Last year, we covered Vampires, Shapeshifters, Ghosts and Slashers…and we ran out of time before we could get to an important list – I’m talking about International Horror Films. American cinema is all fine and dandy, but European, Asian, and other international cinema have made their mark in the horror film genre. And here, dear readers, is a list of our favorites, by location…
A caveat: I used to live in Japan, and as such, the vast majority of films on this list are tipped toward the J-Horror scale! Just in case you were wondering why this imbalance is there…
I. Asian Horror
THE FILMS WITH AMERICAN REMAKES:
There are a shocking number of asian horror films that have been remade for American audience. While some of these films have been undeniably successful, and even really damn good (The Ring and The Grudge come to mind), more often than not, the remakes simply don’t work. Part of that is because of the cultural differences between asian cinema and Hollywood’s tendency to simplify resolutions . It’s a damn shame, because some of these originals are truly wonderful films.
Ringu (The Ring) & Ju-on (The Grudge)
Two of the most famous and well-done of the remakes, the original films aren’t too shabby either (though in both cases, the sequels fall pretty flat in comparison to the first films). In Ringu, a video tape is troubled, vengeful Sadako’s way to unleash her rage on the world. Ju-on is a classic haunted house tale, where a murdered woman and her son exact vengeance on anyone that enter (cool factoid if you didn’t know – the original Japanese director, Takashi Shimizu also directed the American remake).
I won’t say too much about this film since it’s one that I’m making Ana watch today, but this is a film whose American remake was solid, but lacked the heartbreaking sadness of the Japanese film. This is a touching, atmospheric movie centered on a woman and her close relationship with her daughter. I love this film. I love this film. Please, please, watch the original. That is all.
A Tale of Two Sisters
This film is a trip. It’s a beautiful, nightmarish fairy tale of a movie, based on a Korean folktale. It’s a bit long and can be confusing, but ultimately this movie about two very close sisters, their father and their stepmother is like a beautiful song. This film was recently remade in the US under the title The Uninvited – which isn’t really much like the original at all.
One Missed Call
This film is directed by Takashi Miike, and really is not what he usually does – basically this is The Ring, with a cell phone. Despite the simplicity of the material, Miike is a damn fine director and the Japanese version of the film is immensely watchable. The American version…not so much. Both Edward Burns AND Megan Goode are in the remake – either one alone usually drops a movie’s watchability factor by 20 percent. Together, it’s just…BAD. As much as I love Shannyn Sossamon, this was not a good movie.
Contrary to popular belief, Shutter is not originally a Japanese film – it’s a Thai one. And if you haven’t seen the Thai film, it’s usually on the Sundance channel, or Sundance On-Demand – so get to it! This film, about a couple being haunted by a woman that manifests in photographs, is delightfully creepy. The American remake isn’t too bad either (and, incidentally, is on HBO all the time), starring Joshua Jackson and that Australian chick from Transformers (you know, the really pretty, skinny blonde one who OMG IZ A HACKER cuz she wears GLASSES).
Another Japanese horror film. Pulse is actually one of my favorite J-Horror films, because of the depth of its message – a searing look at how technology alienates us to the point where we cannot seek or accept help. Now don’t kill me – I actually kinda like the American remake. Intellectually, I *know* it’s not a good movie. But it’s got Kristen Bell in it and I love her (hello, she’s Veronica Mars!). And Boone (aka Ian Somerhalder). I think it’s worth watching, anyhow. *ducks rotten tomatoes*
This Chinese original, directed by the Pang Brothers, is the story of a blind woman who has an eye transplant, which seems to go well…until she starts seeing things. The original film is beautifully shot, and really, really creepy. That climactic scene…it really got my heart going. The Eye was remade twice – once in India, and then more recently in the US. Starring….Jessica Alba. Yeaaaaaaah. The remake is pretty mediocre. Jessica Alba, pretty and sexy as she is, really sucks huge donkey balls as an actress.
TRIPPY. Uzumaki is about a small town that is invaded by…spirals. From another dimension. It’s all very Lovecraftian and Cronenburg-esque. It’s not so much a jump out atcha make you pee your pants horror movie as it is more bizarre and atmospheric. And really beautifully shot too. Definitely recommended.
This is a collection of three short films from three different directors: “Dumplings” by Fruit Chan (of China), “Cut” by Park Chan-Wook (of South Korea), and “Box” Takashi Miike (of Japan). I think “Dumplings” – about an aging actress in pursuit of her youth by eating some extra special dumplings is my favorite. Disgusting, funny, and horrific. “Box” is surreal, and beautifully shot per Miike’s usual, and “Cut” is a little more conventional, but still a wonderful treat.
Takashi Miike again (if you notice, I tend to stick with directors I really like)! Audition is a slow simmering film, building up tension and really disturbing images until a dramatic finale. Talk about a revenge flick – the last scene gave me nightmares.
