Love hurts, or so the dad-rock group Nazareeth wants every high school dance to believe. Except as you get older, you realize that love also has the power to heal. An all-consuming emotion that enraptures the senses, flutters the heart and clouds judgement. It has the power to galvanize the spirit, making one feel alive with an unmatched vitality. It also has the power to become something more, something dangerous, and when it manifests into an uncontrollable urge, an intrusive obsession, it can be outright deadly.
With Valentine’s Day upon us and the Hallmark Channel offering up a box full of chocolate smothered romances, what better time than now to show your sweetheart how much you love them by introducing these hallmark horror films. So cancel those pricey dinner reservations, light some aroma-therapy candles and open your heart to five of the genres most eloquent love-letters on obsession.
5. David – Fear (1996)
Actor Mark Wahlberg, formally known as Marky Mark (of the Funky Bunch) is no stranger to obsessive love. In the 90’s, his face and abs were everywhere, adorning teenage walls and bus-stop ads like a shirtless specter hanging over us; his extra nipple peering into our soul like a third eye. His mix of bad-boy edge with boy next door looks made him a rising star, and if your infatuation took you to the multiplex in the spring of 1996, then you more than likely went for his turn at obsession in Fear, the MTV generation’s menacingly hip spin on Fatal Attraction (1986).
Director James Foley, who showed us the dog-eat-dog world of real-estate in Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), takes the worn formula of young love and adds a heaping tablespoon of grungy obsession. After high-school student Nicole (Reese Witherspoon) becomes involved with seductively charming David (Mark Wahlberg), she soon finds herself collateral to his hot-tempered and all-consuming passion. While its themes of parental control and young lust still feel pertinent, it’s Mark Wahlberg’s fiery and darkly contemplative turn as David that makes Fear an unabashedly thrilling take on puppy-love gone bad.
4. Annie Wilkes – Misery (1990)
Adapted from the 1987 novel of the same name by horror master Stephen King, Misery is director Rob Reiner’s claustrophobic and cabin fever stoked nightmare on inescapable love that finds one man under the obsessive thumb of his biggest fan. After author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is pulled from a snowy car accident off the mountain road, he awakens to find himself held against his will in the home of nurse Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates, whose intentions of helping Sheldon soon tear away to reveal a manic and cuckoo love.
What makes Misery so distinctly compelling and unsettling is its depiction of obsessed love etched in ink. Not just for a man but for Misery Chastain, a fictional character who is killed off in Sheldon‘s latest novel. Playwright and screenwriter William Goldman (The Princess Bride) adds layers to Annie‘s increasingly unstable condition and her borderline fetishistic mania for Misery, a fixation that leads us down a rabbit hole of lunacy. Personally, if hobbling your favorite author and forcing them to rewrite – and revive – your favorite fictional character doesn’t scream true love, then I don’t know what does.
3. Lola – The Loved Ones (2009)
Before Australian director Sean Byrne made a name for himself with 2017’s The Devil’s Candy, which tackles obsession in a completely different key, he made one of the horror genre’s most sadistically captivating tales of obsession with The Loved Ones. Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2009, Sean Byrne’s first feature film introduces Brent (Xavier Samuel), a suicidal high school student who is still grieving over the loss of his father after a fatal car accident. When he politely turns down an offer to attend the prom with fellow high school student Lola (Robin McLeavy), he finds himself bound to a chair and gagged by an injection of bleach into his throat, rendering him unable to scream within the confines of his captors kitchen.
What transpires is a bleak, gruesome and deeply dark dance with obsession that pits us against one of the genres most perturbed and intemperate protagonists. Except Lola, in all her degradation and violent tendencies, manages to illicit a tear-drop of sympathy as a deeply sad and lonely girl driven to commit violence. Acts perpetrated and instigated by her father, whose love for his daughter teeters on the edge of incestual. While The Loved Ones does toe the line between torture porn and revenge, its bloodied and tangled take on obsessive love is what makes it one of the best entries of the genre in the past ten years.
2. Simone – Der Fan (1982)
When I first saw Der Fan (The Fan, or Trance) on a rare 35mm print, I was left particularly cold and disengaged. For its just over 90 minute run time, director Eckhart Schmidt’s (Love and Death in the Afternoon) vision of obsessive young love moves like a nihilistic and tense proto-punk dream that broods with an earnest affection for its pinning young fan Simone (Desiree Nosbusch), who becomes increasingly and dangerously infatuated with real life New Wave singer R (Rheingold’s vocalist Bobo Staiger). However, and much like its crescendo of fixation that’s rooted in Simone‘s all encompassing love for its pop icon, I haven’t stopped thinking about it since that experience. One that finds our fan resorting to cannibalism in what amounts to a delirium of obsessive love.
Much of Der Fan is shot head on, placing its preoccupied teen directly in front of the camera with her eyes peering into us as she waits and waits to hear a reply, any reply, from her numerous fan letters to R. Her lips and eyes fill the screen in close-ups that effectively make us feel exposed as if we’re the teen-idol she’s obsessing over. While its tension is set to a slow simmer, by the time its contents are boiling you can’t look away as it overflows with a trance like fixation. A reserved, unflinching and deeply disturbing portrait of obsessive love that gives new meaning to the term eat your heart out.
1. Doctor Gogol – Mad Love (1935)
Directed by renowned cinematographer Karl Freund, who worked on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931) for Universal Studios – based on Maurice Renard’s 1920’s novel The Hands of Orlac – Mad Love tells of gifted piano player Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive), whose hands become mangled one night in a train accident. Hiring depraved Doctor Gogol, played by a deliriously maniacal Peter Lorre in his first American role, Stephen becomes the subject of a procedure that sees his hands replaced with a murderer’s named Rollo (Edward Brophy), an expert knife thrower. Unable to play the piano with his new appendages, Stephen soon discovers that his hands yield the unwieldy capability of his recently executed donor, and that they may be putting those he loves in danger.
Yet the real heart of Mad Love comes from Dr. Gogol‘s unbridled and increasing obsession with Stephen‘s wife, Yvonne (Frances Drake), a stage actress that’s caught the surgical eye of Gogol to a harrowing degree. It’s an infatuation so strong it leads the doctor to purchase a wax figure of the actresses character and refer to it as Galatea from the Greek Myth, in which an ivory statue of a women comes to life. While noteworthy in its approach to its female character, who for much of the film acts as the sole bearer of strength and sanity, it’s Mad Love‘s twisted take on love awry and blend of early slasher tropes (POV shots, who-done-it murder mystery, final girl) that makes it one of the pioneer films of the horror genre.