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Ten Great Foreign Horror Films

Updated on May 23, 2010

Horror Movies From Far Off Lands

Let's keep in mind that my little bubble of local is based squarely in the southern US. As evidenced by the picture to your right, a film doesn't necessarily have to be subtitled for me to label it foreign. As an avid horror fan, I'm just going to touch on a few of the more popular and somewhat recent foreign films.

In other words: These films are a great place to start if you're just now getting sick of Saw sequels, and hoping to branch out into the wide world of horror.

Funny Games - Austria

This one got an English-language remakes not too long ago. As I understand it, it was a shot-for-shot remakes directed by Michael Haneke who was writer/director of the 1997 original. But why by a recreation of a masterpiece when you can just as easily snag the original.

The film revolves around a lovely little German nuclear family. Anna and Georg, their son Georgie, and Rolfi the dog. They're vacationing at their lake house when they receive a visit from Peter and Paul - who would both seem like two perfectly amiable young fellows if this wasn't a horror movie.

But it is and, predictably, Peter begins to terrorize the family, forcing them to play "games" to stay alive until enough time has passed to make this a feature-length movie... which brings me to what I love so much about Funny Games: The utter and completely intentional decimation of the fourth wall.

Let the Right One In - Sweden

Vampires had been ruined for me long before Twilight was gracing shelves with its angst-filled teenage dribble. The entire sub-genre has been rather stale for quite some time now, so it's a massive understatement when I say that Let the Right One In is a refreshing change of pace.

It's hard to call this one a horror movie. It's more of a coming of age story... that just happens to be wildly disturbing. Oskar is twelve. He's bullied. He has what are possibly the troubled beginnings of a serial killer in him.

But then Eli moves in next door, and Eli has been twelve a lot longer than Oskar...

Based on a book of the same name, make sure you give this one a watch if you haven't already. It's subtle, thoughtful, and just downright excellent film-making.

Oldboy - South Korea

Oldboy is part of the "Vengeance Trilogy", a series of films directed by Park Chan-wook. Even though this is the second installment in the series, it's a stand-alone film, and a truly awesome one at that.

Oh Dae-Su inexplicably kidnapped and locked in a hotel room with only a television with which to keep track of the passage of time. It's television that tells him his wife was murdered. He is now the primary suspect, and his young daughter has been put into foster care. So when he suddenly wakes up on a rooftop after fifteen years of imprisonment, he naturally goes out looking for answers and revenge.

There's really no explaining the movie. It's stylish, it's funny, it's violent, it's tragic. It's great.

The Devil's Backbone - Spain

Before Pan's Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro had already won plenty of people over with this little ghost story. Again, it's not a movie I can comfortably call straight-up horror. It's set at an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War and follows a boy named Carlos and the mystery of the ghost of a young boy who seems to haunt the place.

There are certainly some scares and horrific moments, but they don't come from the places you expect them to. What with all the other terrible goings-on at the orphanage, a ghost is almost the least of the main character's troubles. In the end this is just one beautifully horrific and undeniably powerful movie.

Ichi the Killer - Japan

Violence, violence, wonderfully-over-the-top violence!

Takashi Miike makes a lot of different movies. And I do mean a lot of different movies. This one is my personal favorite and the very first film I ever took the trouble to import. Lucky for you, it's now licensed and fairly easy to find in the US.

...But how can I explain the premise?

There's Ichi. He's a killer.

There's Kakihara. He's a hottie with a Glasgow smile played by a completely unforgettable Tadanobu Asano.

There's Yakuza and crime lord, Anjo.

And then there's loads of torture, dark humor, and general overtones of WTF that are insanely enjoyable. If you are feeling terribly uncomfortable by the time the film's title is spelled out in semen, go ahead and turn this one off. Things only get worse.

The Descent - the UK

A group of women get together regularly for bonding and outdoor adventure. This year they're going spelunking. What should be a fun outing suddenly turns life-or-death when they realize they're not entirely alone.

Unfortunately, the cave's burgeoning population of "crawlers" isn't all the girls have to worry about. Have you ever heard the saying, "I don't have to run faster than the ____. I just have to run faster than you." Well, this is that: The Motion Picture.

[REC] - Spain

This is the Handycam film Quarantine was based on. What with my extreme prejudice toward "english language remakes", I've yet to see it. But, from what I hear, it didn't exactly measure up.

What is there to say? A reporter accompanies firemen on a routine distress call. Unfortunately, the old lady locked in her apartment turns out to be a zombie. It happens. The apartment complex is on lock-down, leaving both reporter and cameraman trapped inside with panicked uninfected persons and the rabid undead.

[REC] 2 is also worth a watch if you're interested in explanations. It's makes for a nice twist on the zombie genre, but does diminish from the "mystery" of the first film. Up to you. The sequel isn't a bad movie, but [REC] stands fine all on its lonesome.