A South Korean horror film, about a contingent of soldiers in the Vietnamese War. These Korean soldiers go to check out on a missing battalion at the rendezvous point, an old French plantation. And….there are ghosts. And other hijinks.
Cure, another J-horror film, follows a policeman as he investigates a rash of related murders – each victim has an “X” carved into their chests, but a different murderer is present at each scene. This is trippy David Lynch territory, and a pretty damn good psychological horror/thriller.
A Filipino horror film about a “tiyanak,” or a changeling demon baby, used to scare the SHIT outta me when I was a little kid. I remember seeing this for the first time when I was 8 or so. To this day, the tiyanak is one of my most feared myths. Well, that and the…
Ok, technically this is an American made film, and it’s completely in English. But there are so few good southeast asian horror movies out there, and this is one of my disgusting favorites. An aswang is the Filipino version of a vampire, only it feeds on amniotic fluid. That’s right – an aswang finds pregnant women, inserts its long, tubelike sucker up the woman’s you-know-what, and drinks her fluids and unborn child. This film shows ALL of that.
Ahh, Battle Royale. Before there was The Hunger Games, there was Koshun Takami’s book, which was adapted into this phenomenal movie. It’s one of my absolute favorite Japanese movies, period – gory, dramatic, romantic, twisted…damn, I love this film. I refuse to lend it out anymore, because it never gets back to me. Seriously, if you’re fan of The Hunger Games and have only heard people reference this book or film, you should really check this original out. Seriously. THAT MEANS YOU.
I’m surprised that the very successful Tomie manga and films haven’t been remade in the USA yet – it seems an obvious choice for big studios here trying to continue to exploit the J-Horror wave. Tomie is about a strange, beautiful girl named Tomie. At least, she was a beautiful girl – right now, she’s just a severed head in a plastic bag. Gradually, her body grows back, and she finds an old friend, Tsukiko, with whom she used to have an interesting relationship. Tsukiko cannot remember anything about Tomie or her past, but Tomie’s about to change all that. So far as movies go, Tomie doesn’t hold a candle to the manga – it’s slow and draggy and low budget. But…it’s still oddly compelling. I’d suggest reading the manga before watching the film though.
Suicide Circle/Suicide Club
This isn’t really a “horror” movie so much as it is a deeply disturbing film about Japanese society. Around the country, school children decide to take up suicide pacts and off themselves in groups – jumping in front of subway trains, jumping off school roofs, etc. I’m still not exactly sure how everything fits together in this movie – again, very David Lynch-y. But in a good way. I like feeling a little confused by films, as well as shocked and disturbed.
This Korean film has an American remake underway…starring Will Smith. Now, I love the fresh prince and all, and he is a good actor, but there is NO WAY the American Oldboy is going to even vaguely resemble its source material. Why, you may ask? Well, dear reader, here’s the story of the Korean depraved masterpiece that is Oldboy (spoilers ahead) – a man named Dae-Su is locked in a hotel room for 15 years without knowing why. He’s only fed fried dumplings, and his only link to the outside world or human contact of any kind is the television set in his room – which shows that his wife was murdered (a crime for which he is presumed guilty of), and his daughter sent away. One day, he is allowed to leave his room, as inexplicably as he was imprisoned. And, he has one thing on his mind – find out who took his life away. Following the trail of the fried dumplings he was fed every day for 15 years, he meets a lovely young woman named Mi-do, and they fall in love. Then, our hero meets his captor, Woo-Jin – who tells him that he wants to play a game. Find out the motive for his imprisonment, or else Mi-do dies. Long story short, Dae-Su remembers who his captor is – he and Woo-Jin went to school together, and Dae-Su witnessed him and his sister having sex. Dae-Su told his friends and the school, eventually leading to the girl’s suicide. In return, Woo-Jin gives Dae-Su one last piece of information in his twisted revenge.
Mi-Do, the woman that Dae-Su has fallen in love with, has had sex with, has done everything for, is in fact Dae-Su’s daughter.
Now….can you imagine Hollywood putting this big budget, summer blockbuster together? I don’t think so.
II. European Horror: (non-English-speaking countries)
THE GERMANS: Nosferatu & The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Two classic German films from the silent era. Nosferatu, of course, an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Dr. Caligari about a doctor and his assistant and their involvement in a murder of a young woman. Both are iconic films.
THE ITALIANS: Suspiria
Dario Argento’s classic, and a must watch for any true horror fan. Suspiria is the story of an American ballet student who gets caught up in a whole mess of trouble. Gory, suspenseful, and trippy as hell.
Lucio Fulci’s classic zombie film (also called Zombi 2, Dawn of the Dead amongst other titles). Two scenes come to mind: Zombie Shark Fight, and Splinter Through The Eye.
City of the Living Dead
Best. Clip. Ever.
