Valentine’s Day always baffles me. I can never understand why a saint who was clubbed to death and beheaded was deemed the perfect person to represent a manufactured holiday for love and romance. Unless the idea of losing one’s head is what most people equate with how love affects them.
Since I do not react well to the saccharine sentimentality of this holiday, I have come up with what I consider the perfect antidote to the dopey romantic slop – Pretty Woman, Sleepless in Seattle, The Notebook – that often gets served up for Valentine’s Day. I will confess a weakness for romantic comedies made in the ’30s and ’40s but very few romantic films from more recent decades have touched my heart.
For this Valentine’s Day I have composed a list I’m calling Impossible Love because it’s all about romance between monsters and human where there are distinct challenges to the two protagonists actually getting together. You think Romeo and Juliet had it tough, well at least they were the same species.
If you want a less traditional way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, here are the perfect films for you. Please note there are some spoilers.
- King Kong (1933)
There is no greater love story in the monster world than the unrequited love Kong had for the lovely Ann Darrow (Fay Wray). He risked all for her and sacrificed his life to prove his love. This pre-Code Hollywood film had a naughty scene of Kong undressing Fay Wray and sniffing her suggestively. Not sure where that would have ended up had they not been interrupted but the big ape had an obvious crush on the blonde ingénue.
It took me years to understand why I always hated Wray but I finally realized it was because I never forgave her for not insisting Kong pick her back up in order to make the planes stop shooting at him atop the Empire State Building. Over Kong’s dead body Carl Denham proclaims that it wasn’t the planes that brought down Kong, “It was beauty killed the beast.” I don’t cry at movies but I always cry at this. As a kid I fell in love with Kong and could not understand why Wray’s Ann kept screaming her head off and trying to get away from Kong. This is the ultimate tragic monster love story and perfect for a romantic evening.
- Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
In 1931, James Whale created a compassionate portrait of Frankenstein’s monster. He gave us a monster that was lonely and easy to feel empathy for. In Frankenstein, the Monster never experiences love and is rejected by his father/creator. But when he’s brought back for a sequel called Bride of Frankenstein, the doctor tries to address the Monster’s need for companionship and creates a female creature from dead body parts to be his mate. But when she comes to life, she’ll have none of her arranged “marriage” and rudely rejects the Monster.
This is yet another tragic monster love story that is effectively moving in its portrait of an undead creature desperate for some kind of love. Boris Karloff as the Monster and Elsa Lanchester as his bride are superb. Technically this isn’t a monster and human romance but it’s close and it is such a beautifully tragic tale of love. But if this isn’t happy enough for your Valentine’s Day then try Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein where Peter Boyle’s Monster gets to hook up with Madeline Kahn’s Elizabeth with much better results.
- Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)
The Creature sets his sights on Julie Adams’ sexy scientist Kay Lawrence but once again the monster finds his love unrequited. There’s a moment that suggests their impossible love as Adams (in her famous white bathing suit) swims suggestively above the Creature in his Black Lagoon. He mirrors her every move in a romantic even erotic water ballet. He chases her throughout the whole film and even gets a hold of her a few times. And even though Kay expresses fear whenever she sees the Creature, she does convey a certain underlying compassion when she is on the boat listening to the sounds of life from the lagoon. The other scientist dismisses the sounds as “hunting calls” of animals out for the kill. But Kay has a more poetic interpretation suggesting, “Some of them are cries of fear like people who whistle in the dark.” In a sense this Creature of the Black Lagoon represents a dark sexual yearning that a ’50s heroine just wasn’t ready to embrace.
- La Belle et la Bête (1946)
This is perhaps the most lushly romantic monster film of all time. Jean Cocteau enchants us with this fairy tale about Belle (Josette Day), a beautiful young woman who shows her devotion to her father by volunteering to take his place as the prisoner of the mysterious Beast (Jean Marais as a most stunning and attractive Beast). The Beast of course falls in love and wants to marry Belle but her initial response is fear and repulsion. But over the course of the film his kindness, desire, and tragic soul win her love.
In expected fairy tale fashion, the Beast gets to turn into a Prince before marrying Belle and taking her to some heavenly future. But Belle expresses what appears to be her own and the audience’s initial dissatisfaction at the transformation when upon seeing the Prince she sweetly and sadly asks where is her Beast. There is a happily-ever-after ending but it is not one that has a victory for the monster.
