We travel the world to bring you the perfect Halloween selection for fans of foreign cinema
They say that the genre is the real star of any horror film; that the characters and setting are secondary to the effect of hiding beneath a blanket in a dark room. Filmmakers around the world bank on this, using the horror genre as a way to tell stories unique to their culture that still appeal to international audiences. What follows is a list of 31 examples from 31 countries; there are found footage films, zombie comedies, creature features, and even a couple of horror-musicals mixed in for good measure. While not everything listed has received universal acclaim, they were all influenced by the popularity of international horror cinema and take pride in their cultural identity.
Editor’s Note: Each movie links to a place where you can watch the movie. A few of these links go to non-English sites. All links tagged with ‘YouTube’ indicate that the film is not currently available through legal VOD channels, so we have directed you to the trailer instead. Remember: you never know what your local library chain carries.
Argentina – Cold Sweat (Shudder)
Young women fall prey to old men with a penchant for torture and nitroglycerine. The film suggests that the two old men in Cold Sweat were part of the country’s former military regime; in interviews, Bogliano talks about how he hoped the young people who go to horror films might learn something about that period in Argentinian history. Nothing like some accidental learning amidst the slaughter.
Australia — Razorback (Amazon)
A giant razorback terrorizes rural Australia. It’s hard for me to say anything about Razorback that has not already been covered by FSR’s own Junkfood Cinema, but if you’re looking for more information on the history of Australian horror, check out this detailed history collected by the Australian National Film and Sound Archive. Includes everything from The Cars That Ate Paris to Saw.
A gravedigger hunts for the perfect woman to bear his child. Like most Latin American countries, Brazil has seen their horror industry boom in recent years; however, unlike most Latin American countries, Brazil already had an established cult figure in Coffin Joe. Writer-director-star José Mojica Marins – who would complete his Coffin Joe trilogy only a few years ago in 2008 – has inspired countless filmmakers and musicians with his unique horror persona.
A high-rise complex becomes prey to an engineered race of parasites that drive their hosts to sex and murder. David Cronenberg’s film – deemed proof that Canada “should not have a film industry” by one critic – helped launch Cronenberg to international fame while opening the door for Canadian filmmakers to make weird films their calling card.
Cambodia — Run! (YouTube)
Youths try and survive a zombie apocalypse. For a country that has suffered real horrors, Cambodia has a surprising affinity for the horror genre. Most of Cambodia practices Buddhism – which has a strong tradition of ghost stories – and, more importantly for the film industry, over 70% of the population is below the age of 35. Add in the economic hardships facing filmmakers and it’s no wonder the popularity of horror films has led the Cambodian government to ask for less.
Cuba – Juan of the Dead (Amazon)
Juan and his friends start a zombie-killing business in post-apocalyptic Cuba. Zombie movies are (were?) the language of the horror genre over the last decade, and Cuba entered the ring with a flashy and irreverent spoof of horror, the Cold War, and Cuban society in general. As notable for what it says about the current state of Cuban cinema as it is for its entertainment value.
Egypt — Anyab (YouTube Clip)
A modern vampire story inspired by The Rocky Horror Picture Show. For a more serious look at the history of horror films in Egypt, you can check out this article on the dearth of genre films in Arabic society. Satisfied? Good. Now go watch some bad-ass disco Egyptian vampires. Anyab may be low-budget, but there is legitimate creativity in the musical numbers and more than enough glitter to satisfy even the most ardent cult film devotee.
Finland – Sauna (Shudder)
Two land surveyor teams – one Finnish, one Russian – converge on a haunted village in this period horror film. Outside of Bergman, there are not a lot of household names in Scandinavian genre films. One person looking to buck that trend is AJ Annila. Annila’s second film impressed all who saw it at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival but has been mostly forgotten by American audiences since. If you speak Finnish or read Italian, the attached video is for you; if not, it’s DVD or nothing.
(Update: You can read my 2015 piece on the film, including an interview with Annila, at One.Perfect.Shot.: http://oneperfectshotdb.com/news/the-regional-identity-of-horror-a-conversation-with-sauna-director-antti-jussi-anila/)
France – Eyes Without a Face (Hulu)
A surgeon kidnaps young women and tries to graft their faces onto that of his disfigured daughter. While many were surprised to see France lead the way in body horror in the early 2000s – sending films like High Tension and Martyrs out on the international circuit – Eyes Without a Face shows that they’ve always been a country interested in pushing boundaries. A perfect Halloween choice for friends that only watch movies with a Criterion Collection sticker.
