Horror is a truly global concept, and while slasher icons like Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees may dominate pop culture, there are many fantastic horror films to be found outside of America. If you’re looking to push the boundaries this Halloween season, here are the best foreign horror movies that will give you nightmares until Christmas.
Based on the novel by Koji Suzuki, Ring introduced the world to Sadako, the long-haired woman who kills those unfortunate enough to watch her cursed videotape. While the film did get an American remake courtesy of Gore Verbinski in 2002, Hideo Nakata’s 1998 film simply does it better.
The film follows intrepid journalist Reiko Asakawa as she investigates a series of mysterious deaths, including the death of her niece Tomoko. She soon learns that the urban legend of a cursed VHS tape might not be as much of a myth as first believed and quickly ends up fighting for her life against supernatural forces. A slow twisting spiral of dread, Ring is a great way to dip your toes into international horror.
9. Suicide Club
Written and directed by Sion Sono, 2001’s Suicide Club is a disturbing horror thriller. It’s infamous for causing controversy at film festivals due to its subject matter and the sheer amount of realistic gore it contains.
The movie follows three detectives⏤Kuroda, Shibusawa, and Murata⏤as they investigate a series of strange suicides that feature rolls of skin being found at the crime scene. Soon the detectives are contacted by a mysterious hacker who informs them that the suicides are linked to a strange website. A gripping mystery with some unique visuals, Suicide Club is a film that gets better when watched multiple times as you piece together all of the small details that make up this stunningly creepy mystery.
8. Train to Busan
It was recently announced that Train To Busan will be getting an American remake in the near future, so now is the perfect time to watch the original.
This 2016 South Korean horror movie was directed by Yeon Sang-ho. Workaholic and divorced father Seo Seok-woo tries to honor his daughter’s wants by taking her to visit her mother in Busan. While the pair travel by train, they get caught up in a rapidly expanding zombie outbreak and have to fight for their lives along with the train’s other passengers. Tense and thrilling in all the right ways, Train to Busan presents a unique twist on the zombie format and uses its cramped environments to their full potential.
7. Under The Shadow
This 2016 Persian-language film is Babak Anvari’s directorial debut and is utterly fantastic. It’s unique in that it sets the horror in a location where the regular world is as terrifying as the supernatural threats.
Under The Shadow takes place in war-torn post-revolutionary Tehran. Shideh, a former medical student, lives with her daughter Dorsa. They are plagued with visions and haunted by strange occurrences in their home, and this only gets more intense when a missile strikes their building. Extremely harrowing, Under The Shadow captures a palpable feeling of helplessness and tension that few other horror films have been able to pull off.
Dario Argento is a legendary director, and 1977’s Suspiria is the film that catapulted him to cult stardom. This Italian-language horror film follows American ballet student Suzy Bannion. When Suzy lands in Germany to study at the Tanz Dance Akademie, she finds another student fleeing in terror. After a series of horrific murders, Suzy is dragged into a strange conspiracy that reveals that the school isn’t all that it first seems and that it might be the epicenter of some weird and dark supernatural activity.
Visually stunning and remarkably creepy, Suspiria is a surreal supernatural romp that is very unique. The archetypical cult classic, it’s a film every horror fan should check out at least once. Once you’ve seen it, you’ll realize just how many movies and directors were inspired by Arengto’s talent.
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2015’s Tag is a rare feminist horror film that plunges to surreal depths in its search for scares. It starts with shy schoolgirl Mitsuko riding the bus only to see a strange gust of wind slice every other person on the bus in half. The wind pursues Mitsuko until she meets a group of other girls who comfort her and raise the possibility of multiple parallel realities.
From there, Mitsuko ends up in many strange scenarios where her appearance and identity change to fit whatever is going on, from a bride to a marathon runner. Mitsuko has to try and understand the situation all while the wind hunts her down. Strange and surreal, Tag will keep you guessing right until the very end, and the visuals will stick in your brain for years to come. Tag is clever, stylish, and quite unlike any other horror film you’ve seen.
4. Noroi: The Curse
Found footage has become passé in recent years. This is likely because of the massive glut of Blair Witch Project knock-offs that filled bargain bins and discount DVD stores for years after the original film was released, quickly souring people on the format. That said, 2005’s Noroi: The Curse shows that the found footage format can be used to create extremely disturbing films when used correctly.
It follows Masafumi Kobayashi, a paranormal researcher filming a documentary, and the whole film is presented as Masafumi’s unfinished work. While the film starts with Masafumi investigating the sound of crying babies in a house, things quickly get worse as people start to mysteriously vanish and die. The whole thing feels like an out-of-control train of horror, as it slowly builds in pace and tension until the extremely memorable final act. The only bad thing about Noroi: The Curse is that it will make every other found footage film feel dull in comparison.
1964’s Onibaba is a highly unique film. Director Kaneto Shindo combines horror with historical drama to stunning effect and weaves a tale about human survival and how easily morality can become twisted and corrupted.
Onibaba follows an older woman and her daughter-in-law during the mid-fourteenth century at the height of a civil war. With the men away to fight, these two women survive by murdering soldiers and selling their stuff. When Hachi, another young man, returns from war and tells the women that the older woman’s son and the daughter-in-law’s husband was killed, things take a turn for the worse, especially when Hachi starts a love affair with the daughter-in-law. Onibaba defies simple classification. It’s an amazingly effective horror film and its visuals are striking, setting it apart from every other movie available, even years after its original release.
Directed by Takashi Miike and based on a novel by Ryu Murakami, 1999’s Audition is a fascinating horror thriller. It follows lonely widower Shigeharu Aoyama, who has mostly given up on life. Hoping to change this, Shigeharu’s son suggests that it is time to find a new wife and, in an attempt to make the process easier, Shigeharu sets up a fake audition to find the girl of his dreams. At these auditions, Shigeharu falls in love with a woman called Asami. As the pair starts to date, Asami’s dark past is revealed, and soon the film goes in a very unexpected direction.
A critique on Japan’s sexism problem and its general attitude to women, Audition is slow-paced with no horror in the early acts. In fact, those who go in with no foreknowledge could easily believe the film was a romantic drama based on the first thirty minutes. But those who stick with it are rewarded with some of the most stomach-churning scenes ever put to film, including some disgustingly realistic violence. This film was allegedly a massive influence on Eli Roth, and once you finish it, you’ll totally understand why.
1. Tetsuo: The Iron Man
Full disclaimer, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, while a great movie, is not a film for everyone. It’s infamous for its ability to make even hardened horror fans queasy. For those who want something unique, disturbing, and utterly grotesque, Tetsuo: The Iron Man is a must-watch film.
Written, produced, edited, and directed by Shinya Tsukamoto in 1989, this low-budget film follows a salaryman who finds that he is slowly turning into metal. The man is plagued with visions and hallucinations as his body slowly betrays him and succumbs to the horrific transformation. The film is very surreal and horrifying. The practical effects used to turn the man into metal are disturbingly realistic, something helped by the film being shot in black and white. Many of the scenes will haunt your nightmares for weeks after the movie is done.
Part of Tetsuo’s infamy in America is because the film’s (pretty harrowing) trailer accidentally ended up on many PlayStation 2 demo disks, leading to many unfortunate children getting a glimpse of horror while they were trying out upcoming games.