So recently a friend asked me what my best foreign horrors are and i drew a blank. Researching today i have realised that this is an area i have sadly neglected in my self-motivated horror education. One that really should be rectified.
However, for now i will share with you my list of favourite foreign-language horrors to be re-visisted once i have expanded my knowledge base.
Nothing like a good horror homework assignment to inspire i say!
1. The Vanishing (Spoorloos), 1988 – Netherlands
Rex and Saskia, a young couple in love, are on vacation. They stop at a busy service station and Saskia is abducted. After three years and no sign of Saskia, Rex begins receiving letters from the abductor.
I remember reading a review of this film in Premiere magazine under ‘hidden gems’, it said it was the cruellest film ever made. I believe it would have some sincere competition for that title now but it still is my number one horror from a foreign land. The Dutch setting lending the proceedings an austere atmosphere that only adds to the black heart beating at the centre of this movie – how obsessions can kill us, how cruelty can lie behind the most banal of faces and how some film endings stay with you for your whole life.
2. A Tale of Two Sisters (Janghwa, Hongryeon), 2003 – South Korea
Two sisters who, after spending time in a mental institution, return to the home of their father and cruel stepmother. Once there, in addition to dealing with their stepmother’s obsessive and unbalanced ways, an interfering ghost also affects their recovery.
Beautiful, haunting, horrifying, filled with regret and a truly twisty twist. The moments of horror are never sign-posted, the scenes of tenderness are believable and touching and give perspective to what is frightening. Mesmerising.
3. Audition (Ôdishon), 1999 – Japan
A widower takes an offer to screen girls at a special audition, arranged for him by a friend to find him a new wife. The one he fancies is not who she appears to be after all.
Some Japanese horror is just plain fucked up, weird and unpleasant and seemingly nonsensical. This is fucked up for an entirely different reason – you’ve never seen anything like this before! love it or hate it you sure won’t forget it and you’ll stay glued to your seat until the final credits even if it’s just from pure shock. The movie is a slow build but that last 20 minutes is an absolute must see. Not for the feint of heart.
4. The Orphanage (El orfanato), 2007 – Spain
A woman brings her family back to her childhood home, where she opens an orphanage for handicapped children. Before long, her son starts to communicate with an invisible new friend.
I like my horror to have a touch of melancholy to it (unless its teen slasher fare! than bring on the bikinis and guy talk!) and this film makes me creeped out and scared in equal measure. The end may be a little tidy for my liking but i’ll forgive it for the creepy kid in the sack mask and the sad ‘reveal’ before that mushy ending.
5. The Curse (Noroi), 2005 – Japan
A documentary filmmaker explores seemingly unrelated paranormal incidents connected by the legend of an ancient demon called the “kagutaba.”
As a sucker for found footage, this movie worked on all kinds of levels for me not the least of which – it was fricking terrifying!!! scary scary stuff…
6. (Rec), 2007 – Spain
A television reporter and cameraman follow emergency workers into a dark apartment building and are quickly locked inside with something terrifying.
I was literally on the edge of my seat for this one – in your face, immediate, found footage terror trapped in a building with zombie-like infected people.. and its spreading. Just when you think it can’t get more suffocating and horrific, they move the story to the loft…
7. (Rec) 3, Genesis, 2012 – Spain
A couple’s wedding day turns into a horrific events as some of the guests start showing signs of a strange illness.
Not to everyone’s liking but i had a blast with this one – ballsy, bloody good fun!
8. Inside (À l’intérieur), 2007 – France
Four months after the death of her husband, a woman on the brink of motherhood is tormented in her home by a strange woman who wants her unborn baby.
An utterly outrageous premise leads to a ridiculously over the top, violent-as-all-hell movie – it’s shocking how far they go with this one – we even get embryocam!
9. Let the right one in (Låt den rätte komma in), 2008 – Sweden
Oskar, an overlooked and bullied boy, finds love and revenge through Eli, a beautiful but peculiar girl who turns out to be a vampire.
I do stand by my original impression that this film was a bit too long and could use some ‘trimming’ but certain scenes have stayed with me (the pool in particular) that mean it has to be on this list. It also led to a wonderful American remake that was just as good though slightly less ‘chilly’ (something i suspect has a lot to do with this film’s Swedish sensibilities). A cold delight..
10. Irreversible, 2002 – France
Events over the course of one traumatic night in Paris unfold in reverse-chronological order as the beautiful Alex is brutally raped and beaten by a stranger in the underpass.
Though not strictly a horror it is horrific, something not easy to sit through, something not easy to walk away from or forget. This film was effective in every way a film should be, even down to the way it was filmed, so you leave the characters in a happy place but knowing inside what horrors await them…. and you wonder what horrors could be stitched into the future fabric of your life – is there anything scarier than that??