A ticket-taker on the subway forms a dangerous link with an unknown killer. Supposedly the first film shot in the Budapest metro system – the film even features a prolonged introduction from a transit authority assuring us that the film is entirely fictional – Kontroll should be on the short list of best directorial debuts. You could argue over whether Kontroll is horror or dark fantasy, but this is my list and I say it counts.
A group of international tourists are rescued from their broken-down boat, only to be brutally killed by their so-called saviors. While Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre has wrongly been claimed to be the first Icelandic horror film, it certainly is the first to wear its exploitation influences on its sleeve. The appearance of Gunnar Hansen – the original Leatherface and an Icelandic citizen – serves as a link back to the ’70s cinema that Kemp aspires to.
India – Veerana (YouTube)
A young woman is possessed by an evil spirit who seeks revenge on those who have wronged her. For a twenty-year period, the seven brothers of the Ramsay family were India’s answer to Hammer horror films. They shot cheap and catered to the masses; as such, Ramsay Brothers films are a delightful synthesis of both Hollywood and Bollywood, layering musical numbers and broad comedy on top of low-budget horror. Veerana is considered to be their best.
Ireland — Dementia 13 (Amazon)
A woman tries to keep the death of her husband a secret so she can inherit his wealth. While Dementia 13 is not a purely Irish film – it was funded by Roger Corman as the Irish Film Board would not be established again until the 1980s – it served a precursor of sorts to the international productions that Ireland would come to be known for. Coppola makes use of the countryside to create an eerie little ghost story that is worlds more fun than The Quiet Man.
Different people converge on a forest that a psychopath calls his own. Since Rabies is the first Israeli horror film, no one would have been upset if they’d played it safe and made, say, a zombie movie. Instead, Keshales and Papushado made a horror film about the complexity of human interactions, demonstrating their ambition while also folding in a political subtext.
Italy – Phenomena (YouTube)
A young girl with a hidden power attempts to solve a series of murders at a boarding school. The Italian giallo – or murder mystery – served as a precursor to the American slasher; the films feature elaborate death sequences and the frequent adoption of the killer’s point-of-view. While Dario Argento’s Phenomena is a late addition to the genre, it serves as a great example of what the giallo could be. There’s also Donald Pleasance with a pet monkey if you’re into that sort of thing.
Japan — Uzumaki (YouTube)
A town becomes obsessed with spirals after a man kills himself. Among all the countries on this list, J-Horror is probably the most established; the popularity of American remakes in the early 2000s spoke to the wide reach of the genre. Uzumaki may not have as high a profile as Audition or The Ring, but it takes a very welcome surrealistic approach to the horror genre and builds to one of the creepier endings you’ll see in a horror film. If you’re tired of killers or creatures then Uzumaki is the film for you.
Mexico — The Book of Stone
A woman hired to take care of a disturbed young girl runs afoul of her imaginary friend. While much has been said about the Mexican horror renaissance under Guillermo Del Toro, less has been written about one of the men who inspired Del Toro, Carlos Enrique Taboada. Taboada’s modern Gothic horror films will be given the spotlight in an upcoming documentary from the talent behind Here Comes the Devil.
New Zealand — Dead Alive (YouTube)
A man tries to win the girl of his dreams while battling an army of the undead spawned from his zombie mother. These days, Peter Jackson’s name immediately makes you think of hobbits and millions of dollars in tax credits for the film industry, but any true horror fan knows the splatter films that helped him build his empire. People were watching back then, too: Dead Alive played as part of the 1993 Sundance Film Festival.
Netherlands – The Lift (YouTube)
An elevator comes to life and tries to kill its passengers. Dutch filmmaker Dick Maas scored a domestic hit with his darkly comic horror film, leading to the first wave of “Nederhorror” in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, the tension between the artistic aims of the Dutch film industry and the commercial nature of horror films would make it hard for the horror genre to carve out a permanent niche. The genre has rebounded recently with high-profile films like The Human Centipede.
Nigeria – Igodo
A group of warriors must seek out a talisman to rid the land of a vengeful spirit. Nigeria has a booming film industry; with over fifty films made per week, Nollywood has coalesced not around movie theaters but around home video and DVDs. The low-budget and quick turn-around time of the industry has led to the popularity of the voodoo film, Nigeria’s equivalent of the horror genre.
