With February comes the festivals of purity, love and romance, confessions and kisses. But while some couples gift flowers, chocolates and trinkets, we are the sort that like nothing more than to take a comfortable spot on the sofa, cast a searching eye over our extensive collections of cinematic wonders and to become immersed for the briefest of times in a fictional world. So in this shortest month, and with the recent passing of Valentine’s day, a few of us, being myself, Erin Maskell (@bsdriverreview) and Ghost2047 (@Deathofsanity), decided that it was a good idea to create a list of 9 Horror films that best symbolise the idea of the festival. Cinematic gems that delve into the darker side of love, sex and of course loneliness. We hope you enjoy, and if there is anything you feel that we may have missed then by all means you are welcome to leave a comment!
Peeping Tom (1960 Dir. Michael Powell)
Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960) stands out amongst others of its time, telling a tale of love, compulsion and voyeurism. The film is also responsible for the set back in Powell’s career as he was ostracised by the film industry upon its release.
Peeping Tom is about a camera enthusiast and recluse called Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) who lives in his childhood home and rents out the rooms. To fulfil his lust for the lens, he works as a part time photographer taking pictures of glamour girls whom he secretly films when they’re not looking, later murdering them. But when a young woman named Helen (Anna Massey) moves into his house with her blind mother, she finds Mark to be a curious and mysterious character and befriends him.
This film plays with your emotions and makes you question why this devilishly handsome man, who could have any woman in the world is driven to kill? The psycho-sexual repression as he approaches the women is intense like he’s about to ravish them in a passionate soirée, but you soon realise at a closer glance that his only motive is murder and by then it’s too late. It’s the lure of sudden insecurity that makes Peeping Tom unsettling viewing even if the cinematography is visually stunning. A trait you’ll recognise from Powell’s previous films, The Red Shoes (1948) and Tales of Hoffman (1951) he was consumed by a rich and elegant eye for colour.
Grace (2009 Dir. Paul Solet)
One of the great misconceptions about love stories out there is the notion that there’s only one type of love story worth telling, and that’s just not true. Sometimes, the most powerful tales of love come from the parent-child bond. Grace, for example, is the story of young widow Madeline (Jordan Ladd), who loses her husband in a car accident and delivers the titular stillborn baby girl. Once the baby comes to life, Madeline goes to great lengths to make sure that baby girl stays alive. This includes her meddling mother-in-law Vivian (Gabrielle Rose) and ex-girlfriend Patricia (Samantha Ferris), who still holds a candle for the grieving widow.
Grace is difficult to watch from a few different points, but completely worth it. If you have children or are thinking about having children, it taps into a fear that so many prospective parents have: what if something happens to the baby? Really, no one wants to even think about that because so many think that type of thing only happens to someone else. Likewise, it challenges you to think about how far you would go to keep your child alive, which can get pretty horrifying. On top of all of this, there are satisfying moments of gore to go along with wrenching moments of heartache. What Solet and Ladd in particular bring to the table is remarkable.
Sick Nurses (2007 Dir. Piraphan Laoyont & Thatsaporn Siriwat)
What better way to celebrate the festival of love than with a film about love, betrayal and revenge. Set almost entirely in a hospital. The young doctor Tar along with a cadre of exceptionally beautiful nurses make a little extra cash on the side by selling the organs of cadavers on the black market. But when Tahwaan (Chon Wachananon) discovers the Doc’s been having an affair, she threatens to expose their operation. So of course as is the case with these films, they murder her in order to keep her quiet. However, 7 days later Tahwaan’s vengeful spirit appears punishing them in ways which suit each character perfectly.
Sick Nurses is one of those films with a twisted sense of humour (this is one of the only films I’ve seen where the vengeful spirit on a few occasions is holding a pose while she torments her victims) and considering all of the nurses are played by models they pull off some of the scenes really well, though on more than one occasion there are scenes which do seem a bit silly, like Nook (Chidjan Rujiphun) fighting off hordes of hair-faced nurses on the stairwell with a pregnancy test. The reveal at the end is also very good, with a slight hint to Gozu (2004) and a very interesting twist which I won’t ruin it here, the film is easy to find if you look for it online and it’s it well worth a watch of an evening together with your partner.
The Skin I Live In (2011 Dir. Pedro Almodovar)
The Skin I live In is based on a novel named Mygale by Thierry Jonquet and is of equal dysfunction to Almodóvar’s other titles, it also marked the return of his working relationship with Antonio Banderas who plays the central character in the film.
In this complex narrative we follow the accomplished Dr Robert Ledgard who is holding one of his patients named Vera as a hostage for one of his medical experiments.
As the story grows, it’s revealed that Vera is actually the splitting image of Robert’s ex-wife who was a burns victim shielded from seeing her own face until one day she caught her reflection in the window thus spurring her suicide. Their daughter Norma who witnessed her mother’s death has since been traumatised,
The Skin I Live In professes intelligent storytelling, unravelling one twist after another whilst maintaining a heart wrenching stream of consciousness.
It’s timeless and the haunting composition by Alberto Iglesias adds to the moving narrative.
