The United States has put out quite a few horror classics throughout its cinematic timeline that have since gained a cult following. From The Exorcist to The Evil Dead, a ton of great stateside films have become staples in the horror film genre. But what about those great memorable horror films from other countries that don’t get quite the recognition they deserve statesode? The U.S. is far from the only country to dominate the cinema world, and that includes the horror niche.
This list of the sixteen best horror films from across the globe focuses on international masterpieces that aren’t just scary; they’re also incredibly well-written and entertaining. We looked for things like original stories, good acting, and unique concepts as well.
There are a few spoilers ahead, so proceed with caution!
Get ready to turn on the subtitles and check out The 16 Best International Horror Films of All Time.
16. I saw the devil – South Korea
Kim Jee-woon, the brain behind the spooky drama A Tale of Two Sisters, really outdid himself with this 2010 psychological horror film.
In I Saw The Devil, an NIS agent named Soo-hyun embarks on the dark path of revenge after his fiancee is violently murdered by a psychopathic serial killer named Kyung-chul. The cat-and-mouse game that ensues is far from what you typically see in serial killer films. At times it is difficult to decide which one of the men are more terrifying and the film makes the viewer wonder just how capable people can be of terrible things when they are pushed too far. The film sucks you in pretty quickly and is surprisingly action-packed for a psychological horror film.
I Saw The Devil also co-stars Choi Min-sik from Oldboy and Lee Byung-hun from The Magnificent Seven. These two talented actors work fantastically together in this film, and really make the movie enticing and emotional draining.
15. Goodnight Mommy – Austria
Goodnight Mommy seems to have all the staple ingredients of an incredibly creepy film. There’s the twin children, the faceless enigmatic source of fear, and the unsettling soundtrack. But what makes this 2014 Austrian psychological horror film so immensely spooky and entertaining isn’t just these run-of-the-mill horror tropes– this film keeps you guessing uncomfortably at every moment and has quite the twist ending.
The film centers around the idea of the very real Capgras delusion— the unsubstantiated (or in Goodnight Mommy’s case, very substantiated) belief that a friend, partner, spouse, family member, or even pet has been replaced by an identical and often menacing imposter. In Goodnight Mommy, two twin boys feel an unnerving energy from their mother, who has arrived home after being in the hospital for facial plastic surgery. Her face is bandaged for most of the film and the boys are convinced that she is not their mother.
14. The Babadook – Australia
Australia’s known for its own brand of gritty filmmaking with such gems as Mad Max: Fury Road and The Proposition. The Babadook is a testament to Australia’s underrated film industry, with a little less grit and a lot more terror. We also can’t deny that the directing world is a boy’s club– Jennifer Kent, Babadook’s director, challenges that club with her brilliant directorial debut.
In The Babadook, we follow a single mother named Amelia who struggles to care for her young troubled son. Since the death of her son’s father on the day he was born, Amelia has had trouble sleeping. She sleeps even less once she finds a mysterious storybook in her son’s room that tells a disturbing story that seems to be coming to life.
There’s an enormous amount of symbolism in The Babadook and it is done so well it’s baffling. This film has the perfect combination of horror, sadness, hope, and humor that makes it one of those rare horror films that you can watch more than once and still be very entertained.
13. High Tension – France
France is known for its sensuous and dramatic filmmaking, and French director Alexandre Aja managed to combine that typical French feel into a downright terrifying and gory horror film with this 2003 horror classic. The special effects makeup was done by famed horror makeup artist Giannetto De Rossi, known for his work in Dune and Rambo III.
In High Tension, we follow a woman named Marie and her friend Alex as they travel to Alex’s parents’ home for a weekend of stress-free studying. Things go awry pretty quickly when a serial killer shows up and butchers Alex’s family. What ensues is a psychological experience that keeps you wondering who the serial killer is and if all of the events of the film are actually just Marie’s hallucination.
High Tension definitely has its less-than-savory tropes, especially when it comes to Marie’s sapphic obsession with her friend. However, the film was very well-done and the makeup effects are a testament to De Rossi’s abilities.
12. The Eye – Hong Kong/Singapore
This is one of several international horror films on this list that has seen quite a few remakes for various audiences around the world. The Eye has had three, in fact, but none of them compare to the original 2002 film.
