If you’re not amused by rom-coms, if adorable couples living happily ever after make you want to puke, and most especially if you find all the saccharine sentiment of St. Valentine’s Day a bit too much to take then here’s an antidote: a collection of films that are downright anti-romantic. First of all, let us remember that the person this candy-coated holiday takes its name from was a man who was persecuted, arrested, beaten with clubs, and finally beheaded. Imagine how different the holiday might be if those images dominated Valentine’s instead of cupids. So if you’ve had it with red roses and boxes of chocolates, and wished everyone else felt the same, then sit down and watch a few of these cold-hearted, romance killers. Better yet go out on a first date and pop one of these lovelies on the home entertainment system and see what happens.
10. My Bloody Valentine (1981)
Let’s start with a Canadian slasher that uses the holiday as its centerpiece and is set in a town bearing the name of Valentine Bluffs. A group of teenagers are preparing for a Valentine’s Day dance when a crazed killer in mining gear begins to pick them off in particularly gruesome fashion (the MPAA demanded almost ten minutes of cuts before allowing it an R rating). The killer stirs up old memories of an incident 20 years earlier when a miner took revenge on a pair of supervisors (who had ditched their responsibilities in order to go to a Valentine’s Day dance) by killing them with his mining pick and placing their hearts in Valentine boxes. He also warned the town to never hold another Valentine’s dance again. The film delightfully skewers all the lovers’ tropes for the holiday and gives a whole new meaning to “forget me not.” Take a date to this film and he or she will think twice about opening that box of candy.
9. Play Misty For Me (1971)
Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut gives us the quintessential hell hath no fury like a woman-scorned movie. A terrifyingly good Jessica Walter plays Evelyn, a woman who essentially stalks a DJ (played by Eastwood) in order to hook up with him. When he discards her after a one-night stand she goes bat-shit crazy and comes after him and his girlfriend with bloody revenge on her mind. This film redefines safe sex as staying away from crazy bitches.
8. Fatal Attraction (1987)
If Play Misty For Me had never been made, Michael Douglas might have had a far less successful film career. Eastwood’s film was an obvious if uncredited influence on Fatal Attraction in which Glenn Close plays Alex, a woman who has a one-night stand with married man, Dan (played by Douglas). Needless to say Dan has no intention of carrying on a relationship with her and opts to stay with his family when pressed. This sends Alex over the edge. She starts to stalk and threaten him as well as his family.
Douglas practically built a career playing men with extremely poor judgment about whom they sleep with. A few years later, he would bed a possible serial killer (Sharon Stone) in Basic Instinct (1992) and then he’s sexually harassed by his boss (Demi Moore) in Disclosure (1994). As a husband he pays no heed to his vow of fidelity, and merely as a judge of character he fails to recognize the varying degrees of psychosis in each of the women he has to deal with. Almost single-handedly, Douglas makes a case for just steering clear of women altogether. Much safer that way.
7. The Collector (1965)
The tagline for this William Wyler film called it “almost a love story.” Yeah, almost. Frederick (Terence Stamp) collects butterflies and young women. One day he follows an art student named Miranda (Samantha Eggar). He chloroforms her, kidnaps her, and locks her in his stone cellar. When Frederick shows her his butterfly collection she’s appalled and realizes that she is just another specimen in his collection. SPOILER ALERT: When she dies, he says it was her own fault for not appreciating him and she got what she deserved. The film ends with him stalking another victim, but this one he determines will be less clever so he can teach her to properly respect him. See the trend with many of these films? They suggest everyone out there is potentially crazy, which makes it hard to trust anyone enough to fall in love. Celibacy or perhaps being a shut-in seem safer choices.
6. Gone Girl (2014)
Trust is again at issue in Gone Girl. It opens with a man (Ben Affleck) looking at his wife’s head and telling us how he ponders opening her skull, unspooling her brain, and sifting through it to try to figure out what she’s thinking. Problem is, the more we know about what’s inside both their heads the more disturbing this story becomes. The film delivers a perversely perfect first date film – if a couple can survive this film and still be capable of considering marriage then they might stand a chance at a relationship. Or maybe they’ll just kill each other. But the malice and deception are so extreme in this film that it’s breathtaking. Any inkling of romance you might hold will likely be crushed. When leaving the theater, one is likely to think, “Hell no, I’ll never get married, it’s too dangerous.” Score one for the anti-romantics.