Another Lucio Fulci, and arguably his best work – though Suspiria gets most of the limelight. The plot doesn’t really stick together so well – there’s a door to hell in the basement of a New Orleans Hotel – but watching zombies go buck wild and the absolutely wonderful camera work more than makes up for any silly plot problems.
The Films of Mario Bava: Black Sabbath, Twitch of the Death Nerve, etc
Of course I have to have at least ONE Mario Bava on here, right? Black Sabbath is actually three stories in one – the most memorable of which stars Boris Karloff as (what else!) a vampire, in “The Wurdalak.” Twitch of the Death Nerve is the original slasher/splatter film – it’s plot is crazy convoluted, it’s brutal, it’s ridiculously gory. But…that’s giallo, and that’s Bava for you.
From Mario Bava’s son, Lamberto, Demons is about a movie theater showing gone terribly wrong. And by “terribly wrong” I mean a cursed demon zombie mask that leads to goretastic mayhem. Really, really bad dubbing in the American dvd version, but the entertainment value is soooo worth it.
THE SCANDINAVIANS: Dead Snow
Norwegian film about a skiing trip gone awry. And by awry, I mean Nazi Zombies. YESSSSSSSS.
Let the Right One In
This Swedish film is probably the best vampire movie I have seen since…well, quite possibly, ever. A lonely little boy befriends his quiet, strange new neighbor, who happens to be a vampire. Not your typical fangs and leather vampire – but a little boy with ringlets and pale, bruised skin. It’s a love story, a coming of age story, a beautifully shot and directed film, and one that lingers long after watching it. Truly, one of the best horror films I have seen in a very long time.
THE FRENCH: Ils (Them)
A French movie that the American film The Strangers is suspiciously similar to (only won’t acknowledge), is about a couple in a large, country home, under attack by hooded intruders. This is a film that builds tension beautifully and has a twist – it’s a much better film than the silly, repetitive, pointless Strangers ever dreamed of being.
The first film I’d seen from Alejandre Aja, this is a BRUTAL movie. Talk about tension – Mr. Aja takes the classic slasher and makes it scary again. The twist isn’t really anything new, but the film itself is brutal, unflinching, uncompromising, and completely depraved. I immediately converted to a full-fledged Aja fan after this movie, and I haven’t looked back.
El Orfanato (The Orphanage)
Not as frightening as it is touching, at least in my opinion. I loved this movie though, for its beautiful direction, it’s compelling characters, and, yes, for the chills. One of the best horror movies to come out in recent memory, and so impressed with J. A. Bayona’s. How much did this movie move me? I cried at the end. If you’re a fan of this film, you’ll probably also love Dark Water (above, and also wait for Ana’s review later).
The Devil’s Backbone & Pan’s Labyrinth
From – who else? – Guillermo del Toro. I’m lumping the two together since they are similar in setting and seem to flow together nicely. The Devil’s Backbone is a horror movie that predates the academy award winning Pan’s Labyrinth, and is set in the same era (just at the end of the Spanish Civl War). Following a young boy in an orphanage in the middle of nowhere, young Carlos starts to see a ghost that tells him frightening things. This is another beautiful, moving film and is Guillermo del Toro at his best. Of course, Pan’s Labyrinth needs no introduction – it’s a gorgeous film following a young girl and her adventures in a fantasy world. At times frightening, these are two poignant films from the immensely talented Guillermo del Toro. (And yes, I’m a huge fan of his films, like the rest of the world. Not so convinced by his novel writing, though)
Aha! Another del Toro! This is actually his first film, and unlike The Devil’s Backbone or Pan’s Labyrinth is set in his home country of Mexico. A twist on vampirism, Cronos is about a very important golden scarab that contains the secret to eternal life. Of course, more than one person wants it…and eternal life has its consequences. And, guess what – Ron Perlman is in this one. Alchemy, golden clockwork creatures and Ron Perlman? Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The Curse of the Crying Woman
An oldie, but goodie about a familiar Mexican folklore figure, la llorona (the crying woman). A young woman named Amelia travels to a desolate country estate with her husband Jaime, only to discover dark family secrets – particularly of her aunt Selma, her connections to witchcraft, and the llorona. A classic, atmospheric, gothic film, this is fine movie going.
The Witch’s Mirror
Hailed as one of the absolute finest of Mexican horror cinema, The Witch’s Mirror is a revenge film of the highest order – after a surgeon husband murders his wife and her mother, his wife’s godmother (who happens to be a witch) plots her revenge, using an enchanted mirror. This is gothic, atmospheric horror at its absolute best. I only recently discovered this film, and I cannot believe it took me so long. Absolutely essential.
Ok, I think that’s enough from me for now! Doubtless I’ve left out quite a few films, but this list could go on forever! So now, I ask you, dear readers – what are your favorite international, non-English language horror films? I’m all ears!