In my most humble opinion, foreigners can do modern horror better than any English-speaking country. The recent French wave of horror has been an absolute delight, giving us some of the greatest ever scary movies to cherish. France isn't the only country giving us true horror classics though: Spain, Japan and Korea aren't far behind. Now, some readers may be subtitle-a-phobes but don't worry, I don't judge you. The reason for this is that I (ashamedly) used to be one of them. I wouldn't give subtitles a chance, because I was convinced that reading subtitles would detract from the film itself.
However, I can confirm that this is a myth. If a film is particularly enthralling, then you're guaranteed to not even notice the subtitles scrolling along the bottom the screen. I urge anyone with subtitle-a-phobia to give foreign films a chance. I should note that I'm not counting films from the UK as I'm from there, thus don't consider these films foreign. If I did, then Eden Lake and Kill List would undoubtedly be up there! So without further ado, let's delve into the mystic and terrifying world of foreign horror.
10. Battle Royale
Battle Royale is a film famously heralded by Quentin Tarantino as his favorite of the decade, and it's easy to see why! Kinji Fukasaku seemed to be drinking the same stuff that Tarantino drank when making this Japanese magnum opus. It's full of visual flourishes and has a style not dissimilar to Quentin's very own martial-arts masterpiece, Kill Bill Vol.1. The movie supposedly symbolizes the transition from high school to the cut-throat world of work in Japan. It takes the truly original (and highly entertaining) premise of using a class of school kids to battle it out on an island with various weapons until only one is left. It thought-provokingly pits friend against friend and throws in a couple of psychopaths for good measure. Battle Royale is a darkly comic and gripping affair that somehow manages to perfectly balance a cast of twenty young actors and makes you care for each and every one of them, no matter how long their screen time is. That's something which most films only use 2 or 3 central characters fail to do.
9. Satan (Sheitan)
Some may regard this as an odd choice and I wouldn't argue with that, however for me, Satan hits all of the right buttons (I hope that didn't come across as weird! :S). The opening of the film features a DJ speaking directly to the audience and asking, 'are you ready for this'? Unless you've decided to ruin everything for yourself by reading the plot on Wikipedia (why would you do that?) you never really will be. Satan is a deranged and genuinely frightening journey. Vincent Cassel gives a madly unhinged performance which is hilarious at the start, but terrifying by the end! I don't want to spoil the film for anyone who hasn't seen it as I believe it's the sort of film you shouldn't know anything about before viewing. Suffice to say it's a slow-burning slasher film with a difference, and with a lot of tension to spare. I can't promise that you'll like it, but I can promise that the final shot will haunt you for the rest of your life.
It's worth your attention.
Found footage seems like a tired formula by now, however when [REC] came out it was a relatively new format and has yet to be beaten. [REC] is a short, sharp and hugely effective shot of adrenaline straight to the heart. The film takes place in the claustrophobic setting of an apartment complex where the residents have somehow been infected by a zombie virus. The found footage element works incredibly well, putting the viewer straight into the action. It's also full of nerve-shredding tension and a finale I still find hard to watch, not because it's gory or anything, but because it's unbelievably tense and frightening. Be sure to check out [REC] before you check out the inferior American remake, Quarantine.
What's there to say about Oldboy that hasn't been said already? For those of you who have yet to see this Korean gem, you're in for a treat. It follows a man who is imprisoned for 15 years in a strange room that looks like a cross between a prison and hotel room. He is then released and has 5 days to track down his vengeful captor. What unfolds is a gripping, stylish and dazzling journey that grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go. It has an absorbing and utterly shocking finale, as well as possibly the greatest fight scene ever captured on film. Be sure to check out Chan-wook Park's original before that remake rears its ugly head. Korea knows how to make some of the finest revenge films and this is one of them...
6. I Saw The Devil
...and this one is even finer! Most will probably disagree with me, but I think I Saw The Devil is even better than Oldboy. Whilst some might not regard Oldboy as a horror movie, most would surely see I Saw The Devil as one. It follows a psychotic serial killer who makes the mistake of brutally murdering a policeman's girlfriend. The policeman then goes on a dazzling quest for revenge you're not likely to forget in a hurry. I Saw The Devil features some of the greatest directional sequences I've ever seen. There's a jaw-dropping 360 degree taxi kill, an electrifying first encounter and a tension-filled battle at a psycho's farm house. Oh, and did I forget to mention a hugely emotional and intense finale? It's a masterpiece featuring dizzying action and a gripping plot. This is cinema at its most exciting.
5. Let The Right One In
Let The Right One In (or LTROI for short) is the only Swedish film on my list, but if there's one Swedish film you see, make it this one. LTROI is a beautifully crafted and haunting love story, with a twist. It's a love story between two children, and one of them is a vampire. What?! I hear you cry, isn't that just a Swedish version of Twilight? Well how dare you, I cry back! LTROI spits on Twilight, stamps on it, throws it onto a bed of nails and flushes it down the dirtiest toilet imaginable. Whilst Twilight glamorizes the idea of being a vampire, by making everyone young and sexy (or at least they try to be), LTROI shows the true hardship of being a vampire. There are lots of long, static shots to evoke a sense of realism, and are also pretty emotional. The central love story is so sweet that you can't help but find yourself invested. The film also features some very grisly scenes, the peak being an incredibly directed swimming pool shocker! I'm not the biggest vampire fan, but this is something very special indeed.