5. Closer (2004)
Before making Closer, Mike Nichols tackled relationships by adapting Edward Albee’s play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966). The poster for the film cordially invited viewers to “George and Martha’s for an evening of fun and games.” But oh how vicious those games become as two couples lash out at each other through a long, liquor-soaked night of abuse and taunting. The film took us into the trenches of married life and showed us how brutal the warfare could be. No one can inflict pain with more intensity or accuracy than someone with whom you have been intimate. Elizabeth Taylor won a much-deserved Oscar for gaining 30 pounds, looking frumpy, and spewing foul language. But if you think the venom in that film was intense, check out what Nichols does almost 40 years later with Closer. Once again he turns to adapting a stage play and once again it’s a quartet of characters using word to assault each other with lethal precision. These two films suggest that the price of intimacy is that it exposes your vulnerabilities and leave yourself open to savage emotional attacks. These films will make you wish for a maniac stalker who only wants to kill you. So if you want to explain to people why you are quite happy being single, expose them to these wicked gems.
4. Bad Timing (1980)
Theresa Russell is a fascinating actress. In terms of love and romance, she has been on both sides of the equation, playing victim in Bad Timing and predator in Black Widow (1987). In Black Widow, she treats love strictly as a business practice that allows her to moves from wealthy husband to wealthy husband, leaving a trail of corpses in her wake. Perhaps she just sees it as a series of hostile takeovers. She seems to take the “till death do us part” line in her marriage vows as a command to be followed as soon as she’s named sole beneficiary in her husband’s will. But in Bad Timing, she’s a victim of love. When the film came out an executive at the its distribution company Rank, proclaimed it “a sick film made by sick people for sick people.” In other words, the couple did not live happily ever after and it made people uncomfortable. In fact Russell’s relationship with a professor played by Art Garfunkel grows increasingly horrific as he becomes more obsessed with possessing her and more enraged by her free-spirited nature. There is one sex scene between them in which he takes such brutal advantage of her in a drugged state that you will wish this had turned into a female revenge film. This is a film women can point to as proof that men can be monumental jerks.
3. In the Company of Men (1997)/The Shape of Things (2003)
These films from director Neil LaBute need to come as a kind of yin-yang pair because they give us two of the nastiest, most anti-romantic characters ever committed to film, and one serves up a complete bastard and the other a total bitch. So no gender bias. In the Company of Men, Aaron Eckhart (at his most audaciously vile) plays a man who decides to relieve some of his misogynistic stress by plotting with a male co-worker to toy with the emotions of a deaf female subordinate. The plan involves courting and dumping her in a most malicious manner.
In The Shape of Things, Rachel Weisz sets her sites on the adorable Paul Rudd. She starts to pick at his defects and ultimately convinces him to bit by bit, piece by piece give himself a complete makeover. Then she reveals that he was simply the human clay in a massive art project designed to show the pathetic extremes people will go in the name of love. Ouch!
2. Out of the Past (1947)
Film noir and the femme fatale had to be represented here. There were so many films to choose from — Double Indemnity (1944), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), The Lady From Shanghai (1947), Body Heat (1981) – and all serving up the most lethal women in film history. But I wanted to pick just one to sum up the anti-romantic bent of most film noir. Kathy (played by Jane Greer) in Out of the Past is one of the most deliciously manipulative and unrepentant femme fatales of all time. Without batting a single lovely lash she will lie, double cross, and kill. Even Robert Mitchum’s Jeff, a man savvy enough to know not to get fooled, falls hard for her. Greer gives us a woman that might justify misogyny – except that she’s so damn fascinating to watch, like a panther sizing up its next meal. Like others on this list, this film attacks romance from the angle that you simply can’t trust anyone.
1. Audition (1999)
And let’s end with perhaps the most squirmingly uncomfortable romance killer of all time. From Japan’s Takashi Miike we get a slow building tale about a man trying to secure a nice wife. The protagonist is convinced that the best way to find the woman of his dreams is to hold an audition for a fake movie. Wow, now that’s sleazy! Playing up the stereotype of Japan as a polite society and Japanese women as submissive, Miike delivers a horrific tale about getting even. If this doesn’t make you want to lock your doors and become a reclusive shut in, then I don’t know what would.
Bonus pick: And just because I don’t want to leave you feeling too down, enjoy a more comic take on the impossibility of love with War of the Roses (1989). The film serves up Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner as a supposedly perfect couple whose marriage falls apart. The divorce proceedings bring out the worst in them as they battle over material possessions. This might not kill the romantic in you entirely but it will make you think more seriously about a pre-nup.