When the average viewer thinks “foreign films,” they often cringe at the thought of reading subtitles. There are a lot of arguments against subtitles, but the main one is that viewers don’t believe they can read subtitles while watching and enjoying a film. It’s easy to dismiss subtitled films, but in doing so, the viewer forsakes the absolutely best of the best horror in the world. Those movies have something that American films rarely capture. They are terrifying, scary, and full of authentic jumps. And, in our attempts to recreate the horror captured in some foreign films such as The Ring (Ringu) and The Grude (Ju-on), so much has been lost in translation.
Once one is past the reading of subtitles, it is easy to navigate through a foreign horror film and still be thoroughly terrified, as well as exposed to interesting cultures and legends that may never be discovered in real life.
To get you started on your journey through foreign horror films, here is a short list of some of my favorites – although it was nearly impossible to whittle this list down to just these. Foreign horror films are much like binge-eating Halloween candy: Once you discover how great they are, you won’t stop at just one.
Audition – Japan – 1999
Under pressure from family and friends, a widower decides to find a new wife in a most unique fashion: hold auditions for a fake production to find a woman. What follows is an obsession that goes far beyond what Fatal Attraction could ever dream up to scare men off women forever.
Most “best of” lists for horror films include Audition, and for good reason. Not only is the entire film unforgettable, but the ending is truly jaw-dropping and frightening. Between the jump scares and the creepiness, plus a lot of things I cannot talk about for fear of spoiling the film, you cannot go wrong with Audition.
The Orphanage – Spain – 2007
A woman purchases her old childhood home, an orphanage. She plans to reopen it to other orphans and brings her family to live there with her. Her adopted son soon finds friendship with imaginary children before he mysteriously disappears.
Many people mistakenly think The Orphanage is a Guillermo del Toro-directed film, due to the stunning scenery and beautifully crafted story; however, even though del Toro is an executive producer (not director), it bears a strong resemblance to his work. The Orphanage is a stellar example of a sad, psychological ghost story that plays perfectly in the horror genre. The ending is absolutely gorgeous and horrifying all in one, and that takes the movie into a horror subgenre of its own.
Rigor Mortis – Hong Kong – 2013
A suicidal actor moves into a public housing tenement that is filled with unusual characters, and a few spooky supernatural creatures, just for fun.
This emotionally charged and somewhat disturbing movie has it all: creepy ghosts, vampires, murder, incredible special effects, and even martial arts in surreal battles. It is just as entertaining getting to know the characters as it is squirming at the frights. As an interesting side note, the lead actor plays an actor of the same name.
Baskin – Turkey – 2015
A group of arguably loose-moral cops respond to a call one night. A figure jumps in front of their car, causing them to crash. When they finally reach their destination, they discover they have unwittingly passed through the gates of Hell.
Baskin is the first horror film from Turkey, and this fan certainly hopes it won’t be the last. Many compare it to The Nightmare on Elm Street for the dreamlike scenes, but I believe it’s just as comparable to House of 1000 Corpses, complete with lots of torture and a Doctor Satan character. One of the most notable parts of the film is first-time actor, Mehmet Cerrahoglu (The Father/Baba). It was hard for me to tear my eyes away from his riveting performance. Once you’ve watched, you’ll definitely want to know more about him!
The Maid – Singapore – 2005
A young girl goes to Singapore and finds work as a maid for a seemingly normal family. After arriving, the Chinese Seventh Month begins, which is rumored to be when the gates of Hell open up and the dead roam the earth. Those who fail to perform certain rituals and follow specific rules will find themselves at the mercy of the spirits.
Like most foreign horror films, it’s the ending that ties everything together and makes the entire film worth watching over and over to pick up on those nuances one might have missed in the first viewing. The explanation and performing of the rituals captivate the viewer, catching them up in the superstitions of the characters. There are also a lot of tense moments to keep you riveted throughout while waiting for the twist.
Dumplings – Hong Kong – 2004
To what lengths would you go to retain your beauty and youthfulness? Aunt Mei is a well-known cook, famous for her “fountain of youth” dumplings. The dumplings are much sought after by those who wish to either stay young or rejuvenate themselves. A former actress seeks out Aunt Mei for her mysterious dumplings… and that's where the fun begins.
Dumplings is one of those movies that you watch for long enough to wish you hadn’t started watching, only to find yourself unable to turn away from the shocks contained within. It is a movie that sticks with the viewer long after they’ve seen it. If you want something that is unique in story, that will turn your stomach in knots, and have you glued to the screen in absolute horror, then Dumplings is the movie for you. Just don’t eat any dumplings while watching!
The Babadook – Australia – 2014
Because Halloween is also full of tricks and treats, this is my slight “trick” for my choices in that this film does not have subtitles; however, no list of foreign horror films is complete without The Babadook.
A single mother struggles to raise her son after losing her husband in a car accident. One day, a children’s book appears titled The Babadook. She reads the book to her son, who already has a strong fear of monsters, and the phenomena begins, plaguing both her and her son. While extremely sad, this movie is psychologically driven and takes viewers on a ride through the dark depths of the mind, all while providing enough scary moments to allow it to sit firmly in the horror genre. It is well-worth watching and will probably have you chanting “Babadook-dook-dook” for days to come.