I know the United States is the best country in the whole world. I know it. You know it. But despite our amazing epic awesomeness, there are some other countries out there that have a few cool things to offer: Belgium and its chocolate; Japan and its bad ass warriors; the gorgeous scenery of Austria; and let’s not forget Canada’s amazing ability to apologize for everything.
Aside from all of that, there are some great contributions to the horror film community from not-America and we really need to take a minute (or 20, depending on how slow of a reader you are) to appreciate them.
Yes, there are so many more out there, lots of which I haven’t seen yet, but these are the ones that popped into my head first. So please put down your angry response stationery right now.
In no particular order, I give you:
1.Tale of Two Sisters (South Korea, 2003): I think I mentioned this in my very first article here at SJP. But this is not just for Halloween. You can watch this film any time, any place. In fact, you should be watching it right now. Full of tension, suffering, fear, loathing, and genuine pain, ToTS is the agonizing journey of two young girls as they wade through Hell at the hands of their stepmother and their home’s resident ghost. Unless you don’t like that sort of thing. And if that’s the case then…what the hell is wrong with you?
2. Ringu (Japan, 1998): I’m not talking the American remake here, though I have to give it props for leading me to the world of Asian horror. The original Ringu introduced us to Sadako, that psychokinetic little imp that terrorized the world from beyond the grave. Can you blame her? Just because she was a little ‘different’, her father murdered her. Now anyone who finds this bizarre video tape she made will die in seven days (you see, kids, there were these things called tapes that we had to watch and record stuff on before digital media and there were no cell phones or computers and GET OFF MY LAWN!). Also Hiroyuki Sanada is in it. *rowr*
2a. Since Ringu is on a lot of lists (all you hipsters out there just HAVE to be different), we can substitute Audition (Japan, 1999). Shigeharu is screening a bunch of chicks to find himself a new wife. Once he meets and falls for Asami, I’m pretty sure he wishes his screening process had gone a little more in-depth BEFORE she took a piano wire to his ankle. “Kiri kiri kiri kiri kiri kiri!” – which I believe means “I’m a total psychopathic nut job who loves to torture people” in Japanese.
3. Pulse (Japan, 2001): I’m not talking the LAME ASS remake here. The original Japanese flick absolutely terrified me. In this film we discover that when you die, there is nothing. No heaven, no hell. “Death is eternal loneliness.” And the dead fucking hate it. So they reach out to the living through the Internet, making them want to die, so the ghosts will now have someone to hang out with. That probably doesn’t sound too scary but trust me, it is. The scene where one ghost slowly approaches his victim whispering “tasukete” (which means HELP ME) over and over and over made me shit my pants a little.
4. The Host (South Korea, 2006): Good monster movies were few and far between at this point. So thank you, SK, for taking the time to put together a fantastic cast, cool effects, and some genuine story-telling. A monster has risen from the Han river, running amok and attacking people. After one young girl is taken, her family does everything it can to save her. Though a lot of this film showcases some heavy moments, the scene where the family THINKS their young girl is dead is actually funny because it’s so over the top. Bae Doo-na is one of my favorite Korean actresses and she delivers big time.
4a. Since The Host is on a lot of lists (all you hipsters out there just HAVE to be unique), we can substitute Phone (South Korea, 2002). After receiving a new cell phone number, Ji-Won begins to experience strange calls. The two previous owners of the same number died mysteriously and when the daughter of Ji-Won’s friend answers the phone one day, she begins to act odd and just creepy. Ji-Won’s research digs up a lot of dirt on a dead crazy teenager with a connection to her friend’s husband and things just spiral off the deep end after that. Ha Ji-Won may be the star in this film but the actresses playing her friend (Kim Yu-mi) and the daughter (Eun Seo-woo) totally steal the spotlight in the most disturbing ways.
