The best, and spookiest, horror films from around the globe
Horror has more potential than any other genre to imprint itself on the viewer’s mind – maybe leaving a few scars in the process. As it is, Hollywood has long held the reigns on traditional Halloween movies, and horror has long been associated with gory blockbuster franchises such as Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. However, the genre of horror is arguably not an American forte, and those who seek darker stories may need to look overseas. After all, it is important to remember that there are a whole host of other countries out there, who also tread in horror from time to time. In celebration of those films which may go overlooked, let us peek behind the curtain at the horror movies outside Hollywood. Here are six films which easily stand up to their transatlantic cousins. Strap in, but be warned – this can get nasty.
Train to Busan (2016), dir. Yeon Sang-ho, South Korea
First up, we have arguably the most accessible film on the list, with director Yeon Sang-ho bringing us a good old-fashioned zombie romp, albeit one which is elevated by the bond between the two central characters: work-obsessed divorcee Seok-woo and his young daughter Su-an. The two are growing apart, but are soon stuck together on the KTX 101 train to Busan in the midst of a zombie outbreak. Yeon skilfully orchestrates a wide array of exhilarating and visceral action set pieces, as well as some effective emotional moments. Our main characters are well-drawn enough that you care for them, adding an extra element of tension to the already white-knuckle premise. The performances also serve the film well – in particular, child actress Kim Su-an as the young daughter. An extra dash of social satire can also be seen in the government response to the epidemic, as well as in the passengers’ behaviour. All of this meshes together well to ensure that Train to Busan stands out from its zombie B-movie trappings.
Lake Mungo (2008), dir. Joel Anderson, Australia
This excellent horror mockumentary focuses on an Australian family of four who tragically lose sixteen-year old Alice Palmer, who drowns while out swimming in a reservoir. Once the initial shock has passed, however, strange noises and apparitions begin to appear in the family house, and events take a turn towards the supernatural. As the story progresses, all too human horrors are unearthed and the family is forced to confront the secrets of the past. The highlight of Lake Mungo is undoubtedly the performances, all of which are astonishingly natural with no sign of dramatic affectations. The actual scares here are few and far between, but the film makes up for this with genuinely unsettling imagery and a prevalent sense of dread and uneasiness. As more and more of Alice’s past comes to light, the viewer is pulled in along with the family and begins too to realize that not everything is as it seems.
The Orphanage (2007), dir. J. A. Bayona, Spain
Thanks in no small part to the influence of Guillermo del Toro (who has a producing credit), this entry has a strong fairy tale feel running throughout, especially at the story’s resolution. Belén Rueda stars as Laura, a woman who grew up in an orphanage. Now married with an adopted son of her own, Simón, she strives to rebuild the old house so it can once again become a home for orphans. In the meantime, the 7-year old Simón plays with imaginary friends – a clear warning sign in any horror story. When Simón goes missing on the new orphanage’s opening day, a devastated Laura is forced to use unconventional means to find him, and soon uncovers her old orphanage’s terrible history. A strong debut from Bayona, The Orphanage is superbly put together. Viewers expecting a slew of jump scares will likely be disappointed, but the film’s real strength lies in its brilliant use of emotion, helped no small amount by a beautiful score from frequent Bayona collaborator Fernando Velázquez. Come for the scares, stay for the tears.
Suspiria (1977), dir. Dario Argento, Italy
A cult film which features a similar fairy tale tone, but in a far less soothing way, Dario Argento’s critically acclaimed horror follows American ballet student Suzy Bannion, who enrols at the prestigious Tanz Dance Academy in Germany. Something seems amiss, however, especially considering a student’s abrupt departure and murder on Suzy’s first night spent at the academy. One bizarre event follows another, until Suzy arrives at the nefarious truth behind Tanz. Argento ensures that the audience’s eyes are glued to the screen throughout via his use of colour and music. From the very first scene, the score (created through Argento’s collaboration with Italian prog-rock band Goblin) all but assaults the viewer and does not let up for the majority of the film’s runtime. The colour composition is particularly entrancing and lends the film its own distinctive look and feel, with Argento using Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as inspiration. Add to this a good helping of gore, and a somewhat refreshing final shot, and you have Suspiria – an unquestionably singular entry in the field of horror, albeit one which is receiving a homage (not a remake) from Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino this November.
Let the Right One In (2008), dir. Tomas Alfredson, Sweden
Next, we have a coming-of-age tale (of sorts) set in a Stockholm suburb, following Oskar – a quiet 12-year old who is bullied at school and decidedly alone, with his mother seemingly the only other person who speaks to him. However, the arrival of a girl named Eli provides Oskar with some companionship, and the two outsiders quickly form a lasting bond. Eli is harbouring a dark secret, however, one which comes to threaten the pair’s future. Tomas Alfredson’s story is more of a horror when seen through the eyes of adults, but Oskar’s perspective gives it a more hopeful, tender slant. The film’s infrequent outbursts of violence give it a sharp edge, however, and highlight the cold reality of the characters’ predicament. Bonus points are awarded for featuring possibly the most inept criminal in cinematic history.
Audition (1999), dir. Takashi Miike, Japan
Renowned director Takashi Miike – who just delivered his hundredth film with last year’s Blade of the Immortal – brings us the most provocative entry on this list, which may well trigger a gender-centric debate after the credits have rolled (is the story feminist or misogynist?) Our story centres on Aoyama, a grieving widower who longs to find another woman he can spend his life with. At the suggestion of his friend, who happens to be a film producer, Aoyama puts together an audition process for a fake film in the hopes of selecting a future wife out of the applicants. When the quiet but beautiful Asami catches his eye, Aoyama begins to pursue her. To say that he comes to regret this particular decision would be a severe understatement. Miike’s film begins simply enough, but reaches greater heights of surrealism as it progresses, climaxing in a skin-crawling final act featuring truly disturbing imagery and an excruciatingly drawn-out sequence of… well, that would be telling. Decidedly not for the squeamish, Audition will stay with you long after you undergo a viewing.