Braindead - New Zealand

Or Dead Alive, as it's known in these parts.

This is why Peter Jackson needs to stop this big budget nonsense and go back to what he's great at. Splatstick. Dark comedy doesn't get much better than this. Zombies, overbearing mothers, priests who know kung-fu.

No short synopsis. Watch this. There's a brilliant scene with a lawnmower. That's all you need to know.

High Tension - France

What do you do when the chick you have the hots for is kidnapped out of her own home after the brutal murder of her family? Chase her kidnapper down and rescue her, of course.

There's not much to this one. It's an absolute thrillride. Unfortunately, the ending is just awful. My advice? Switch the film off just before the climax. Make up your own ending. It'll be an improvement. Trust me.

The Host - South Korea

The Host is, easily, one of my favorite monster films of all time.

A monster hoarding small children, a big scary government, family. This one is tugging your heartstrings in so many directions, it's hard not to break down into tears of frustration while you watch a family struggling to save one of their own from the clutches of a river-dwelling creature.

There are quite a few scares but, at its core, this is a movie about an estranged family coming together during a time of crisis... which serves mostly to make tense scenes even more heart-wrenching. You genuinely want every single one of these characters to come out of this alive. The director evidently knew this, because The Host toys with your emotions right up until the closing credits.


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    • duppycon2 profile image


      5 years ago from Yuma AZ

      I've seen a lot of foreign horror over the years, and I think one of the reasons they can be so effective is the difference in culture (at least compared to the standard "American" horror); what they find taboo or "normal" can be so, well... foreign to us Yanks. One example: a lot of foreign movies have no problem showing violence against children, whereas Hollywood seems to always keep children "safe", or they meet their ends off-camera. Then again, with Takashi Miike, all bets are off!

    • barry1001 profile image


      6 years ago from North Wales

      I loved Let The Right One In. But take my advice; avoid the pointless American remake like the plague.

    • Chris Qu profile image

      Chris Qu 

      7 years ago

      I dunno if it's fair to call Oldboy or Ichi the Killer horror. I'd consider them both dramas. That said, I do like them both, with Oldboy being one of my all time favorite movies. I didn't care for The Descent though. I thought the characters were all very unlikable.

    • profile image

      mike papa 

      7 years ago

      good job, seen all but [REC] and agree with most, except Devil's Backbone. should have Eden Lake, The Vanishing (original), Inside, Wolf Creek, Martyrs, Nightwatch/Daywatch or perhaps Imprint !!! what do you think ??

    • sriparna profile image


      8 years ago from New Delhi

      Blood chilling pics! Shouldn't have watched at night!

      Good hub, congratulations for your hubnuggets nomination.

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 

      8 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Kelley, I'm frightened of horror movies as in really scared! And the photos you placed here already gave me the chills. Brrrr...

      So do please hold my hand as we walk through the dark to the Hubnuggets! Yes, have you heard the good news? Your hub has been nominated. Check it out:

    • Rod Marsden profile image

      Rod Marsden 

      8 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

      Braindead was one of the stranger NZ horror movies made. Plenty of action and gory moments. A worthy entry.

    • Glimmer515 profile image


      8 years ago from Never Never Land

      Great Hub!! Love learning about more great horror films!!

    • Kelley Harmon profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Harmon 

      8 years ago

      Thanks, Jhemming77. Oldboy does strike me as more of a drama, but some of the more violent scenes land it on a lot of horror fans' shelves.

      "Monster movie" is generally considered a sub-genre of horror. And, as for Funny Games... I've only ever seen it categorized as horror. I can't see it as much of a thriller post-"rewind", when every single viewer realizes just how the movie's going to end. Now, if Snuff Film With Ludicrously High Production Values was its own genre, I'd file it under that.

      I don't necessarily consider a good horror movie good because it scared me. Good story-telling comes first. Horror doesn't necessarily have to deliver outright scares to be considered horror.

    • Jhemming77 profile image


      8 years ago from Anywhere there's a party.

      Good list and all but Oldboy is a drama sprinkled with some action. Funny Games is a thriller and The Host is a monster movie. None of those are scary.

    • mr. daydream profile image

      mr. daydream 

      8 years ago

      High Tension was crazy. A tripped out lil' horror flick, plenty gory. But twisted-endings don't always work.

    • Kelley Harmon profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Harmon 

      8 years ago

      I'm not entirely sure I remember an American Descent, optimus grimlock. Unless they happen to share the same title but not the same plot.

    • optimus grimlock profile image

      optimus grimlock 

      8 years ago

      High tension was great, the deszcent was an american movie 1st!!!

    • tony0724 profile image


      8 years ago from san diego calif

      I will definitely have to watch some of these. I have seen Oldboy and The Host. I would have Included " Audition " from Japan. It made me squirm. And I don't scare easy


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