In The Eye, a young blind violinist named Mun receives a long-awaited cornea transplant. As she heals from her surgery and begins to finally be able to see, she realizes that something is very, very wrong. She sees shadowy figures and demonic presences that accompany living people shortly before they die, and nobody can see them but her. It gets even more insidious as Mun, accompanied by a psychologist, travels to Northern Thailand to find the family of the dead woman whose eyes Mun now has.
11. The Orphanage – Spain
Guillermo de Toro has done what a lot famous filmmakers should do after they gain a certain amount of success– he co-produced a few fantastic indie international films, without taking creative control of the projects, and slapped his name on the posters in order to get them noticed commercially. One of those films is this 2007 Spanish horror film from J.A. Bayona.
In The Orphanage, Laura (played by the talented Belén Rueda), accompanied by her husband and adopted son Simón, returns to the orphanage she grew up in. She initially plans to reopen the facility as a home for disabled children. While there, Simón goes missing and the police’s trail to find him goes cold. As Laura digs more into the history of the orphanage and the people connected to her and the facility, she uncovers something grizzly that may be behind Simón’s disappearance. The twist ending is heart-wrenching but wonderfully done.
10. Baskin – Turkey
Be warned: This 2015 surreal horror film is not for the faint of heart.
In Baskin, we meet five Turkish police officers of varying ages and personalities in a dark restaurant. We also meet an ominous hooded figure that seems to lurk around the restaurant as well. The group gets a distress call from the village of Inceagac and quickly drive there in their van, but on the way accidentally hit a bloody figure and drive straight into a riverbed. After escaping the van, the group discovers that Inceagac seems to be two places at once– one of this world, and the other resembling something like Hell.
For being an independently financed film, Baskin‘s visuals– from the gore to the use of lighting is impeccable– not to mention, the entirety of the film was shot during the night. It’s also one of only eight Turkish films to ever be released in the U.S.
This unsettling and depraved film masters both terror and surrealist concepts. If you’re not a fan of shock or gore, steer clear of Baskin. If you can stomach that, it is definitely worth watching once for its interesting plot and cinematography.
9. Ringu – Japan
Japanese cinema has produced a ton of classic films known around the world. For newer generations, Ringu is a staple of Japanese cinema. Many Western audiences know of Ringu from its 2002 remake starring Naomi Watts. It has spawned several sequels, remakes, sequels to remakes, video games, and crossover media pieces, but none match the original 1998 film by Hideo Nakata.
In Ringu, a reporter named Reiko discovers that her niece has died following the viewing of a mysterious “cursed” videotape. She falls down a rabbit hole of conspiracy and supernatural terror after finding the tape and watching it herself. Once finished with the disturbing tape, viewers receive a terrifying call from a young girl’s distorted voice saying “seven days“. Reiko has seven days to break the curse on her and ultimately on her son, and she enlists the help of her ex-husband. Ringu did something so new and so different with its brand of supernatural curse horror, and it remains as entertaining and spooky today as it was in the ’90s.
8. Let The Right One In – Sweden
This 2008 romantic horror film directed by Tomas Alfredson isn’t quite what you’d expect from a romantic vampire movie. This isn’t Twilight, kids. In fact, it is really unnerving and very psychological.
In Let The Right One In, we meet a little boy named Oskar who struggles with his parents’ separation and the bullying he endures at school in 1980s Stockholm. On one particular night, he meets what appears to be a little girl named Eli, who is pales-skinned and slightly unsettling. They become friends quickly and Eli inspires Oskar to stand up to his bullies. From then on, Oskar begins to discover stranger and stranger things about Eli and eventually discovers she’s far from human at all.
Let The Right One In was such a refreshing and haunting transition out of typical campy vampire horror films and romantic vampire flicks. The film was remade for Western audiences several years ago, but the remake skipped some important details of the original.
7. Shutter – Thailand
Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom’s 2004 Thai horror film Shutter was one of the horror films that started the trend of technology-based horror themes, in this case with photography. The film was remade in 2008, and like most of the films on this list, the original was more of an experience.
In Shutter, a young photographer named Tun is involved in an accident with his friend Jane after a night of drinking when Jane accidentally runs over a young woman. Fearful of the repercussions, Tun forces Jane to drive away from the scene of the crime and flee, leaving the injured girl behind. From then on Tun begins to see distorted white figures in his photographs and develops sharp pains in his neck. The haunting gets increasingly worse as Tun’s friends begin to kill themselves and the secrets that he’s been hiding meet the truth of the crime that the pair committed.
