Scary movies are the best kind of films to see with romantic partners, whether you’re trying to catch someone new’s fancy, or rekindle the flame in a longterm relationship. Fear can lead to attraction, or so science says. According to professor Javid Sadr from the University of Lethbridge, the fear that comes from watching a horror movie “could instantly get relabeled, at least unconsciously, as attraction to the other person.” This is a lesson every teenager who ever took a date to a slasher flick seemed to understand.
You shouldn’t pick just any horror movie, though. Most of them aren’t very scary or aren’t very good. So I’ve compiled a list of 14 fright flicks that are perfect for whatever kind of romantic relationship you’re in.
The Conjuring (2013)
The Conjuring is partly based on the lives of Ed and Lorraine Warren, whose marriage is a testament to building a relationship through a common interest. For the real-life Warrens, that interest is either paranormal investigation or getting rich by bilking rubes, depending on your point-of-view, but the movie version of the Warrens are steadfastly devoted to one another and almost ridiculously sincere in their belief in ghosts and demons. Plus, The Conjuring has some truly edge-of-your-seat horror sequences that will have your sweetheart reaching across the couch for you.
The Woman (2011)
Horror movies have a long history of outright sexism that alienates a lot of would-be fans, but The Woman turns the genre’s misogynistic past on its head. In this story of a “civilized” man holding a feral woman captive in a basement, cruelty and systemic oppression are the evil villains, not women who don’t conform. It’s a ferociously feminist film in which the patriarchy is literally ripped apart.
Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Cabin in the Woods is the perfect movie for couples made up of one person who loves horror movies and another who hates them. Cabin’s comedy and meta-narrative make it easily digestible for non-scary-movie types, while the in-jokes about the genre and the plentiful horror tropes will hold the interest of even the most obsessed scary-movie freak.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
If you want a horror movie that illustrates a non-sexist dynamic in a man-woman relationship, check out Rosemary’s Baby. The driving force of the story may be Rosemary’s charismatic-but-evil husband’s sexist manipulation, but the other couple in the film, geriatric satanists Minnie and Roman Castevet, are horror’s most woke couple. They’re equal partners in a longterm project, and Minnie clearly has as much (or more) agency as her husband in their stab at unleashing ruin unto to all mankind.
Let the Right One In (2008)
This Swedish vampire movie might be the best horror film about romantic relationships ever made. Oskar is a 12-year-old, friendless shy-boi who is bullied relentlessly — until he meets Eli. She’s a century-old monster in the form of a teenage girl who gives the kid confidence and companionship, as long as he helps her find new victims. Maybe the relationship between a vampire and its familiar is exploitive and manipulative by nature, but on the other hand, love is strange, man.
If you and your significant other are considering settling down, moving to the suburbs, and having a kid, Vivarium is the movie for you. In this criminally under-seen indie flick, a young couple drives into a soulless suburban development to look at a “starter home,” then can’t find their way out. Literally. When a strange baby (maybe?) appears on their doorstep demanding food, care, and love, the prison is complete.
The House (2022)
I accept that there are people in the world who don’t like horror movies — I don’t fully understand them, but I accept that they exist. For them, there are movies like The House. This anthology of three stop-motion films about the same haunted house is creepy, foreboding, and strange, but there are no scares, deaths, blood, or things jumping out at you. It’s all atmosphere, sizzle without the steak, but it’s done so well, it’s still a full meal.
The Babadook (2014)
If you’re thinking of having children, give The Babadook a look. It examines the terror of being a parent like few movies ever have. The main character is raising a child with severe emotional problems, and she’s not that stable herself. The Babadook monster-izes the grinding nightmare of mental illness, isolation, and grief — bad enough in ourselves, but even scarier when it happens to your child.
The Love Witch (2016)
There’s no nudity here, but The Love Witch is porn for couples who get off on visual ingenuity — it’s so cool-looking, it’s hard to believe it even exists. The Love Witch tells the story of a witch whose sex and love magic get out of control, but the plot is secondary to the perfectly crafted, circa 1965 production design. The larger-and-more-beautiful-than-life characters are super-sexy (in a classy way) but it’s the shot composition and attention to visual detail that will really put you in the mood.
The Hunger (1983)
The Hunger is the definitive sexy-vampire movie. It features Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, and David Bowie enacting a tale of a love, sex, and betrayal among louche 1980s vampires and their victim. It’s got that cold stylishness that’s the hallmark of the era, plus a Deneuve/Sarandon sex scene that Roger Ebert considered the only good part of the movie.
A Dark Song (2017)
In this one-of-kind movie, two flawed strangers lock themselves in an empty house to complete an elaborate, punishing, months-long occult ritual. To succeed, they must share embarrassing intimacies, endure personal betrayals, and trust one another even after their horrible inner-selves are exposed. So, yeah, it’s a metaphor for relationships.
Cat People (1942)
If you and your partner are a little too highbrow for standard horror movies, check out Cat People. Its central conceit — mysterious Serbian femme fatal Irena seems to turn into a deadly black panther whenever she is sexually aroused — is very adult for its time, and it’s handled with masterful restraint. Cat People eschews the explicit in favour of the implicit and prizes mood and mystery over anything graphic.
Final Girls (2015)
Final Girls came and went back in 2015, and hardly anyone noticed, but this movie is way better than you’d expect it to be. Like Cabin in the Woods, Final Girls isn’t a horror movie as much as a horror/comedy movie about horror movies. Its premise — “modern teens get trapped in a 1970s slasher flick” — sounds like a recipe for a terrible movie, but Final Girls handles the material in totally unexpected, brilliant ways. It’s scary, legitimately funny and features an emotional core that might make you cry.
This is a good movie to watch together if you think it’s time for your romance to end. The pairing at the centre of Midsommar is entirely toxic, with put-upon Dani hanging onto a horrible relationship to avoid being alone. But through a visit to a pagan cult and some extensive bloodletting, she moves from dependence to freedom. It’s not a perfect journey, but you can’t make an omelette without cracking a few eggs.