Ah, Valentine's Day. The time when movie-lovers curl up on the couch with their loved ones, and pop in the DVD most likely to set a romantic mood.
But for those of us who sneer at the very idea of l'amour, science fiction, fantasy and horror are also rich with films promoting the flip side of the coin—that love stinks, that relationships will just drive you crazy, and that sex may be just plain not worth the trouble.
Here, in honor of February 14th, are 14 films that function as cinematic cold showers.
King Kong (1933)
The big ape is insanely jealous, possessive, violent, and disrespectful of his lady fair's personal space. She can't take him to public places without him making a spectacle of himself. It's gonna end badly.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Sheer chemistry makes the couple fall in love, but not even a miracle can make them able to stand each other for an extended period. Technology gives them the means to forget one another, but in the end they get together again, intent on enjoying the love they once shared and aware even before they reconcile that they will soon hate each other all over again.
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
She was literally made for him. And she screams at the very sight of him. This one's a vivid rebuttal to all those promises that everybody has a perfect match somewhere out there. It ain't even remotely true. Some of us are just fated to be alone, that's all.
The Truman Show (1998)
That woman you married? She's only pretending to love you. In fact, she can't stand you. Pretending to be your loving wife is just a job to her. Not that you'll ever get her to admit it. She's being well-paid by people who are filming it. You're starring in cable porn and you don't even know it.
Making Mr. Right (1987)
This scariest thing about this one is that it actually seems to believe that it has a happy ending. The scientist played by John Malkovich creates a robot in his own image to pilot a space probe on a solo mission that's supposed to last years. The PR woman played by Ann Magnuson falls in love with that robot, which is nothing but a glorified toaster, programmed to please.
In the end the scientist switches places with that robot, and we're meant to cheer with happiness as the lady is left hugging her (literal) boy toy. But we also get a shot of the scientist in the cockpit of the vessel heading for years of isolation in deep space, as he explains, haltingly, "I'm not very good with people." Somebody thinks that this is a feel-good paean to romantic love. Excuse us while we slit our wrists.
I Married A Monster From Outer Space (1958)
In which one key indication that the heroine's husband has been replaced by an alien duplicate is the sudden end to his happy binge alcoholism. She only figures this out after she's been sleeping with the alien for a full year. Ewwww.
Cemetery Man (1994)
This off-kilter zombedy (zombie comedy) features a number of love stories, each more demented and off-putting than the last. Among them: the grieving young widow who cannot resist the sexual magnetism of a man with his own ossuary, the hulking grave-digger who deeply cares for the talking severed head, and the young girl who says to the zombie killer trying to dispatch her recently risen boyfriend, "Mind your business! I'll be eaten by whoever I please!" Not exactly what you expect from valentines.
Superman Returns (2006)
A few short years, movie-time, after returning to a ravaged White House to tell the President of the United States that he won't let us down again, Superman proves that a load of hooey by returning from space after an absence of five years. We're supposed to feel sorry for him when he discovers that Lois Lane has given up on waiting for him and has gotten engaged to another man.
It's called being an unreliable jackass, fella. And worse, you left her in the lurch, with your super-powered baby. That's being an absentee Dad. To be sure, she's made a rep for herself in the intervening years trashing you in the newspapers, which makes her a vindictive witch, so maybe you dodged a Kryptonite bullet after all.
This film turns one of pop culture's most iconic (if usually unrequited) love stories into the cautionary tale of a man and a woman who never should have had anything to do with each other in the first place.
Extra credit: the heartbreaking scene where Clark Kent, who's even more of a social outcast than usual, works up the nerve to call Lois Lane his friend, and she's such an unfeeling, oblivious harridan she demonstrates that she doesn't have the slightest idea what he's talking about. Yeah. She's a catch all right.
Star Wars (1977)
That beautiful young princess you just rescued? That you kiss in this first movie and then again, more passionately, in the second movie? The one that makes the wisecracking space rogue your romantic rival? You better rein in your sexual fantasies until you first give her a DNA test. She's your sister, dude.
A Boy And His Dog (1975)
In this adaptation of Harlan Ellison's post-holocaust novella, protagonist Vic, who's little more than a rapist to begin with, manages to rescue pretty Quilla Jean from her repressive underground community ... only to emerge and discover that his telepathic dog, Blood, has nearly starved to death waiting for him to emerge.
Vic kills her and feeds her to the dog.
In the original story, this is the tragic, desperate decision of a damaged boy who needs his much-smarter dog in order to survive in a brutal world. In the movie, it's a light-hearted joke, leading to a painful final quip about "good taste." This is not a great film to show your new lady on your first date. She'll likely get a restraining order.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Everybody remembers the feel-good rush of the ending, when telephone company troubleshooter Roy Neary gets to fly off in the sparkly spaceship with all of those big-headed aliens. Few remember that before he gets there he acts so loony — building mountains in his living room, and so on — that his wife and children flee for their lives.
One reason that there's never been a sequel is that it would have to include a scene where good old Roy returns from his joy ride with the extraterrestrials to discover that twenty years have passed, he's been declared dead, his embittered wife considers him a horror story from her past, and his kids have grown up cursing his very name.
The Dead Zone (1983)
Johnny Smith declines his pretty girlfriend's offer to come inside after their date, virtuously assuring her that some things are worth waiting for. A devastating car crash and a four-year coma ensue. When he wakes up, she's married and has a young son. Sure, she shows up for a visit and has sex with him just for old time's sake — actually, out of pity's more like it — but that's all poor Johnny will ever get; his clairvoyance, his declining health and the need to save the world from Greg Stillson all combine to give him an early expiration date.
This is, in short, one of the few horror movies where not having sex leads to the character being punished by supernatural forces. (Which would perversely make it a good date movie to see with a recalcitrant sweetie, were it not such a deliberate bummer that nobody's gonna feel randy afterward.)
Miracle Mile (1988)
Harry makes a date with Julie, misses it, then finds out by accident that civilization is about to be destroyed by a nuclear war. He spends the rest of the movie finding Julie (who's in a disappointed drunken stupor) and running around the titular Los Angeles neighborhood trying to rendezvous with the last helicopter out. In the end, they end up entombed for eternity in the La Brea tar pits.
So, let's summarize. On the very last day of the world, he disappoints the kind of girl who completely falls apart because he stood her up; they get back together, but they have no future, and they die. No big loss.
Sweet, virginal teenager Dawn discovers while being date-raped that she has a full set of teeth imbedded in a part of her anatomy where no male suitor will ever want to find teeth. (Figure it out, we're not about to draw you a diagram.) Several severed male parts later, it turns out that the teeth only bite down when she's been brutalized or taken advantage of in some way; when she thinks she's being loved, they refrain.
But since just about every male who touches her in the course of the story — including the one guy whose equipment survives his first sexual experience with her, because he temporarily fools her into thinking he's a nice guy — turns out to be a sleazebag or a wrongo, the initially horrified Dawn does a complete personality reversal and starts seeking out guys who really do need to be improved by coitus with her own personal woodchipper.
This is actually a much better movie than you think, but it won't leave you in the mood.