Every Horror Buff Should Watch These 11 Foreign Horror Films
Expand your palette, c'mon, it'll be fun!
There are many American horror movies we love, but to call yourself a true horror buff, you must also explore the stellar foreign catalog of horror that exists—because if you’re just watching horror through the narrow American lens, you’re missing out! Yes, many foreign horror films have subtitles, which some people aren’t huge fans of. But think of it this way, subtitles make you actually pay attention. You can’t be half-watching while scrolling on your phone. They force you to immerse yourself in the terror.
So, if you’re a horror fan and want to develop your palate, these are some of my favorites. Whether it be a New French Extremity film or something from the vast Asian horror catalog, the following list has quite a diverse range of both subject matter and origin. There should be something for everybody!
Feel free to let me know what I missed (or what I need to put on my own watch list)!
Alternatively known by its Japanese title, Hausu, this film is without a doubt one of the most fun, experimental horror movies you’ll ever watch. It’s very weird and obscure, yet utterly captivating. The visuals are like nothing you’ve ever seen before. And it’s also quite funny (intentionally).
The film follows Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) and her weird friends as they take a trip to Gorgeous’ aunt’s house—though they have no clue supernatural occurrences are afoot which want to devour the crew (yes, I said devour). It’s as bizarre as I just described and I love it.
Dario Argento genuinely gave us a classic with Suspiria. The 1977 film exists in the supernatural horror subgenre and is about a dance academy that’s not remotely what it seems (of course). Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) is one of those final girls who aren’t discussed as much as they should be. But she contributes massively to the iconic status this film holds, especially in Italian horror cinema, even though she’s an American actress. It’s a must-watch—the colors, score, and very Giallo-inspired moments will have you remembering this film for a very long time.
Angst absolutely belongs in the category of disturbing horror films. It even earned a spot on the banned list in Europe the year it was released. Not only that, but a real-life mass murderer (named Werner Kniesek) inspired this 1983 film. Basically, Angst is about a deranged serial killer (Erwin Leder) who is (unwisely) released from prison. And this man begins killing again, of course, because he just can’t help himself. The events that follow are really graphic—this one isn’t for people who find themselves really sensitive to such subject matter. But the performances feel eerily believable and the incredible cinematography is also worth noting.
High Tension (2003)
This New French Extremity film is still controversial to this day! For the queer community, many find High Tension to be problematic. Believe me, the film has some debatable content, even if Marie (Cécile de France) is a badass in certain moments throughout. The film is about Marie and Alex (Maïwenn), best friends who are attacked at Alex’s parents’ farmhouse during a weekend visit. And there’s a lot of murder; the ultraviolence in this film is very memorable—especially that decapitation scene (if you’ve watched, then you know). But at the root of the film is a shitty twist that leaves you feeling frustrated. The ending ruins the movie for many of us, but despite the problematic aspects of this film, it’s still regarded as a classic as far as foreign horror goes.
Wolf Creek (2005)
It’s very hard to get Wolf Creek out of your mind after you watch it. There’s a cruel nature to it and that’s mostly due to Mick Taylor (John Jarratt), an absolutely sadistic villain. The film focuses on some poor backpackers who think Mick is a cool guy until they are kidnapped, hunted, and tortured by him. The film is really brutal in its violence and doesn’t hold back regarding the twisted nature of Mick. Disturbingly, the movie is inspired by a real Australian serial killer (now deceased) named Ivan Milat. Wolf Creek has the same gritty flavor as much of the horror coming out during this period, and that’s part of its unsettling magic. These characters may make horrible decisions, but they don’t deserve to be hunted by a maniac.
Inside is one of the most bonkers and bloody horror movies you will ever watch. As part of the New French Extremity, it doesn’t hold back on the gore or disturbing moments. This relentless and bleak film focuses on Sarah (Alysson Paradis), a pregnant woman under attack in her own home by a mysterious woman (Béatrice Dalle) who wants her unborn baby. The performances and (somewhat) realistic portrayal of violence will stick with you long after the movie is over. It’s a film that any horror fan who can stomach extreme gore should watch at least once.
There’s almost nothing quite like this New French Extremity gem. Frontier(s) focuses on a group of youths trying to escape the right-wing extremism rising in Paris. Unfortunately, they find themselves staying at an inn run by cannibalistic neo-Nazis. Everything that unfolds for the characters is so deranged and will make your stomach churn. But damn is it ever an effective movie, and it’s still lingering in my mind long after my first watch.
Disturbingly beautiful is an oxymoron, but it’s fitting for this movie. Not only is Martyrs one of the best horror movies of all time (I said what I said), it’s one of the most notable in the New French Extremity movement. The movie follows Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï), a woman who has just escaped a wealthy cult-like society, and her best friend Anna (Morjana Alaoui), an abuse survivor. Lucie’s (understandable) desire for revenge sends them both down a path they can’t come back from. Everything about this movie is drenched in tragedy and misery; Lucie and Anna are consistently tortured by the abuse they’ve suffered. A particularly unsettling part of the film involves a demonic, violent, and brutalized woman from Lucie’s childhood who returns to haunt her in adulthood because she’s wracked with guilt. And when I tell you the figure is horrifying to look at—I mean it.
The Loved Ones (2009)
As far as villainous girls go, Lola (Robin McLeavy) deserves her slice of cake. The Loved Ones is a horror movie that you want to turn away from, yet you can’t stop watching. This Australian horror film focuses on Brent, a teen who politely rejects his troubled classmate’s request to be her date for the school dance—and finds himself kidnapped and tortured because of it. Lola and her dad (there’s incestuous stuff going on, by the way) find enjoyment in torturing Brent and turn the ordeal into an upsetting party. It’s no joke when I say the torture is brutal and that there are some disturbing reveals, though the ending is quite satisfying and Robin McLeavy delivers a chaotic performance that’s fun to watch.
Train to Busan (2016)
Country: South Korea
The zombie subgenre in horror has a lot of films to choose from. Not all of them are incredible but they’re at least enjoyable. Train to Busan is an action horror film with zombies, and although it’s very violent, it’s also a film that makes you invested in the characters—you actually give a shit if they survive, and not every horror film can say the same. Train to Busan follows a lackluster father who is taking his daughter to visit her mother, only to come to the realization that a zombie outbreak is happening while they are on a train. There are almost no moments to catch your breath and that’s exhilarating. And the emotional investment makes the ending that much more heartbreaking.
Depriving yourself of the experience of watching this film would be a mistake. Revenge is a fantastic depiction of survival and reclaiming power. The film focuses on Jen (Matilda Lutz)’s quest for revenge after she is raped and left for dead by three men. There’s a lot of ultraviolence, bright colors, and badass moments on Jen’s part throughout the film. She survives horrific ordeals and manages to take back her power by exacting violence on those who wronged her. This isn’t a story that’s new, but the way it’s told—by female filmmaker Coralie Fargeat—certainly is. Anybody can be a survivor of sexual violence; gender doesn’t matter. But rape and revenge films don’t always land because the violence is typically sexualized. Matilda Lutz’s performance is phenomenal and the direction is very powerful.
More films to consider:
- Them (2006)
- Eden Lake (2008)
- The Babadook (2014)
- Hounds of Love (2015)
- The Sadness (2022)
(featured image: Dimension Extreme)
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