6. REC – Spain
You can’t have a list of awesome horror movies without a few great zombie films thrown in. This 2007 film from Juame Balaguero and Paco Plaza is one of the best zombie movies out there. Despite initially seeming like your average found footage or mockumentary horror film, it has some of the most memorable and disturbing scenes in Spanish cinema. The film was remade in the U.S. as Quarantine and has had several sequels.
In REC, a reporter named Angela visits a fire station during the night shift for a documentary. After the firemen receive an emergency call to an elderly woman’s house, Angela and her cameraman tag along to get an in-depth look at what the local firemen do. What started as a sort-of adventurous night turns into a nightmare when the old woman attacks the firemen and the military shows up to quarantine the home with Angela inside.
5. Ju-On: The Grudge – Japan
Western audiences got a taste of The Grudge in 2004 with an Americanized remake that managed to maintain the essence of the story’s original Japanese charm. The original film was a bit grittier than the remake.
In Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on: The Grudge, a young caregiver named Rika begins to uncover a curse that plagues her client’s home through generations of different families. She is haunted by the ghost of a little boy and his cat, as well as the long-haired woman who so famously made the vocal “death rattle” in the film. These ghosts are not so much your typical spiritual entities as they are the personified manifested remnants of strong, violent emotions experienced by the home’s original family.
4. Inside – France
If you think pregnancy is kind of spooky in its own way, this 2007 home invasion horror film will make you even more uncomfortable about it.
In Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s Inside, we meet a young woman named Sarah who is pregnant and alone on Christmas Eve. Several months earlier, Sarah was involved in a serious car accident that killed her husband and nearly claimed the life of her unborn baby. With her due date close and her depression at its worst, Sarah spends the night alone at her home. But she is not as alone as she thinks. What ensues is a terrifying, psychological journey as Sarah fights for her life against the nameless invader, known only as “La Femme”, who seeks to steal the baby in her womb.
Inside is a rare horror film that uses pregnancy as a plot device without relying on typical pregnancy tropes such as possessed fetuses and manages to create something truly thrilling from beginning to end.
3. Suspiria – Italy
This 1977 horror film that was directed by Dario Argento is widely known for its captivating cinematography, prog-rock score, fabulous lead actresses, and wild use of bright colors typically unfit for the average horror film.
A young American ballerina named Suzy is Suspiria‘s main protagonist. She arrives in Munich to attend the prestigious Tanz Dance Academy. She arrives during the night in a thunderstorm and finds herself unable to get into the building. As she arrives, a young woman named Pat runs frantically from the school and into the darkness. After Pat is later violently murdered by a dark cloaked figure, Suzy begins to discover secrets about the school that Pat had also discovered, but far too late. Suspiria is witchy, spooky, a little gory, and visually stunning.
2. Nosferatu – Germany
Also known around the world as Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, this 1922 German Expressionist horror film was directed by F.W. Murnau and is considered to be one of the original classic vampire films. The film is an unauthorized adaptation of Dracula, with only names and small details changed.
Nosferatu is by no means your modern sparkling sensual vampire with perfect hair. He isn’t all that similar to popular adaptations of Dracula, either, which typically depict him as an entrancing, aristocratic sex symbol. Nosferatu’s appearance is actually pretty horrifying, a true testament to special effects makeup available in the 1920s. Appearances aside, Nosferatu is an absolutely fantastic film despite its age– and despite the fact that it is a silent film. Don’t let it put you off; Nosferatu is a classic worth watching.
Fans of The Witch may be pleased to know that Robert Eggers may be directing a remake of the classic Nosferatu.
1. Julia’s Eyes – Spain
The last Spanish film on this list comes from director Guillem Morales and is yet another fantastic film produced by Guillermo del Toro. Honestly, if del Toro’s films could be reduced to horror alone, he’d have a few entries on this list as well.
Julia’s Eyes (also known as Los Ojos De Julia) follows the story of a partially-blind woman named Sarah who is mourning the death of her fully-blind twin sister. Sarah is suspicious from the start about her sister’s apparent suicide, despite her husband’s reminders that stress could trigger her blindness to accelerate to her sister’s level. It eventually does, but being blind is the least of Sarah’s problems once she uncovers the truth about what happened to her twin.
Julia’s Eyes is one of the most unique horror films of the past few decades that took a spin on concepts of blindness and loneliness that hadn’t really been done before.
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