The U.S. certainly does not have the market cornered on horror movies. Fear is universal, and tales of terror have originated from around the world since the existence of storytelling. Foreign horror films are a double treat because not only do you get the scares, but you also get a glimpse of the ways human fears manifest in other cultures. Plenty of foreign horror films have also been remade for American audiences, like Ju-On (The Grudge) and Ringu (The Ring), as have some of the films on this list.
These are seven films of non-U.S. origin that will scare the pants off you. There are a lot more, of course, but these are some of our favorites.
1. [REC], 2007
This Spanish film was recreated almost shot for shot in the American adaptation, Quarantine. It tells the tale of a young reporter following a firefighting squad around for the evening. They’re called to an apartment complex where a medical emergency has taken place, and soon they find themselves locked in with the residents. They’re also trapped with a terrifying illness that turns people into zombies. If you’ve seen Quarantine, you’ve essentially seen this, but there’s something to be said for seeing the original.
2. Dumplings, 2004
This icky film from Hong Kong stars Miriam Yeung as an aging former TV star mourning the loss of her youth. She meets up with a surgeon-turned-black market chef who supplies her with just the thing to turn back time. The film makes the special ingredient of these anti-aging dumplings clear from the start, so you’ll know exactly what you’re in for, but that’s only the beginning.
3. Let the Right One In, 2008
Oskar is an outcast, friendless and bullied in school, until he meets Eli. She’s a mysterious girl who moves into his apartment complex. The two become friends fast, but there’s definitely something off about Eli, who only seems to come out at night and has to be invited in before she steps foot in Oskar’s place. This was remade in the U.S. as Let Me In with Chloe Grace Moretz, but the original Swedish version is superior, if quieter.
4. Kwaidan/Ghost Stories, 1964
This collection tells four spooky stories from Japan, including the classic “Hoichi the Earless”. The stories are set up much like stage plays, with the atmospheres created by the set design rather than by any special effects (also, it was made in 1964). Besides being visually striking, the tales are downright chilling, and, in the case of “The Woman in the Snow”, some are deeply sad.
5. Trollhunter, 2010
Norway is known as the land of trolls for a really good reason, as this found-footage monster flick illustrates. A group of students are investigating what appears to be the poaching of several bears. The truth, though, is a lot more dangerous. This film has some scares, but it’s also a lot of fun, and the special effects are surprisingly good.
6. He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not, 2002
This isn’t your standard chiller fare, at least not for the first bit. It follows Angelique, a young artist blissfully in love with a doctor. He’s married, but she’s sure he’s planning on leaving his wife for her. Of course, that’s how it is from her point of view. From his point of view, things are quite different. The cutesy style of this movie makes everything so much creepier.
7. Hour of the Wolf, 1968
Ingmar Bergman is known for his eerie, psychological films, and this might be the closest he gets to actual horror. An artist and his young, unassuming wife are vacationing on a remote island. The artist soon finds himself plagued by manifestations of his own troubled psyche. The manifestations aren’t content to stay in his mind, though, and things get out of hand.
When it comes to foreign films, some people have an issue with subtitles, but I’m going to say this: English dubs are always terrible, and when it comes to horror films, where the mood is everything, there’s no worse disservice you can do. Suck it up and read the subtitles. Just don’t count on sleeping with the lights off when you go to bed after watching these.