There was a point during January when I couldn’t remember a time when it wasn’t January. December was so chaotic- what with Lucas’s arrival, frantic Christmas shopping, family and friend visits and pretty huge lifestyle adjustments, the festive season and first month flew by. Last month, though? Not so much. It’s a pretty universal thing. Christmas is so merry and bright and celebrates indulgence, whereas January is drab and cold, everyone’s skint and those over-indulgences give way to shame and calorific austerity.
All things considered, it’s a bit of a relief when February rolls around. At a mere 28 days, it’s a neat gateway that slides us nicely into March in time for spring. However, with its convenience, it brings a new set of challenges. I can count at least ten birthdays, all family and close friends too so I can’t even patch them. As well as this, let’s not forget the neon red heart in the room: that most beloved/detested of questionable holidays, Valentine’s day.
Valentine’s Day brings certain expectations. If you’re loved up, you’re expected to buy into the cards and flowers consumerism of it all. Single? You’re expected to either partner up ASAP or stay out of sight at home so as to not ruin the day for smug couple-types. Into casual dating? Better super-like that Mr/s Right Now ASAP and hunker down until it passes. Whatever your relationship status, there’s always the failsafe option of watching a movie, right? Rather than the usual well-trodden rom-com path, why not think outside the (chocolate) box a little? I’ve put together a wee list of some of my favourite alternative romantic movies, guaranteed* to land you that elusive second date.
*not a guarantee.
If you’ve ever been on a first date that went well, then fizzled out, you might just want to watch this before you send that follow-up text. Takashi Miike’s slow burning, visceral Audition makes single sofa Saturdays seem a lot more appealing. Following the death of his beloved wife, Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) is encouraged to start dating again. Unfortunately it’s before internet dating is really socially accepted, so he has to get creative in his quest for love. He posts an advert for a fake film audition, which is either the creepiest or sweetest approach I’ve ever heard. For now we’ll go with sweetest… When fragile, engrossing Asami (Eihi Shiina) turns up, he’s instantly smitten. The two go for a lovely, romantic dinner, and it seems like they’ve hit it off. So, is it happily ever after? Well, let’s just say it wouldn’t be worth watching if it was, would it? For two thirds of this film’s running time it’s a deftly handled romantic comedy with a pretty neat twist on the . The final act smashes into you without warning, and descends so quickly into madness that it’s hard to take in upon first viewing. You might want to consider screening your online matches that little bit more carefully after this.
May is an oddity that I only discovered in the last year. It’s actually quite a sweet film, albeit one which made me terribly uneasy, and on the verge of seriously cringing for most of its duration. Our titular heroine (Angela Bettis) is a teeny bit of an oddity: lonely and ostracised as a child, she seeks companionship from anyone who shows her kindness. She doesn’t really differentiate between genders, she just wants a pal. And woe betide anyone who gets in her way. Her clumsy attempts at forming relationships go from bad to wrose, from dreamy mechanic Adam (Jeremy Sisto) to domineering Polly (Anna Faris). May is a genuinely touching film, but our unreliable narrator (I love a good unreliable narrator) ensures that we’re strung along from one tense situation to another. Thankfully, there are no schlocky scares to underline this: just a growing sense of tension as May becomes increasingly unraveled. It’s also a macabre, modern take on the Frankenstein’s monster story: in her desperation May makes a friend, a doll she calls Amy and creates from a patchwork of… well, you’ll just have to see. All in all, this is a really sweet, criminally underseen little gem and an assured debut from director Lucky McKee.
Ever felt yourself pining for the one who got away? That one that seemed to end before it ran its natural course? Or, at the very least, have you ever played that sleepover game where you do the ritual to see your future spouse’s face in the mirror? If the answer to any of the above is ‘yes’, you’ll find a lot of resonance in Candyman. Based on the Clive Barker short story The Forbidden, it’s about student Helen (Virginia Madsen) who stumbles across the Candyman story while researching urban legends for her thesis. She becomes slightly obsessed, chasing down the legend’s origins and, umm, accidentally summoning him into existence. Whoops. Candyman is a great example of a slasher without pandering to genre convention. It respects its source material, but Tony Todd’s embodiment of the title role is unlike anything you could’ve imagined while reading. Even if the whole ‘mouth full of bees’ thing is enough to give you the dry heave.
Wild At Heart (1990)
OK, so this is probably the least ‘horror’ leaning film on the list. However, it does feature witches, occult symbology, sinister hitmen, bad omens and one of cinema’s most chilling psychopaths. It’s also one of my all-time favourites, so it’s staying. In the midst of all that, though, is a good ol’ fashioned ‘lovers on the run’ story. What’s more romantic than packing your bags and going on a spontaneous road trip? Well, not a lot- even when you’re on the run from hired goons that your mum’s hired to kill your boyfriend. Wild At Heart is an oddly accessible curio from the master of weird, David Lynch. It’s a gloriously grotesque postcard from the heartland of America, loosely following the yellow brick road of The Wizard Of Oz. Sailor (Nicholas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern) drive across the country encountering a host of oddballs and assassins, the perils they face along the way only bringing them closer together. Equal parts black comedy, violence and pastiche, it also features an unforgettable performance from Willem Defoe as the loathsome, sleazy Bobby Peru (like the country). One of Lynch’s most linear works, it’s disturbing, deranged and deeply sexy.
Cherry Falls (2000)
I deliberated on this one: there are better examples of horror/romance, but this won out as it recalls awkward high school memories, subverts the usual slasher movie convention of the Last Virgin Standing, is gleefully silly and, most importantly, features a supporting role from Michael Biehn. And, in my opinion, not enough films do. This film is entirely ridiculous but I enjoyed its attempts at turning the old cliché on its head. I know it’s never going to remembered as a classic of its genre but it’s an interesting enough little twist. In any case I’m a sucker for a good slasher film, often the sillier the better. It’s also notable for a starring role from the dearly departed Brittany Murphy, still managing to seem bonkers as a virginal model student and daughter of the local sheriff. Bless ‘er.
Other notable near-inclusions: The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Fly (1986), Interview with The Vampire (1994), Haut Tension (2003), Let the Right One In (2008).