Dangerous Liaisons: Romance in Horror

By Alistair Cross

No matter the genre, there’s always a place for romance … and horror is no exception. After all, sometimes romance is horror! And for those with a kinky bent, horror can provide a lot of “romance.” Vampires, for example, are peculiarly romantic because they satisfy our fascination with sex and death – and immortality. Traditionally, when a vampire ravishes you, sex is in the bite. That’s how Dracula did it. Only in more recent times have vampires begun getting it on the good old-fashioned way. 

In my novel, The Crimson Corset, there are many flavors of romance, from boy-meets-girl to girl-meets-vampire, to my antagonist, Gretchen VanTreese’s version of romance which is, to put it mildly, a little rough. Gretchen is all about the kink. She likes her men (human or vampire) at her feet, tied up and manacled. She takes her favorite human toys to a place called “The White Room,” the ultimate in BDSM dungeons.

While Gretchen’s hard loving is more likely to show up in horror, tamer romance almost always has a role as well because many readers don’t see subjugation and humiliation as pleasurable and they want to vicariously experience the protagonists’ romantic adventures. But romance is heightened by danger in this genre more than any other. Where there is terror and death, there is love because what can soothe fear more than closeness to another person? 

And in horror, romance may come sooner rather than later because of the simple fact that people in fearsome predicaments need one another – people are drawn together and bond very early. If you’re writing a series, this is handy because once the danger has passed, couples are likely to drift apart, so your protagonist can move on to a new love in the next book. 

Romance in horror is nothing new, and it follows the same guidelines as romance in any other genre, which means that if you intend to keep your romantic duo together through multiple books, it can get boring. Think of long-running television shows like Cheers, Remington Steele, Moonlighting, and Stargate SG-1. The romances work because they tease yet rarely deliver. If they do deliver, something interferes, keeping the audience wanting more.  It’s the same in horror.

Think about the current hit show, Supernatural. Over the years, Sam and Dean Winchester have had some serious romances; Dean even spent a “year” (summer hiatus) living like a normal family guy. The minute the show started a new season, it began by breaking down the relationship. In Dean’s case, he had to leave to keep his love interest and her son safe. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to see Dean content. I want him to fight monsters. The show handles this need masterfully by letting the romance play out while the show is off the air. But this isn’t the only way to handle romance in horror.

Consider The X-Files. Agents Scully and Mulder have chemistry. Oh, do they have chemistry. Throughout the series the audience watched them eye one another, and in one gratifying episode we saw the same story from two points of view as they tell their boss what happened during a case. Scully and Mulder were, as usual, denying their feelings for one another, making romance the entire point of the tale. Scully thought a sheriff was very attractive, and the sheriff returned those feelings, so as she recounted the story, the sheriff had perfect hair, the whitest teeth, and the manners of a gentleman. In Mulder’s version, the sheriff has hair growing out of his ears, Billy Bob teeth and scratched a lot. This tells us just how much Mulder wants Scully – and it drives the audience mad.

Another kind of “romance” is seen in the horror novel and film, Silence of the Lambs. Lecter and Clarice are fascinated by one another. At one point, Lecter even says, “They’ll say we’re in love.” And in a way, they are. It’s a very dangerous sort of “romance.” There’s no kissing or other physically intimate tropes. These two go far beyond that with intimacies of the mind – and there’s nothing sexier. It’s one of the most compelling “romances” in horror.

Book cover for The Ghosts of Ravencrest by Tamara Thorne & Alistair Cross: A mansion set behind a beautiful green lawn at dusk.

Horror is unique because it is not just a genre. It can be found within many genres, including romance. And romance is the same way. It ties into every other genre, including horror (think of Rebecca and other beloved gothic tales, or even lighter stories like The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. It includes a ghost, but it’s far more romantic than horrific.) In The Ghosts of Ravencrest, my collaborative serial novel with Tamara Thorne, we explored these aspects in great depth and we had so much fun writing it that we are working on a sequel.

Because of their flexibility and presence in all fiction genres, romance and horror are natural companions. They travel well together, and make fine bedfellows. The combination of horror and romance is one of my personal favorites, and as I look around at the age-old duality of this mix, I see I’m not the only one in love with these dangerous liaisons.