The best part in being a horror fanatic is the large pool of horror a nerd like myself can dip his toes into. When asked, “whats your favorite scary movie?” how can I give but one answer. If the jerk from Scream called my cell, we’d be talking for hours. There are genre’s within genre’s in the horror genre. “Whats my favorite scary movie? Umm…which genre? There’s slashers, there are indies, there are supernatural stories, there are zombie flicks, there are monster B movies, there are comedy-horror movies, psychological thrillers, possession-demonic-religious horror movies, sci-fi horror, action-horror, Universal Studios monster movies, silent film era horror, splatter-grindhouse movies, vampire (not bloody Twilight), and last but not least, there are foreign horror movies. This is what makes being a horror aficionado so exciting; there are so many different avenues to take.
With all this being said regarding the enthusiastic world of horror, foreign horror has been weighing on my mind recently. To be honest, only within the last eight or so years has foreign horror been worth watching. This, of course, is my own opinion; you might have been watching foreign horror for decades and i’m just now jumping on the bus. But maybe not, maybe its true and no ones has really been paying much attention overseas, not until at least within the last 8-10 years or so. The last time foreign horror was so popular was when all there was was foreign horror, i.e. the silent film era with Metropolis and Nosferatu. But once directors started flooding over here from Europe during the span between 1920 through the 1940’s (most escaping Nazi Germany) American silent horror, like The Phantom of the Opera and other Lon Chaney films, started to flourish. Only until recently, at the dawn of the new millennium, have macabre seekers sought out, once again, tales of terror from abroad. But why?
Perhaps this new found enthusiasm has something to do with a desire for originality. Lets face it folks, American horror has been suffering for some time now regarding this issue. Reboots are nice when done sparingly, but it seems that’s all we have to offer anymore. Nothings original. No ones taking risks. And so, we’re pushing past what we’ve already seen and looking into new dark corners for fresh new stories. What really turned me on to foreign horror was the Ju-on series. Dang, just when you thought supernatural flicks have all but dried up, Ju-on gives new life…or death, depending on how you look at it. With simple traditional methods, Ju-on terrifies and keeps you wanting more. After watching this, I started to give other foreign films a fairer shake. If your interested in looking for a new avenue in horror, consider the following five movies:
If you’re going to start anywhere, start with the film series that hooked me into foreign horror. Released back in 2000 as a direct to video movie, director Takashi Shimizu takes audiences deep into a twisted story about an angry husband, his wife, son and family cat and their house. Shimizu ties several stories together, connecting each of them to the house and the family that once lived there. The graphics are subtle but effective. After watching the entire franchise, it feels like the entire island of Japan will one day be killed off by this ghost. If you’re starting out or haven’t seen it, give this movie a go, you will not be disappointed.
At some point, you’ll need to watch what began it all. Released in 1922, Nosferatu is one of the most celebrated movies in horror, and for good reason. Despite having anti-Semitic undertones (see German cinema between 1919-1945), Nosferatu is the pinnacle of German expressionist films. At the dawn of cinematic horror, Nosferatu plays with shadowy atmospherics to bring home the frights and some of the most creepiest hands you’ll ever see in a movie. This image of the count is so much better than Stoker’s vision. The only vampire movie that comes close to the coolness of Count Orlok is 30 Days of Night and….
3, Let the Right One In
The movie that won the Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature and many other acclaims, Let the Right One In was, as you might have guessed, an amazing movie. As another foreign vampire flick, the violence was actually rather spread out and subtle. I wont give away any of the plot, but my favorite scene has to be during the swimming pool act when young Oskar is being bullied during a late night swim. Leave it to the Swedes to do a modern vampire movie right. The recent American rendition of this film comes no where close to the sheer awesomeness of the original. If you’re not into Japanese supernatural flicks, give this more recent foreign horror film a go! You can watch it on Netflix instant streaming.
2. Dead Snow
I’m not a huge fan of spoof zombie flicks. Call me a snob if you will, but I prefer Romero styled undead. However, a friend talked me into watching this and since it was already on Netflix instant, I gave it a shot. Dead Snow actually turned out to be a lot of fun and despite its satire, there are a few scares to be found and plenty of gore to go around. The film centers around a group of stereotypical students having some naughty fun up in the mountains, the same mountains, unfortunately, where a bunch of Nazi zombies live. The premise of the film is based off the draugr from Scandinavian folklore concerning the undead greedily protecting its treasures (and probably, but not confirmed, still pissed of Norwegians wanting a little cinema payback for the Nazis invading their country during Operation Weserübung in 1940). If you’re looking for a good laugh and to watch teenagers, and Nazis alike, die in horrible ways, give Dead Snow a chance, you might not be disappointed.
1. The Devils Backbone
Back before Guillermo del Toro was mainstream, the Mexican born director produced some of the best in supernatural horror with vivid imagination. Released in 2001, during the onslaught of American reboots on beloved franchises, The Devils Backbone is an original story based on the classic haunting motif. As folks back home were getting hammered with hyper-violence in American cinema, del Toro used the less-is-more approach to win audiences. The Devils Backbone was my first Mexican-Spanish horror film and it wont be my last. Guillermo del Toro is a unique storyteller with the ability to create memorable horror. The movie was both elegant in its presentation and dreadful in its atmosphere. There is little doubt why this film made my number spot for best in foreign horror.
UPDATE (August 6, 2013):
Gotta love the edit option on these blog websites! Can’t believe I left off my horrible mention in best of foreign horror. And its a good one too! This particular movie didn’t make the numerical list because I never finished watching it, but at the same time, because of the fact I couldn’t finish watching, and also because I would never recommend in good company to ever watch this movie, The Human Centipede deserves some recognition. Why couldn’t I finish watching this movie? Well…it wasn’t the production value; the acting and camera shots were professional enough, The Human Centipede wasn’t B-movie-ish; I’ve watched and enjoyed many a B-movie without complaint. The real reason why I never finished this movie was because it was completely loathsome, and also perhaps because my first screening of the film was with my wife; we had both entertained the idea of watching it simple because of all the rumors we’ve heard regarding its…unique cinematography; its hardcoreness. And the rumors were true…oh so very true. We stopped right after the “surgery.” Leave it to the Dutch to come up with something so sickening! I’ve seen plenty of gore movies, I’ve screened my share of savage cinema, but there was just something about this movie, the degradation of the people in it made me cringe. There was something very real about this. So, in light of how nauseous this movie made me, The Human Centipede deserves horrible mention, but as I said before, I’m not recommending you watch it.