High budget, Hollywood horror can disappoint, whether it’s the A-list cast that takes the viewer out of the fantasy experience, the high budgets that offer CGI instead of practical effects or the self-censorship that caters to a wider, more conservative audience. However, International horror films are the lynchpin of many horror fans’ collections. Hollywood films, with their gore and jump scares, are all well and good, but watching a film that takes place in an unfamiliar culture is new level of escapism. Add in the most twisted minds from around the globe, and viewers get a fundamental horror experience.
This South Korean, psychological horror follows two sisters who return home after a stay in a mental health facility. Not only are they dealing with their stepmother, who they don’t like, but the ghost of their late mother is also haunting their house. There’s a significant chance the viewer already knows this story, whether they realize it or not. A Tale of Two Sisters has been remade a number of times, including a Hollywood venture, but to avoid spoiling the fantastic ending, go into this one knowing it’s a deeply a disturbing and highly emotional ride.
When it comes to experimental horror, French director Gaspar Noé is one of the leading contributors to the genre. The 2018 film is set in one location, and, for the most part, it takes place in real time. When a group of dancers finish a rehearsal in an empty school, they decide to let loose for the night. What they don’t realize is their sangria has been spiked, and they’re all in for a horrifying trip. The tension in Climax is high, and the disturbing events cover everything from a mother attempting in vain to protect her child, to brutal violence, to incest. This one runs the gauntlet of unpleasant, psychological experiences, and combined with its experimental structure, Climax is one of Noé’s best films.
A surprising effort in the found-footage film category, the 2010 Spanish film Atrocious breaks many stereotypes and defies expectations. The film follows two siblings who investigate a local urban legend while visiting their family vacation home. Their journey finds them lost in a nearby garden maze, trapped in their home and uncovering a disturbing family secret. Atrocious is tense and uncomfortable, with understated and subtle violence and gore, but the scariest part is how realistic the movie is, as the children realize that their home is not the safest place.
The 1977 Italian horror gem is an exercise in nightmarish imagery and uncomfortably high tension. The film follows a young American dancer as she attempts to join a prestigious German dance academy. After a few upsetting and mysterious occurrences, the academy begins to reveal its true, sinister nature. Suspiria is not for the squeamish, as it is exceptionally bloody, gory and violent. This cult classic is beautifully shot and is an example of incredible filmmaking, but if the viewer is uncomfortable with blood, violence and gruesome deaths, it may be an unpleasant viewing experience.
The 2014 Austrian film Goodnight Mommy takes a classic horror trope and uses it to tell a different, more horrific story. The film follows a set of young twin brothers who begin to suspect their mother is an imposter after she returns from getting extensive cosmetic surgery, so the boys begin to test whether or not their mother is who she says she is. This film is subdued and a bit of a slow burn, but about midway through the second act, it’s a nonstop nightmare. The original German title of the film is Ich Seh, Ich Seh, which translates to I See, I See, and once the film is over, this title becomes far more fitting.
Violence is the name of the game in the 2003 French slasher film High Tension. The film follows Alex and Marie, two friends who vacation with Alex’s family, but their idyllic weekend comes to an end when a brutal killer wreaks havoc at the secluded farm. This film has largely been categorized by its extreme violence, and many American versions are highly edited. High Tension is an homage to classic slasher films, with gratuitous violence and gore, combined with a semi-predictable but otherwise well executed twist ending.
One of the most famous vampire movies ever is the 2008 Swedish film Let The Right One In, and it is widely considered to be essential viewing for any horror fan. A young and reclusive boy discovers that his strange neighbors may be connected to a string of local murders. The film explores their complex relationship against a backdrop of bloody violence. Let The Right One In isn’t a typical horror film, as it combines the traditional vampire sub-genre with more involved storytelling. All of its violence is accompanied with well developed characters and a gripping storyline.
The 1998 Japanese classic Ringu re-entered the spotlight after the American remake The Ring was released in 2002, which actually follows the original closely. The film centers around a mysterious videotape that kills the viewer in 7 days after being seen and the investigative journalist looking to reveal the tape’s origin. Ringu is disturbing, from its imagery to its atmosphere. It’s a slow burn, but as one of the highest rated horror films of all time, it is definitely worth the watch.
Guillermo del Toro produces this 2007 Spanish film, and his influence is very apparent. The Orphanage follows a woman who is looking to re-open the orphanage where she was raised, along with her husband and son. The institution has deep secrets, which the woman discovers under very unpleasant circumstances. This film is tense, disturbing and beautifully made. The story is highly emotional, and when combined with the scares, it creates a very intense viewing experience.
Known as one of the most gruesome movies ever made, the 1999 Japanese horror film Audition is not for the faint of heart. The film follows a widower looking to start dating again and whose friend orchestrates odd circumstances under which to find new love. The object of the man’s affection proves to be far more sinister than he could have ever imagined. Audition is another slow burn, with most of its chills happening in the third act. Luckily, the story is interesting, so the build up to one of the most disturbing, violent and overall upsetting scenes in horror history is enjoyable.
International horror films can often be scarier and more complex than Hollywood studio films, and these ten are essential to watch.