So you’re a diehard scary movie fan, huh? You can brave the real terror whether it be the graphic gory details of Saw or the vertigo inducing camera work of The Blair Witch Project. But are you willing to brave subtitles?!? For it is a fact that some of the best movies out there for the Halloween season weren’t done in the United States. Japan (birthplace of the Ringu films and original Grudge movies) for instance has become to horror movies what Scandinavia is to crime writers. Consider a cinematic global tour of frights, freaks, and things that go bump in the night.
Let’s kick off our tour in Norway where long, cold, dark winters make for a morbid frame of mind.
This movie adaption of the book by the same name is a coming of age vampire-human romance but it’s no Twilight. The vampire in this case is the female, the youths in question are 12, and there’s actual killing involved. The spectacular visuals of blood and carnage in the snow depicted here probably inspired the same graphics in the American film 30 Days of Night. Unlike that movie though, Let the Right One In is genuinely moving as well as scary.
This quite simply is probably the best horror/comedy Nazi zombie movie ever made. (Admittedly it’s a limited field.) Writer/Director Tommy Wirkola pays homage to Raimi’s Evil Dead series as well as Romero’s work but he gives it a unique spin of his own (including a truly wicked sequence involving an outhouse) with a certain Scandinavian fatalism that’s shocking to American sensibilities about horror narratives.
This delightful little low-budget, found-footage style flick directed by Andre Ovredal, informs us of the terrible truth behind the Billy Goats Gruff. What zombies are to the American zeitgeist, trolls are to the Norwegian mind. Besides being an effective monster film in its own right it’s a deft satire on Norway’s government that offers such subversive touches where being an atheist improves your survival chances. (Trolls after all can smell the blood of a Christian man.)
Now that we’ve had our fill of snow and spruce trees we can travel to the more temperate climate of Spain.
Not to be associated in any way shape or form with the dreadful American film The Orphan. The Orphanage, a ghost story directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, features a strong female protagonist, themes of family ties, discrimination against disabled children, and a murky convoluted plot with good atmospheric setting.
Nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars, Pan’s Labyrinth is one of Director Guillermo Del Toro’s best works. Set in Fascist Spain, a young girl moves out to a remote outpost with her pregnant mother and cruel stepfather. She escapes the horrors of her reality (stepdaddy is the kind of guy to shoot a man in cold blood for breaking curfew) by retreating into a fantasy world that becomes a parable for her day to day existence. It features some of the most gorgeous, terrifying, magical visuals, of any movie ever, as well as a sense of history and some great performances as well. It is quite simply a masterpiece.
From Spain we take a quick trip to France.
This movie is insane. A convoluted over the top mess starring Mark Dasacos, Samuel Bihan, Monica Vespucci, and Vincent Cassels, involving wolves, secret societies, butchery, Native American magicks, conspiracies, and some awesome kung-fu in pre-Revolutionary France, it is a pure adrenaline rush all the way through.
Now moving on from Europe we head east into Asia and land in South Korea.
Because of a failed medical experiment, a priest becomes infected with vampirism and soon gives in to his blood thirst in this movie that won a Jury Prize at Cannes. Written and directed by Chan-wook Park this story intentionally patterns itself after the classic tale Theresa Raquin by Emile Zola, only in contemporary times with blood-suckers. Sounds crazy right?!? What’s even crazier is it works with some eye-popping visuals, psychological depth and two dynamite performances by the leads.
The 2003 winner of the Trophy Award at Screamfest as well as the Blue Dragon award involves two young girls whose mother recently died and whose father wasted no time in re-marrying a woman who makes Cinderella’s stepmother look saintly by comparison. Involving numerous twists and turns, this “fairy tale” is a grim study in murder and madness.
Now, it’s time to see that capital of horror movies itself…Japan. Birthplace to the original Grudge Films, Ring Films, Dark Water, and much, much more!
Before Saw, before Hostel, there was Audition. A widower arranges an audition to screen young women looking for his next wife. His immediate favorite pick though, is anything than what she seems. Director Takashi Miike won several awards for this endeavor and rightly so; there’s nothing more terrifying than when the sack moves. The denouement is a Grand Guignol of Lector proportions all the more nightmarish for how impossible it is to separate reality from hallucination.
Let’s fly across the Pacific Ocean all the way back around to the continent of North America, and make our final stop in Mexico.
The father and patriarch of a family dies. Besides the immediate grief and financial concerns the household is also thrown into an uproar because they are a family of cannibals and the father was the one who…brought home the “bacon.” The three adolescent children thus decide to step up to the task of carrying on dad’s work. Writer-Director Jorge Michel Grau’s hyper-realistic take (concentrating on the surprisingly difficult and tricky role of getting a victim home) and emphasis on the family dynamics as well as the visceral appeal of the Ritual, make this a standout.
There are many more great foreign language horror films than these; just remember; terror is truly a universal language.