Let’s not pull any punches, American horror is no longer king. Sure, we make more horror movies than any other country, but how many of them are actually frightening and good? Maybe 1 a year. Those are worse odds than the odds that Ben Carson leading a Gay Pride Parade. Thankfully, during the American horror regression, other countries of the world have stepped up in big ways. France, Japan, Spain, and South Korea have led the way in terror over the past 15 years or so. I think that can all be attributed to the fact that these countries don’t make thousands of films a year, so when one is produced, you know their braintrust is committed to that project and that project only.
I’d been told to approach this list as the scariest foreign horror films, rather than the best foreign horror films and thats what I’ll do. Hopefully, if you haven’t checked these films out because you didn’t feel like reading subtitles, you’ll change your mind and open it to the best current horror out there!
In descending order:
5. The Descent (2005) Directed by Neil Marshall, The Descent is a British horror film that follows a group of spelunking female adventurers into an unknown cave system where they are hunted by an unexplainable group of predators. The Descent taps into the true fears we all have about isolation, claustrophobia, and you know, not wanting to be eaten. It also has a very nice twist at the end which leaves you crawling away and pondering the true intention(s) of the film. And best part? It’s a foreign film that is in English, so you lazy Americans don’t have to read.
4. Suspiria (1977). Dario Argento’s masterpiece is about the new girl at a ballet academy who begins to discover that the academy may be a front for something more sinister. The Italian maestro delivers on the jumps and the chills throughout his tight and mysterious script. By today’s standards, it may be a little “slow” but this is the pinnacle of the Italian Horror foothold of the 1970s. Give it a watch and respect your elders!*
3. The Babadook (2014). Another foreign horror film in English! Australia’s The Babadook certainly got a lot of publicity when it was released in the states, and it was deserving of it. The Jennifer Kent psychological horror film blends the line between reality and fiction with its smart camera tricks and unexpected story. Albeit, the child star of the movie is one of the most annoying creatures to ever exist, but I think that plays into the payoff of the scares of the film. Throughout The Babadook’s duration, you try to get your bearings, but Kent’s scare-fest will not allow it.
2. Audition (1999) During the late 90’s and early 2000’s Japan was KING of the horror industry. With mostly vengeful ghost stories, Japan rised to the top of the Mount Midoriyama of horror**. While Audition is certainly no ghost story it is a rather freighting tale of sadism. A widower is encouraged by his friend to find a new wife by holding various auditions, however, the woman he falls for is not at all what she seems. With the release of this film, gore made a big splash back into the horror lexicon, especially with American splat-pack directors like James Wan and Eli Roth attempting and failing to de-throne Takashi Miike’s Audition. If you haven’t seen this film yet, I give you 3 words of warning: watch the bag.
1. Inside / À l’intérieur (2007) The best of a tremendous group of films stepping from New Wave French Extremism films. Inside, or À l’intérieur is a lovely tale of a pregnant woman expecting the birth of her 1st child… Except for the fact that a mysterious and crazed woman is attempting to break into her house to steal her baby. What unfolds under the next hour is horror in its purest form. Inside is the bloodiest film I have ever seen and while gore is really never scary, Inside manages to balance all this blood with a compelling story of intrigue and frightening imagery. It is a fucking travesty that this film wasn’t seen by more horror fans. Unfourtently, there are rumors that the film is going to be re-made for American audiences and that is the most freighting thing of all. Please, please, please, locate a copy of Inside and watch it before we(the Americans) fuck it up.
Those are my top foreign horror films, but I would be remiss if I didn’t use this platform to offer up more films that I think any horror film fan would enjoy, so heres some rapid fire honorable mentions you should also scope out!
France: Martyrs, High Tension, Frontier(s)
Japan: Ringu, House (1977)
South Korea: Tale of Two Sisters, The Host, I Saw the Devil
Spain: REC, The Devil’s Backbone, The Orphanage
* Without Dario Argento, we wouldn’t have had directors like Tarantino and John Carpenter.
** Extra points if you got that Ninja Warrior reference!