Russia — Viy (YouTube)
A young priest must stand vigil over the corpse of a witch. Socialist realism does not lend itself particularly well to horror films, but in 1967, a cinematic adaptation of one of Russia’s most famous writers managed to slip through the censors. Viy supposedly inspired the Italian horror film Black Sunday by Mario Bava; it most definitely did inspire a 2014 blockbuster remake.
(Update: You can read my 2016 essay on Viy courtesy of Brooklyn Magazine here: http://www.bkmag.com/2016/02/16/more-than-the-only-soviet-horror-film-stop-motion-witches-ukrainian-nationalism-gogol-and-green-screens-in-viy-at-bam/)
Scotland – Dog Soldiers (Amazon)
A squad of weekend warriors is trapped in the Scottish countryside when werewolves attack. There’s always been tension in Scottish cinema between modern representation and Tartanry, the over-representation of traditional culture (think Braveheart). While Dog Soldiers was not filmed in Scotland, it does have something to say about the collision of the old world and the new.
South Africa – Blood Tokoloshe (YouTube)
A businessman loses control of the mythical creature he has used to gain power. As a country with a solid tradition of historical dramas – the 2005 film Tsotsi won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film – South Africa is not quite sure how to approach horror. Any genre film runs the risk of falling into Hollywood and Nollywood traps and losing the South African identity; on the other hand, films like Blood Tokoloshe are the bloody foundation for an international film presence.
South Korea – Whispering Corridors (Shudder)
Young girls deal with a potential haunting inside an oppressive all-female high school. While South Korea and genre cinema now go hand-in-hand, there had not been a long tradition of horror films before Whispering Corridors. The success of the film both domestically and internationally can be somewhat attributed to its political message of an educational system in need of reform.
Spain – Rec (Vudu)
A reporter chooses the wrong story when she follows emergency services into an apartment building. The rise of Guillermo Del Toro to international acclaim has boosted the horror industries of both Mexico and Spain, but Rec remains arguably the film with the largest impact on American cinema. Rec set the gold standard for found footage films in any country; any film that beats Hollywood at its own game deserves its own mention, Del Toro or no.
Sweden – Evil Ed (Amazon Prime)
A mild-mannered film editor slowly loses his mind when asked to edit a series of exploitation horror films for his studio. You’ve all seen Let the Right One In, so let’s go a different route: Evil Ed serves as a both a parody of contemporary horror films – there’s more than a little Peter Jackson in the blend of horror and comedy – as well as a middle finger to the Swedish censorship board (Statens biografbyrå), which would make its final cut to Martin Scorsese’s 1995 film Casino.
Turkey – Seytan (YouTube)
In this almost shot-for-shot remake of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, a young girl becomes possessed with the devil and a local writer with a background in folk lore is called upon to save the day. Turkish cinema went through an extended period of remaking American films – due to an indifference towards international copyright – and Seytan is campy example of how Turkish cinema tried to assimilate Western values.
Ukraine – Unforgotten Shadows (YouTube)
Teenagers fight demons and all that entails. Understandably, the film industry in Ukraine is a bit of a mess. A few years ago, Ukraine had doubled their governmental support for artists; now, with Soviet co-productions being halted and Ukrainian ministers visiting the United States for financial support, the Ukranian film industry could be the next political battleground for control over the country. Selfishly, I hope we win, if only because I’d like to see Unforgotten Shadows eventually.
United Kingdom – The Woman In Black (Vudu)
Harry Potter does Gothic horror. This is not so much a specific recommendation for The Woman in Black as it is a reminder to watch a Hammer horror film – any Hammer horror film – at some point this month. A 2011 FSR interview with the official Hammer historian can point you in the right direction if you’re looking for a title. Christopher Lee is 92-years-old; you’re going to kick yourself if you didn’t take the time to appreciate him while he was still with us.
United States – Ravenous (Vudu)
A soldier banished to California after the Spanish-American war develops a taste for human flesh. With a British director, an Australian lead, and a Czechoslovakian shoot, the intellectual justification for choosing Ravenous here is that it demonstrates the collaborative power of Hollywood in horror films. The real truth is that I love it and I will take any justification – however slight – to throw a few more words its way. Just as fun now as it was fifteen years ago.
Vietnam – Muoi: The Legend of a Portrait (YouTube)
A writer pursues a local legend about a ghost in a painting. Widely hailed as the first horror film shot in Vietnam after the fall of Saigon, Muoi is a co-production between Vietnam and South Korea. It is also the first film to receive a rating in Vietnamese film history; that same year, the Vietnamese government would publicly warn filmmakers about making films that “convince viewers into believing in ghosts.” Shame on you, Muoi.