This may be stating the obvious, but people tend to have a lot of sex on Valentine’s Day. And at Modern Horrors, we believe sex and violence are intrinsically linked. Hell, we even proved it with science once. So today, instead of going out to a crowded restaurant to be rushed through a prix fixe dinner only to end up back at your place for the main event, why not stay in, get cozy, and watch a horror movie or three? Clothing optional.
As is the case with most modern holidays, there’s an oft-ignored history surrounding Valentine’s Day. What began as an ancient festival called Lupercalia was repurposed by the Roman Church as a celebration in honor of Saint Valentine, a martyr who would go on to inspire billions of greeting cards in pharmacies the world over. So what I have lined up for you is a true thematic guide to your Valentine’s Day Binge Night. Whether you and your partner are pulling a Netflix and chill or you’re self-improving all on your own, I’m hoping by the end the night we’ll all come away a bit wiser, a bit lighter, and if I’ve done my job, with a head full of nightmares.
A Brief History Lesson
Lupercalia was an ancient pre-Roman festival observed between February 12th and the 15th to rid the city of evil spirits and fertilize the land. Lupercalia was also a celebration to honor Lupa, a legendary she-wolf believed to have suckled the infant orphans Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. This has led many to refer to Lupercalia as “The Wolf Festival.”
So what took place during Lupercalia? I’m glad you asked because, as it turns out, a whole lot of sex and violence. Festivals began with the ceremonial sacrificing of a goat and a dog, which were, at the time, thought to be the most fertile of animals. After the feast, the hides of these creatures were made into thongs. Women would run around bare-assed naked while a priest whipped them with dead animal skins. Besides being the life of the party, these women were considered more fertile as a result of their lashings. It seemed birth rates weren’t climbing fast enough, though, because the festival eventually evolved into wild sex parties. I suspect someone eventually realized the fastest way to make babies is to have sex with girls rather than whip them. With that in mind, how about getting to our first set of films.
What better way to show your appreciation for a baby nurturing she-wolf than Ginger Snaps? I rewatched it for the first time in over 10 years and I can happily report that dialog is still quick and punchy, Brigitte’s relationship with Ginger is still a highlight, and everything is still fucked. Sure it’s a bit overacted (okay, a lot overacted) but if you ever wondered what a Joss Whedon Teen Wolf remake might look like, check out Ginger Snaps.
Sure, Drag Me To Hell might sound like an odd choice here, but when it comes to the concept of ritualistic sacrifice, Drag Me To Hell fits the bill. I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen it, but if you’re a fan of Sam Raimi’s brand of horror this will be a reminder of the brilliance he can produce. A bit of advice – if you’re in the mood for something creepier, stick to the theatrical release. If you’re looking for something with a higher gross-out factor, go with the director’s cut.
Not Your Average Hallmark Card
Once the Roman Church took the festival over in honor of their new Saint Valentine, Lupercalia was systematically banned. In its place, the church created a new holiday, loosely based on the festival’s pagan origins. Records are scant, but according to lore, Valentine was a cleric for the church who secretly wed young soldiers to their loves after marriage was banned under the rule of Pope Gelasius. When caught, for his infraction Valentine was jailed and sentenced to death. Not one to idly sit and wait for his execution, legend has it that Valentine not only befriended his jailer but also managed to heal the jailer’s blind daughter.
Grateful as he was, the jailer converted to Christianity. Throughout his imprisonment, Valentine sent dozens of letters to the jailer’s daughter before writing his farewell note on the eve of his February 14th beheading, which he signed, “Your Valentine.” He would eventually be named the “Patron Saint of Love,” and thus, a holiday was born. This was a clever ploy by the church, as it turns out people love celebrating love. So let’s celebrate the church by watching murder.
The notion of martyrdom is the obvious connection with Saint Valentine, but if you dig a little deeper into Martyrs you’ll find a visceral experience that isn’t afraid to let you explore the concepts of love, loyalty, and false imprisonment. Having seen both the remake and the original, I strongly recommend the original…if you have the stomach for it. It’s more elegantly done than the remake, a film that draws you in and then turns up the carnage scene by scene until its masterful climax.
It’s possible that this movie will make you never look at a horse’s head the same again. But if you’re up for a change in perspective, you could do a lot worse than Horsehead. Littered with Christian symbolism, Horsehead leans on religious imagery to threaten and oppress our protagonist and impede her progress towards her own personal revelations.
My Bloody Valentine
Over the centuries, the celebration of Valentine’s Day has come in many forms. But through all those variations and across all those cultures, one thing has been a constant; a celebration of love. And love is a complicated thing, a terrifying thing. It can be the most satisfying feeling you’ve ever experienced. But when it comes to love, you’re also taking a big risk. You’re leaving yourself vulnerable to having your heart broken by someone else. We’ve all been there before, we’ve all taken our lumps. And while most of us dust ourselves off and try again, some people have a harder time recovering from rejection.
So for our last set of films we’re going to see how love can heal, how it can hurt, and how it can haunt.
The runner up to Modern Horrors’ Film of the Year award, Spring, is a haunting tale of finding love and companionship in the most inexplicable places. More of a romance with horror elements than the other way around, at times Spring feels like what would happen if Woody Allen decided to make a horror movie. But even having said that, it’s so much more. Wonderfully told and brilliantly performed, this is the type of film you’ll want to watch with your significant other even if he or she isn’t necessarily into horror movies.
Remember when I mentioned that some people have a harder time than others recovering from rejection? Meet Lola Stone. The last thing you want is for Lola to crush on you. The Loved Ones acts as a cautionary tale for anyone that’s ever had the heart-wrenching job of having to reject someone. Love can hurt, and sometimes, even tie you up and carve a heart into your flesh.
Horns is a film that asks the important question, What if Harry Potter were the devil? Okay, that’s not entirely fair because as it turns out Horns is so much more than the premise lets on. What starts out as a simple murder mystery with a silly plot device quickly turns into an unsettling look into the darker side of society. Daniel Radcliffe gives a standout performance in this future cult classic as a man stricken with grief over a lost lover.
Another film that stretches the definition of the horror genre, Crimson Peak is more of an homage to the classic gothic romance than a typical horror movie. But don’t let that description fool you; the film is soaked in haunting imagery and creepy moments that only someone like Guillermo del Toro can dream up. Come for the romance, stay for the murder.
There you have it. The concept of love, a lot like death, is a universal one that touches each and every one of us. Perhaps because of that connection, it makes sense to celebrate love and sex by watching something macabre. So whether you’re home alone tonight or wrapped under the covers with a special someone, I hope you all have a bloody Valentine’s Day.