- The Shape of Water (2017)
Guillermo del Toro’s film is almost like a reaction to all the films already mentioned. Del Toro has clearly expressed his own love for the monster starting with the one created by Mary Shelley and James Whale. Although the characters of these early horror films did not openly express a love for the monster, del Toro and many of us in the audience felt immediately drawn to the monsters and creatures on the screen. The Shape of Water serves up a valentine to all those monsters who didn’t get the love they deserved.
In del Toro’s film, Sally Hawkins not only rescues Doug Jones’ amphibious monster (an homage to the Creature From the Black Lagoon) but she falls in love with him. In del Toro’s enlightened film the monster does not have to change in order to get the girl. Instead she discovers something in herself that allows her to live happily ever after with the creature. The film also allows for consummation of their love that was only implied in The Creature From the Black Lagoon.
- Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
I had to include one werewolf film but was torn as to which one. The original The Wolf Man from 1941 has the great Lon Chaney, Jr. but Chaney was less of a romantic monster than Oliver Reed’s highly sexualized werewolf in this bodice-busting Hammer film. The British Hammer Films specialized in boldly colored horror films in the ’60s and ’70s that emphasized blood and heaving bosoms. Reed makes a very sexual, attractive, and of course tragic werewolf hero. Another contender for this spot is An American Werewolf in London.
- Fido (2006)
Similarly I could not do a monster romance list and ignore zombies. Perhaps the zombie like the werewolf is more human than some of these other monsters on this list because both begin as human beings. The werewolf suffers from a curse that forces him to change whereas the zombie is infected by a bite or virus of some sort.
Warm Bodies is clearly a rom-zom-com with a very attractive Nicholas Hoult as a zombie who is brought back to his humanity through love, but the zombie romance I am going with is the Canadian Fido. The reason for this is that Fido (played to perfection by Billy Connolly) doesn’t have to change back to human form or be “cured” to get the love of Carrie Anne-Moss’ perfect suburban housewife. She realizes the shortcomings of her spouse and chooses the family pet zombie over him. A smart, brainy choice.
- Swamp Thing (1982)
Wes Craven’s film, based on the comic book by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, is a precursor to del Toro’s The Shape of Water. In less romantically poetic terms Craven gives us a film where the monster is sympathetic and wins the love of the girl. In this case, though, Swamp Thing was once human and a scientist, and he knew the girl (the luscious Adrienne Barbeau) when he was in his human form.
Swamp Thing recalls The Creature From the Black Lagoon as well as Frankenstein, and reveals the more modern trend of making the love between a human and a monster more overt and acceptable. I could have also mentioned either of the two versions of The Fly (1958 or the David Cronenberg remake in 1986) for films about scientists who transform into monsters and how that affects their relationships with the women who knew them when they were human. But The Fly films are more about the agony of seeing a loved one transformed into a monster that loses his humanity whereas Swamp Thing feels more like a monster romance film so that’s what got it on this list over The Fly movies.
- Hellboy I and II (2004 and 2008)
Guillermo del Toro gets a second spot on this list because Hellboy gives us a pair of monster love stories in these films. First we get Hellboy (the great Ron Perlman who also played the TV monster in the ’80s series Beauty and the Beast) and Liz (okay she’s not entirely human) who despite being out of the ordinary they have a relationship that is all too mundane in its petty day-to-day problems. That’s part of the charm of this romance; it’s rooted in the real world despite all the supernatural elements. And in Hellboy II the couple has to cope with impending parenthood while Hellboy’s sidekick Abe Sapien gets a chance to fall in love too.
- La Bête (1975)
To end this list here’s an odd erotic French film from Polish filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk. The film begins with an explicit and lengthy scene of horses copulating. That is a none too subtle foreshadowing of what’s to follow. A young woman and her aunt arrive at the crumbling mansion of her husband-to-be. There they discover strange rumors about the family’s past and tales of a beast. The sight of the horses mating along with the young woman’s awakening sexual desires lead to a series of scenes that are either a dream fantasy or perhaps a flashback to the roots of the family curse. But either way the viewer is exposed to some soft-core porn of a woman having sex with a very well endowed beast.
This is less a love story/romance and more a sensational look at repressed desires and bestiality. We get a Cardinal rendering his verdict on the events by saying, “copulating with an animal is the most odious crime because it debases man created in the image of God. It is most contrary to the laws of nature.” Well all these tales of impossible love seem to challenge those laws of nature with varying results. But any one of them is a far more romantic film than what Hollywood generally serves up as romance for Valentine’s Day.
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