessed with her.  When he discovers Miyako has taken the police detective as her newest lover, Kuronuma confronts the detective in an all-out sword battle.  Sad, tragic, and twisted, this love triangle is very dark.

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Adam and Eve are vampires who have maintained a relationship that is centuries long.  As a musician, Adam has quite a following, but eternal life has lost its savor.  When Eve finds out Adam has an old-fashioned pistol loaded with a wooden bullet, she’s determined to find some way to restore Adam’s undead joie de vivre.  Unfortunately, Eve’s little sister turns up and starts wreaking havoc because she loves no one but herself.  Tilda Swinton has won at least half a dozen awards for her portrayal of Eve.  Jim Jarmusch has won multiple awards as the film’s director.  With Tom Hiddleston playing Adam, there is a triumvirate of talent here that lifts this story above and beyond being just another “vampire romance.”  When a vampire is so disgusted with what human beings have done to the world that he’s contemplating suicide, matters have grown very dark.  In this context, Eve’s efforts to rescue Adam become all the more poignant.


Lillian’s fiction has appeared in Fantastic Stories, These Vampires Don’t Sparkle, and DAW’S Year’s Best Horror Stories XXI and XXII. Her Christmas ghost story “The Family Spirit” appeared in Weird Tales #322 and “Maeve” appeared in #333. Lillian reviews horror short fiction for TangentOnline. Visit her at lillian888.wordpress.com.


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