Breaking the Rules of Sex

Manor Vellum
5 min readApr 21, 2023

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By T.J. Tranchell

Art: Victor Kalin

We all know the rules. For the “virginal” Final Girl to survive, she must remain pure. She can’t get laid. John Carpenter once apologized for ending the sexual revolution with the basic establishment of this rule. The Scream franchise made the rules canonical and horror fans have accepted them as not just rules but scripture.

This can create a negative view — or at least negative actions and reactions — toward sex. Where are the positive role models, the good examples? Where are the horror couples who survive and stay together long enough to be in the local newspaper’s announcements section? There aren’t that many, it’s true. And even some of those we hoped would stick it out do run into trouble.

JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson as Diane and Steve Freeling in Poltergeist

When I think of horror couples, not just dating but married, the first that comes to mind are the Freelings from Poltergeist (1982). Three kids, good jobs (as far they knew to begin with), and a quiet suburban life. Steve and Diane Freeling had it all, according to 1980s movies. Over the course of the first two movies, we do see some strife, but they always manage to keep it together and genuinely seem to love each other. By the time part three rolls around, Carol Anne has been shipped off to an aunt and uncle and we can assume that like many ’80s parents, a divorce is imminent. We come into that family’s lives when things are good, and we watch them disintegrate. Statistically, it’s accurate. More of us ’80s kids have divorced parents than not, myself included. Throw in the slashers from the decade and our relational role models don’t get much better.

Oddly enough, it is from the slasher satire Scream (1996), the rule-breaking-and-making film that lays the groundwork for two relationships we hope to see succeed. Yes, it takes Sidney Prescott a few movies and a few more bad boyfriends to get it right, but by the time we see her in the 2022 Scream, she’s pushing a stroller and rocking a great wedding ring. No, we don’t know who she married, but all bets point toward her Scream 4 love interest making the grade and surviving the publicity and everything that comes with dating Sidney. Believe it or not, that’s not even the relationship we root for the most.

Courtney Cox and David Arquette as Gale Weathers and Dewey Riley in Scream

The tumultuous passion between David Arquette’s Dewey and Courtney Cox’s Gale Weathers provided an on-screen, adult romance with plenty of “are they/aren’t they” intrigue. The pair even got married in real life. But you know how this story goes. It didn’t last. In 2022, we rejoin Dewey in his crappy trailer in Woodsboro watching Gale on the big city news. Yeah, he still loves her, but Paul McCartney was wrong. Love is not all you need. Instead, we have another marriage (two if you count the real one and the on-screen version) come to an end and one that we only see glimpses of but never get the full picture. Personally, I think this was the right choice for the story. Once we know for sure whom Sidney Prescott married, he’s a target, and we don’t want that.

It might be that we have to look beyond slasher films for evidence of long-lasting romantic relationships within the horror genre. We aren’t looking at minor characters, either. We know Chris McNeil’s husband is an absentee father in The Exorcist (1973) and that Chief Brody eventually dies, leaving his widow to get revenge on the sharks in the Jaws franchise, and if you read the book, you’ll see that even that marriage isn’t ideal, either.

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as Lorraine and Ed Warren in The Conjuring 2

So, what’s left? For a moment, I’ll ask you to set aside what you may or may not know about the real-life Ed and Lorraine Warren and instead just picture the on-screen version played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in The Conjuring movies. That (fictionalized) version of Ed and Lorraine is wholesome, happy, and loving. More than that, they are portrayed as being in love. They battle demons for each other. Ed sings to a bunch of girls in part two but you know he’s really singing to Lorraine. They are shown holding hands, kissing, and enjoying each other’s company. That doesn’t mean every day is solid gold. They have disagreements but they have each other’s backs at the end of each day. It’s not perfect and that’s what makes it seem more real. Being married is hard; Ed and Lorraine know it and show it and fight all the time to be friends and lovers. There’s even a meme going around showing how Ed’s ties and Lorraine’s skirts always seem to match. That’s a dorky kind of love that most of Hollywood and especially the average horror film doesn’t like to show. It feels more unattainable than even the high school nerd going to the prom with the popular kid of their desire.

I want to see more of these relationships in horror films and that might be because I am a middle-aged married man. And not just long-term heteronormative relationships, either. We need more queer relationships that aren’t just summer flings in movies across the board. Horror is the home of outsiders, so let’s have these couples here too. 🩸

About

T.J. Tranchell was born on Halloween and grew up in Utah. He has published the novella Cry Down Dark and the collections Asleep in the Nightmare Room and The Private Lives of Nightmares with Blysster Press and Tell No Man, a novella with Last Days Books. In October 2020, The New York Times called Cry Down Dark the scariest book set in Utah. He holds a Master’s degree in Literature from Central Washington University and attended the Borderlands Press Writers Boot Camp in 2017. He currently lives in Washington State with his wife and son. Follow him at www.tjtranchell.net or on Twitter @TJ_Tranchell.

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