Romance films, like any genre, have their own following. While they might not host conventions like the horror and sci-fi crowds, but they are a dedicated lot that go beyond the stereotypical Jennifer Aniston admirer.
Love, being the wide-reaching and motley emotion that it is, can’t always be relegated to the same fluffy story involving two or more thirty-something metropolitan dwellers meeting in a coffee shop or something. Everyone knows love knows no bounds, so why exactly do most romance films follow such a stale and sometimes inaccurate formula?
Like romance films, cult films have a special kind of audience, special meaning eclectic. Sometimes taboo, sometimes experimental, and always unorthodox, the cult film is not a genre in itself but a philosophy that covers all genres.
Everyone knows cult horror or sci-fi films, and with a little digging, one can discover followings for foreign films, stoner comedies, so-bad-they’re-good films, and strange musicals you won’t find next to Hairspray or Les Miserables on Walmart store shelves. An often overlooked category of the cult film would probably be the romance film, due to the stereotypes connected to the genre.
In the spirit of Singles Awareness Day, here’s twelve relatively cult romance films for the unorthodox viewer that can be enjoyed by their lonesome.
12. Harold and Maude
Hal Ashby’s 1971 screwy dark rom-com is a literal cult classic. Unappreciated at release and praised today, it’s bittersweet, if incredibly unusual, love story continues to entertain its own devoted audience and resonate with the young and the young at heart.
The story of kind-of-suicidal-but-not-really youngster Harold and his best friend-turned-lover Maude remains an incredibly odd story on the surface, but upon even the first viewing its moving themes about living life to its absolute fullest and just general not giving a shit about the expectations of others become clear as day.
However, make no mistakes, for this will offend some viewers due to its twisted and humorous depiction of graphic suicides, but there no denying the film’s true warmth and genuine humour. Recommended for all cult film fans.
The ultimate carnival film. With an alleged half hour cut from the film and now lost to time, the result of a claim regarding a woman having a miscarriage due to its shocking content, Freaks remains probably one of the strangest love stories ever put to celluloid at the time, that of the marriage between a midget, Hans, and a trapeze artist, the cold-hearted Cleopatra. Both are performers in a travelling circus, surrounded by their fellow circus freaks and abiding by their own carnival law.
When Cleopatra and strongman Hercules berates the freaks and makes a mockery of well-meaning but love-blinded Hans, the freaks carry out their vengeance in the rain, leading to one of the most infamous endings of the pre-code horror era.
Tod Browning had already made a name for himself with 1931’s seminal classic Dracula, but his masterpiece would come one year later with this 1932 cult favourite. To this day, nothing has quite come close. A horrific hybrid of classic melodrama and unsettling realism, Freaks is not only a masterclass in horror and a morality tale, but maybe, through the right lens, a romantic black sheep.
10. Chungking Express
Another odd-ball of a love story-two love stories, to be exact-Wong Kar-wai’s 1994 comedy- drama pulsates with a sense of free-wheeling urban mania that you could only find in the 1990’s. The two plotlines involve two cops and the women in their lives, all of which surrounding a small snack bar deep in Hong Kong.
One story follows a young cop’s mission to overcome a recent break-up by means of buying near-expired cans of pineapple and becoming platonically involved with an older drug smuggler, while the other features a young and eccentric woman working at the snack bar and the older cop who’s apartment she breaks into occasionally to clean the place up after he leaves it in disarray after breaking-up with a flight attendant.
Wong has been praised for his visual flair and intriguing stories, and Chungking Express is elevated from potentially boring indie film to outright art-house classic. While neither of our leads actually get the girl, it’s no doubt a happy film filled with vibrancy and a youthful abandon that’s hard to translate to the screen without making it come off as self-indulgent or pretentious.
Barbet Schroeder is a peculiar director, not because of his directing style, but because of his incredibly varied filmography. From General Idi Amin to BDSM (we’ll get to that), and from Koko the Gorilla to Klaus von Bülow, Schroeder has covered so many different topics that it’s pretty hard to really pin him down. If there’s one subject that he has returned to at least twice, it’s cult author Charles Bukowski.
In Barfly, which has a script itself written by Bukowski, follows the writer’s alter-ego Henry Chinaski, played as Mickey Rourke in one of his best roles, as he drinks, writes, fights, and keeps the company of both fellow barfly Wanda (Faye Dunaway) and high class literary editor Tully Sorenson (Alice Krige).
While there isn’t any conventional or fully realized romance in the film, the attraction between two broken people sometimes is more compelling than a typical love story. Quotable, entertaining, at times relatable and at others sad, Barfly is the perfect film for those who’ve had their fairshare of love troubles, but still can find companionship in others.
The 1960’s were a banner decade for the evolution of the popular arts, and cinema was no exception. By blowing the minds of cinephiles and cinema clubs the world over, few movements have had the staying power as the French New Wave, and that’s none less prominent in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless.
A romantic crime saga with all the European style and classic film noir detachment one could ask for, this jazzier and (somewhat) less-violent French equivalent to Bonnie and Clyde contains the kind of cynical romance only the young and reckless can relate to. Like other films on this list, it isn’t a basic romance story.
The chemistry is dubious, with the characters antagonizing as much as they embrace (giving the aura of their relationship just being a fling), and their detached nature might resonate more with those who consider themselves lone wolves. Still, it’s a love story about youth and energy and being the rebel we all sometimes yearn to be.
7. Shaun of the Dead
When one thinks of the great horror-comedies, many will usually pick this 2004 Edgar Wright crowd-pleaser. On its surface, as in the mind of many, this film comes off as more of a zombie comedy than a romantic comedy. And yet, this is where much of Shaun of the Dead’s true charm shines.
Deep within its apocalyptic humour and mandatory gore and splatter, a quirky relationship comedy underlines the carnage and profanity. At its heart, it’s about Simon Pegg’s Shaun trying to win back Kate Ashfield’s Liz after being quite a lazy boyfriend.
Watching Shaun try to balance saving his family, getting his mum and killing his stepfather Phil (sorry Phil) makes for a hilarious time. Unlike most genre films involving romance, this film uses the main character’s relationship to add to the central conflict in a way that makes not feel too ‘mushy’ and ultimately distracting. A fairly low-key romantic film that even the most hard-line genre fans can enjoy.