October is synonymous with a few things: autumn leaves, pumpkin-spiced everything, Halloween, the return of The Walking Dead on TV, and more horror movies than you can wield a knife at. Not everyone has a stomach for gore or the mettle for scares though. If you’re wondering where all the romance goes when the monsters come out to play, fear not. It may not be the 14th February, but here are 14 love stories perfect for the spooky season.
Crimson Peak (2015)
Guillermo del Toro’s 1880s-set ghost story charts the relationship between American aspiring-author Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) and English baron/inventor Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). After she suffers a devastating family tragedy, she marries Thomas and moves into the dilapidated Sharpe home, a grand gothic mansion built on a hill that ‘bleeds’ red when it snows. Edith must not only compete with Thomas’ conniving sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) for his attention, but she must contend with the spirits that haunt the house.
La Belle et la Bête (1946)
Jean Cocteau and René Clément’s surreal tale of tragic love between a beautiful girl, Belle (Josette Day), and a gentle beast (Jean Marais), was the first adaptation of the 1757 story, Beauty and the Beast. Now considered a French classic, La Belle et la Bête presents the Beast as so repellent, Belle faints at the sight of him – not quite the sumptuously animated creature Disney drew! The story unfolds like a Grimm’s fairy tale, a brooding dark fantasy, with not a singing teapot or candelabra in sight.
Warm Bodies (2013)
William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has been adapted to film countless times over the years. From direct adaptations, such as Franco Zeffirelli’s 1969 version and Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 modernised version, to more imaginative translations, such as West Side Story and The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride. Warm Bodies falls into the latter – a loose reworking of the classic star-crossed lovers narrative. The ‘Romeo’ of Warm Bodies is Nicholas Hoult’s zombie, known only as R, and the ‘Juliet’ is Teresa Palmer’s Julie, daughter of the U.S. Army Colonel hell-bent on eradicating the living dead once and for all. Told from the zombie’s perspective, and notably depicting the undead as retaining some human characteristics in death (un-death?), Warm Bodies will thaw even the iciest of hearts.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
The ending of the Universal Pictures 1931 classic, Frankenstein, is heart-breaking, as Frankenstein’s Monster (Boris Karloff) is apparently burned to death in the windmill he hides in, to escape the vicious mob chasing him. The Monster is woefully misunderstood, a lonely beast, desperate for a mate. In Bride of Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Pretorious heed no moral lesson from past mistakes as they create the Bride (Elsa Lanchester), a true icon in the genre’s oeuvre. Raise a glass to “the new world of gods and monsters!”
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Known as “the first Iranian vampire western”, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night focuses on a lonesome vampire (Sheila Vand), who spends her eternal life listening to music on vinyl, skateboarding around Bad City, and preying on men who disrespect women. One night, she meets a drugged-up, lost, Arash (Arash Marandi), and is charmed by his vulnerability and kindness. Their tentative attraction is fascinating to watch. With a soundtrack as killer as the girl herself, and shot in exquisite black and white, Ana Lily Amirpour has created a modern gem.
South Korean producer/director Park Chan-wook knows a thing or two about forbidden lust – just watch Stoker or The Handmaiden. When Catholic priest Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho) volunteers to participate in an experiment to find a vaccine for the deadly Emmanuel Virus, the unexpected side effects include a thirst for human blood, an extreme aversion to sunlight, and insatiable lust for his friend’s wife, Tea-ju (Kim Ok-bin). The two embark on an illicit and deadly affair, as the lines between right and wrong, monster and human, are blurred.
A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)
Chinese folklore (as imagined by A Chinese Ghost Story) dictates that the spirit of any person buried at the foot of a tree outside the haunted Lan Ro temple will be eternally bound to the servitude of the sinister Tree Devil, whose tongue wraps around its victims to suck out their life essence. Lip Siu-sin (Joey Wong) is one of those unfortunate souls. When Ling Choi-san (Leslie Cheung) meets her ghost, it’s love at first sight, and he vows to free her from her misery. Martial arts meets phantasm meets melancholy in this supernatural tale of love and loss.
Romantic body horror is not a combination of words one would expect, yet perfectly describe Spring. Evan (Lou Taylor-Pucci) suffers a devastating loss that prompts him to travel to Italy, where he meets the enigmatic Louise (Nadia Hilker), a student of genetics. A creature-feature unlike any other, Louise gradually reveals her ghastly secrets to Evan, as her transformative nature is exposed.
The Mummy (1932)
What’s more romantic than a love that spans centuries? When British archaeologists accidentally bring Egyptian priest Imhotep (Boris Karloff) back from the dead, the last thing they expect is to sacrifice their lives in order to bring the high priest’s lover, Anck Su Namun (Zita Johann) back from the dead too. A timeless fable warning us of the perils of reading ancient runes aloud, The Mummy is oft replicated (see The Mummy of 1999, starring swashbuckling Brendan Fraser, or The Mummy of 2017, starring fearless Tom Cruise), but never bettered.
Let the Right One In (2008)
Based on the novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist (who also wrote the screenplay), Let the Right One In centres on the sweet relationship that blossoms between 12-year-old outcast Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) and his new mysterious neighbour Eli (Lina Leandersson). The two exchange toys and Morse code messages through their neighbouring wall, and learn over time that though they are different species (she is a vampire, he is a human), their bloodlust is not so different; he wants to kill, to seek revenge on his tormenters, whereas she needs to kill to survive. Tomas Alfredson directs the children’s disturbing bond with a tenderness and empathy that is rare.
(I urge you to seek out the original Swedish version, though the American remake, Let Me In, is intriguing in its own way.)
The Fly (1986)
David Cronenberg’s seminal transfiguration sci-fi horror about scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) and his botched attempt at teleportation doesn’t exactly scream “romantic”. The make-up effects that turn Brundle into half-man-half-fly are gruesome. However, the love between Brundle and girlfriend Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) is so pure, that even as Brundlefly evolves fully into an tyrannical insectoid, she cries for him.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
There’s been a lot of vampires on this list, which perhaps speaks to how romanticised the immortal bloodsuckers are. The love in Francis Ford Coppola’s bat-shit crazy adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is not for the titular evil, but between lawyer Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves, with one of the worst English accents put to celluloid) and his fiancée, Mina (Winona Ryder). When Count Dracula (Gary Oldman) takes a fancy to Mina for her astonishing resemblances to his sweetheart from the 15th Century, Elisabeta (also Ryder), he rabidly pursues her.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Arguably the birth of the “zom-com” genre, Shaun of the Dead is the first in Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy, and stars Simon Pegg as the titular Shaun, a 30-something down-on-his-luck dude who realises the importance of showing his love only when the zombie apocalypse is upon him. Arming himself with a bat, he traverses across London with best friend Ed (Nick Frost) to save his mum, Barbara (Penelope Wilton) and win back his girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield).
The Shape of Water (2017)
Bookending this list with another Guillermo del Toro romance seemed only natural given his proclivity for playing in the backyard of horror iconography. The Amphibian Man (played by the incomparable Doug Jones) may look scary with his big black eyes and scaly skin, but isolated mute Eliza (Sally Hawkins) sees past that to the scared creature within. The ‘Big Bad’ comes in the form fo Micheal Shannon’s villainous government agent, Strickland, a very human face of unsympathetic “just following orders” iniquity. A cinematic masterpiece, taking inspiration from classic sweep-you-off-your-feet grand romance, wrapped up in a brooding fantasy thriller, complimented by an epic score, The Shape of Water is perfect for the spooky season. Perfect for any season, really.