Proxy (2013 Dir. Zack Parker)
The bond between two women can prove a powerful love story, especially when it begins with tragedy. Proxy starts out with a vicious attack on a young pregnant woman named Esther (Alexia Rasmussen), who then starts attending a support group for parents who have lost children. It’s here that she meets Melanie (Alexa Havins), who tragically lost her own family in a drunk driving accident. Sounds like the start of a female bonding movie, right? Wrong. So very wrong. This is the beginning of the most twisted tale of love (on many different levels: parental, spousal, etc.) that you will watch all year.
Ever go into a film expecting one thing, only to have it completely turn on you and drag you, kicking and screaming, down a different rabbit hole? That’s Proxy in a nutshell. Director Zack Parker delights in revealing the hand he crafted with co-writer Kevin Donner in unexpected ways. It doesn’t need clever shots or special effects to carry it through; this one rides wave after wave of audience surprise, and when we do get those scenes of gore, we’re even more shocked. Yet we keep going along with it for two reasons: we’re not expecting it to go where it goes, and where it goes is dark. You may never trust another stranger telling you a story ever again.
Tomie (1999 Dir. Ataru Oikawa)
Based on a series of manga’s by renowned artist Junji Ito (He also wrote the manga’s for Uzamaki and Gyo, and was reportedly linked to the Silent Hills project with Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro before Konami cancelled the project and fired Kojima). Tomie is the first of a series of films many of which didn’t get a release to the UK (I know, I had to order my copy from Japan) and revolves around Tsukiko (Mami Nakamura) as she tries to regain her memories after a trauma. During therapy session a name comes to mind ‘Tomie’. As this is going on, plastic bags are appearing around the city containing the dismembered remains of a young woman and a number of other people are committing suicide or left insane.
The film shows its age now but the story is actually really interesting and refreshingly unique even now. It’s definitely worth looking for if you’re interested in seeing this strange Japanese cinematic curiosa, even if you can’t find this there are three more, Tomie: Replay (2000), Tomie: Beginning (2005) and Tomie: Unlimited (2011). If you are into really good horror comics then you can easily find the manga’s they’re loosely based upon on many of the fan-subbed sites or buy the collected works online.
Z is for Zygote (2014 Dir. Chris Nash)
Some women will stick with their husbands through thick and thin which is why one of my favourite shorts from the ABC’S of Horror 2: Z is for Zygote really piqued my interest.
A woman’s husband leaves their secluded house in the forest to brave the winter and look for reserves. She’s three months pregnant and begs him not to leave as she doesn’t want to be alone especially when the baby is due.
The husband gives her a jar full of special root which he says will delay the baby until he returns. Thirteen years pass by and he still hasn’t returned…
Still traumatised by her husband leaving, she begs her daughter not to come out, but the child is getting too big.
The practical effects are what make the film convincing, perhaps there are women somewhere in the world who just love being pregnant and never give birth? Or in the case of Zygote are afraid of being alone. Just like there are women who continue to breastfeed their children into adulthood, love makes people behave strangely. Here lays a disturbing incestuous story backed up by the most unforgettable birth scene you’ll ever see in a short film. And it doesn’t come as a surprise as director Chris Nash is also special effects artist.
High Tension (2003 Dir. Alexandre Aja)
Love will make you move a mountain to save the object of your affection, whether it’s a parent, friend or love interest. This steadfast refusal to give up on your loved ones can drive you to the extremes of physical and mental exhaustion. Take, for instance, France’s Haute Tension (High Tension), which sees chums Marie (Cecile de France) and Alex (Maiwenn) spending the weekend together at Alex’s family home. In the middle of the night, a madman (Philippe Nahon) breaks in and starts killing everyone in spectacular fashion, then kidnaps Alex for good measure. It’s up to Marie to save Alex and take on the deranged psychopath as he carves his way through the French countryside in typical New Extremity fashion.
The sheer use of lighting in this film is gorgeous; cinematographer Maxime Alexandre made sure that this film was beautifully photographed, with shadows and a sickly-pallor lighting scheme providing a dark, desperate mood. There’s also some excellent shots of Cecile de France throughout the film that are enough to leave you infatuated with the beautiful actress. Whether she’s giving chase to the killer wielding the iconic wooden board with barbed wire, you’re going to love her.
Nekromantik (1987 Dir. Jörg Buttgereit)
A list of films suited for Valentines wouldn’t feel right without this cult classic. The film follows Rob Schmadtke (Daktari Lorenz) and his girlfriend Betty (Beatrice Manowski), as they explore their obsessive sexual behaviour with body parts. This comes to a head when Rob steals a whole corpse to appease their fetish for the dead.
The film is fairly grimy by modern standards, but considering that it is a no budget production this can be forgiven. Nekromantik was banned in a number of countries and only really had a UK release back in 2014, it was followed by the sequel ‘Nekromantik 2’ which follows on directly after the events. This is definitely one of those films that does require having a strong stomach what with it dealing with scenes of necrophilia and rabbit slaughter. While I say it can be disturbing and at times revolting, it challenges the audience throughout, layering psychological and psycho-sexual imagery with the character’s own emotional implosion.