5. El Orfanato (Spain, 2007): Yes, we can finally move out of Asia. Geez. Spain gives us this terrifying and absolutely heartbreaking tale. Laura returns to the home where she grew up. It used to be an orphanage and she wants to reopen it as a sanctuary for disabled children. Before long her son, Simon, begins communicating with five imaginary friends. Only when it’s too late does Laura realize they aren’t imaginary and that her life will change in ways she can’t imagine. Really good story telling in this flick. If I remember correctly there’s only one or two jump scares which means the movie relies more on atmosphere and writing to create horror. And it succeeds. Plus there’s a nice juicy punch to the heart at the end.
6. The Dorm (Thailand, 2006): Psych! Back to Asia we go. Ton is sent to boarding school by his philandering father. While there, Ton befriends a boy named Vichien, as they are both lonely outcasts. Ton’s classmates tease him with ghost stories until one day we learn that the resident ghost is NOT a make-believe tale after all but very tragic and very real. Along with bat shit crazy gore horror (check out Sick Nurses for some real entertainment), Thailand can produce some beautifully sad and terrifying supernatural tales. It’s also unusual for the majority of the cast to be children who carry this whole film in heroic fashion.
7. Let The Right One In (Sweden, 2008): Most people know this one, unless they’re living in Narnia or The Shire or Wyoming. Oskar is a lonely kid, bullied and teased by classmates and basically ignored at home. One day an odd girl, Eli, moves into his apartment building. It is through her that Oskar learns about love and vampires and horrifying revenge. Again, another movie that is basically borne on the backs of children. Most of us can identify with Oskar and Eli, even if we aren’t monsters. They are the ultimate underdog power couple and we want them to win!
7a. Since LTROI is on a lot of lists (all you hipsters out there just HAVE to be special) we can substitute Dead Snow (Norway, 2009). A group of friends heads out to the boonies for a ski trip. Unfortunately, they stumble upon a hidden stash of Nazi gold and when they take it for themselves, a horde of Nazi zombies rise from the frozen wasteland to reclaim their property. Though this isn’t the first Nazi zombie film ever made (check out Shock Waves from 1978 with Peter Cushing – do NOT watch Zombie Lake from 1981) it definitely had a unique and light-hearted feel. It is a comedy after all. Because what’s funnier than Nazi undead, amirite? Thoroughly enjoyable!
8. The Children (UK, 2008): Elaine, Jonah, and their three kids go visit with Chloe, Robbie, and their two kids. After all the children get sick, their demeanors turn sour then violent then deadly. That’s really all you need to know. Again, children are carrying the brunt of this film and they are brilliant. All the characters are believable and flawed, and the lone teenager (too old to get sick but too young to be taken seriously) has to step outside her selfish little universe to figure out what’s happening and how to stop it.
9. À l’intérieur (France, 2007): Just when I thought France was all about pastries and sex and nudie art, along comes this absolutely fucked up horror film (sorry, High Tension, but you can suck my balls). While five months pregnant, Sarah loses her husband in a car accident. When it comes time to finally give birth (which she has been dreading because she’s unsure she can handle being a single mom), a strange woman comes for a visit. And she ain’t leaving without Sarah’s baby, even if she has to cut it out of Sarah herself. Though the film seems to be a little slow at first, once the slop buckets come out and start splattering everything with gore, it’s pretty non-stop until the end. Perhaps not the most frightening horror film but so very very VERY fucked up.
10. Wolf Creek (Australia, 2005): As far as I can tell, Australia/New Zealand have never done me wrong (Black Sheep, Dead Alive, Wyrmwood, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert). In this movie, three young folks get lost in the outback while back packing. They are ‘saved’ by a lone man, Mick, who claims he will give them a ride into civilization. But obviously his definition of town is “back to my shack where I will torture and kill you all”. There’s a lot of debate on why serial killers do what they do. But who fucking cares? If they’re as much fun as this guy, just sit back and enjoy the ride. Stop asking questions. Shush now. Let the crazy flow through you…good…good…
So there you have my Top 10 (and under studies) of foreign horror movies. Don’t let the non-American talkies scare you off. You never know what new favorites you’ll find across the pond, or the other pond, or over the river and through the woods and via plane and by way of a pack mule or motor car…you know, just stop being a xenophobe already.