Relationships in horror can often be short-lived – much of the time this is because there’s a good chance of your romantic partner falling victim to a psycho killer or a marauding creature of the night. Sometimes though, a split happens for other reasons – some couples are forced apart by terrible circumstance, while other relationships are themselves horrorshows, best ended with a metaphorical stake to the heart. Occasionally, facing down a supernatural threat can highlight what’s really important in life, and bring about a reconciliation between estranged lovers. For March Break Month, here’s a list of the Top Ten Breakups in Horror Movies – some truly doomed romances, and others that might get a second stab at love.
10. The Invitation (2015)
The worst thing about a breakup can be having to see an ex again. In The Invitation, Will and partner Kira are on their way to a gathering of old friends, at the house of Will‘s ex-wife Eden. For Will, accepting this invitation also means returning to the house where their son died in an accident. The dinner party is a difficult but manageable experience, with Eden, new partner David and two of their friends evangelising about their self-help community. The awkwardness then tips over into hostility as Will becomes frustrated at Eden‘s beatific acceptance of their son’s death, accusing her of having joined a cult. Although events get even worse from here – eventually spiralling into nightmarish violence – there is in the end a melancholy sort of reconciliation for Will and Eden, as they finally acknowledge their shared pain.
9. Stranger Things (2016 – ) Season 3 Episode 2: “The Mall Rats”
By the start of Stranger Things season 3, Eleven has been through a lot. She’s escaped incarceration, battled demogorgons, faced down a shady government agency and sealed up a portal to a hellish parallel world through the power of her mind. None of this, however, has prepared her for dealing with the strangest thing of all – the behavior of teenaged boys. When El‘s adoptive father Hopper reads her boyfriend Mike the riot act, Mike panics and makes up a story about his sick Nana, breaking the cardinal rule – “friends don’t lie”. El, perplexed by Mike‘s oddly standoffish attitude, seeks the advice of Max, who sagely counsels that as Mike is treating her “like garbage” they should forget about the boys and go shopping. Upon catching Mike red-handed at the mall, Eleven confronts him. In a show of confidence equal to telekinetically fighting an inter-dimensional beast, she declares “I dump your ass!” One of the more wholesome breakups in horror, this split shows Eleven gaining confidence in her own identity, with a new best friend at her side.
8. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
From the start of Shaun of the Dead, a breakup is on the cards for Shaun and Liz. He’s stuck in a rut, they don’t really like each other’s friends, and as the final straw he forgets to make a reservation at The Place That Does All The Fish for their anniversary. After being dumped by Liz, Shaun drowns his sorrows with best friend Ed, who tries to convince him that “it’s not the end of the world.” When the end of the world actually happens in the form of a zombie uprising, Shaun determines to win Liz back. Battling zombies through the streets, gardens and pubs of North London proves to be just the thing to reignite the romantic spark. The end of the film shows Shaun and Liz reconciled and living together (with the zombified Ed out in the garden shed) – a rare happy ending for a horror film couple.
7. 28 Weeks Later (2007)
We all like to think that in the event of a zombie apocalypse, we’d be the the ones doing the noble thing – sticking by our partners and maybe even sacrificing ourselves for the greater good if needed. But the harsh reality is that even love may not conquer survival instinct when flesh-eating monsters come calling. 28 Weeks Later opens on a scene in a farmhouse, under attack by a zombie hoard. Don and his wife Alice are hiding upstairs when the house is invaded, and in a heart-wrenching moment, Don makes a split-second decision to leave her behind in order to have a chance of escape. As Don sprints away, he looks back to see Alice pounding at the window, screaming his name. In one of the cruellest abandonments in cinema, Don hears her pleas, but decides to keep on running.
6. Scream (1996)
At the heart of Scream is a mystery whodunnit – the characters see the masked killer strike again and again, but don’t know who’s behind the Ghostface mask. Sidney’s friends are all under suspicion, including her own boyfriend, the brooding Billy Loomis. At one point Billy is even arrested by the police, and although Sidney has her doubts about him, his cellphone records seem to exonerate him. At Stu‘s party Billy is seemingly attacked by the killer, but the injury is faked. He and Stu reveal that they are accomplices in the murders. Although shocked, Sidney takes this betrayal in her stride, turning the tables on the pair and taunting them over the phone with the voice-changer. When Billy springs back to life after being shot by Gale, Sidney shoots him in the head – a very permanent breakup.
5. The Invisible Man (2020)
The Invisible Man opens with a scene showing Cecilia‘s meticulously planned escape from her abusive relationship – silently tip-toeing her way out of the house she has shared with tech mogul Adrian. Although she makes it out, going to stay with friend James and his daughter, Cecilia‘s nightmare is far from over. We see how much she has been affected by the abuse, as she is afraid to step a few feet out of the house. Even news of Adrian‘s apparent suicide does not end Cecilia‘s ordeal, as he uses a prototype invisibility suit to stalk and gaslight, turning family and friends against her. Through its sci-fi and horror devices, The Invisible Man shows the lasting effects of abuse, and that breaking up from an abuser can be just one step in actually breaking free.
4. Midsommar (2019)
Dani and Christian‘s relationship is on the rocks at the start of Midsommar – she worries about burdening him with her problems and his friends are urging him to break it off. The tragic death of Dani‘s family puts a stop to their separation, Dani clinging on to Christian for comfort while he stays with her through guilt and a sense of duty. On their arrival in Sweden, the Hårga set about doing what neither seems capable of doing themselves – splitting them up for good. Both are pushed towards more astrologically-suited mates, and Pelle pointedly asks Dani if she really “feels held” by Christian. Although ending this relationship is probably for the best, the style of dumping used – putting Christian in a bear and burning him – tends a little towards the extreme.
3. Ready or Not (2019)
No-one expects to have a breakup on their wedding night, but then no-one expects to marry into a family beholden to a demonic pact based around a sacrificial game. When Grace marries into the eccentric Le Domas dynasty, they introduce her to their quirky tradition of playing a randomly-chosen game on the wedding night. She picks Hide And Seek, and discovers that they take this particular game deadly seriously. At first it seems that the union between Grace and new husband Alex will endure – he disables the security system and even gets her a comfier pair of shoes to run in. But wedded bliss is short-lived; Alex eventually chooses his homicidal family over his new bride. But Grace finds other allies – her new brother-in-law Daniel and a mysterious figure from the family’s past – and she gets the last (blood-splattered) laugh in the end.
2. The Brood (1979)
Famously described by director David Cronenberg as his version of Kramer v Kramer (1979), but “more realistic”, The Brood is a distinctively Cronenbergian take on the aftermath of divorce. After Frank and Nola‘s acrimonious divorce, she has treatment at an experimental institute, where patients are encouraged to externalise their trauma. In Nola‘s case this has resulted in her spawning a host of uncanny children, who visit violence on those that Nola feels have wronged her. Although thoroughly bizarre and over-the-top, The Brood explores the very real pain and damage done by relationship breakdowns and toxic family history.
1. Possession (1981)
The most viscerally brutal of horror breakup flicks, Possession follows Anna and Mark – a couple whose bizarre and destructive relationship wreaks havoc on all around them. The twisty plot involves espionage, murder, possible doppelgangers and an affair with what seems to be a tentacled creature straight out of a cosmic horror. Director Andrzej Żuławski pulls no punches, filling the movie with wince-inducing violence and oozing bodily fluids. Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill give mesmerizingly intense performances as two people caught up in a car crash of a relationship that it’s impossible to look away from.
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