For some reason Frontier(s) seems to get quite a lot of hate. People say it's a boring and predictable knock-off of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, however I disagree. Whilst Frontier(s) does contain a deranged cannibal family picking off young adults, it also features a whole host of other delicious elements to create one of the best slashers ever made. Frontier(s) isn't a rip-off of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes and Hostel, it's better than all three. Frontier(s) is a French gem by underrated director Xavier Gens, who also more recently crafted the brilliant The Divide. To me, Frontier(s) is an intense horror rollercoaster which every horror fan should cherish. It's not afraid to push the boundaries of horror like most American horror movies. By the end of the movie, I feel emotionally drained and could almost burst into tears. It's such an exhausting journey of survival that also features a kick-ass girl who goes on an exhilarating quest for revenge. The film is much more intelligent than your average slasher due to the use of complex characters, a political undercurrent and an unforgettable Nazi villain. Also, the film contains my favorite movie death scene (you'll know when you see it). I think Frontier(s) is a masterpiece, but you may disagree.
3. The Ordeal (Calvaire)
We head to Belgium now with another controversial pick. The Ordeal, like Frontier(s), is often wrongly described as a rip-off of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Straw Dogs due to its creepy wooded setting. However, The Ordeal is really a different kind of beast altogether. I'm confident that I could write a 10 page essay on this atmospheric movie, describing why it's one of the greatest movies ever made and enjoy writing it. I don't want to go too much into the plot because experiencing it without knowing anything is a truly memorable experience. All you need to know plot-wise is that it's about a singer's car that breaks down in the woods. It's safe to say that what follows is a genuinely scary (not many films can scare me, but this one did), unsettling and disturbing ride which you're not likely to forget in a hurry. It's so packed with memorable scenes and moments that I don't know why it's not considered a horror classic. Fabrice Du Welz has crafted something truly brilliant, with a fantastic central performance by Laurent Lucas. What's truly scary is how it leaves you with so many disturbing questions, and almost no answers. The film is not dissimilar to something created by David Lynch, due to its nightmarish atmosphere and dizzying directing. So ,if you're in the mood for something different, why not give The Ordeal a try? It's chillingly ambiguous ending and final line of dialogue will stay with me forever.
My final 2 picks are pretty interchangeable as they're both of such a high quality, yet both are so different. Martyrs is either an absolutely-love-it kind of film, or an absolutely-despise-it kind of film, it all depends on whether you allow it to effect you or not. Just like The Ordeal and Satan, the less you know about Pascal Laugier's masterpiece the better. I see it as a sort of serious version of The Cabin in the Woods in the way that it plays with your expectations of the horror genre. The film completely changes direction at least four times, and two of these times are in the first 20 minutes. Martyrs is an absolutely gripping and shocking film that is not for the faint-hearted. It's quite possibly the most disturbing movie I've seen, and I've seen quite a lot of disturbing movies in my short and unfulfilled life. It hits you on an extremely deep and emotional level, whilst also delivering some of the most gruesome and disturbing shocks ever committed to film. The final 30 minutes are notoriously difficult to watch, but you'll be glad that you did. Martyrs is one of those rare torture-porn movies that uses violence for a reason and shows it realistically, for what it really is. I could go on about Martyrs all day, but I won't because I'm sure that you're all busy people. It also has one of the most heart-breaking musical scores I've ever heard.
We stay in France for my number one pick; horror duo Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury's, Inside. The only people who should not see this film are those of a nervous disposition, and those who are pregnant. Inside tells the terrifying story of a madly psychotic woman (played with chilling insanity by Beatrice Dalle) who decides to cut open a woman's pregnant stomach on Christmas Eve. So, Inside is clearly the perfect Christmas movie for the whole family! So why is it my number one? Probably because it's the most nail-bitingly intense 80 minutes I've ever sat through, that's why! The film builds a hellish atmosphere for the first half hour or so before the head-spinning carnage ensues with chilling images of Beatrice Dalle stealthily standing behind a heavily pregnant Alysson Paradis while holding a large pair of scissors, which is sure to chill you to the bone. The film largely takes place within the claustrophobic confines of a small house and is full of eye watering suspense and an unholy amount of blood to create, quite simply, one of the greatest horror films of all time. It also uses plenty of unsettling electronic music. The haunting final image has stayed with me to this day. It's a masterpiece of terror which you're likely not to forget in a hurry.
Here is where we part. I hope you enjoyed my list. There are so many foreign films I admire so I've decided to put together a rather lengthy honorable mentions at the bottom of this post.
Honourable Mentions: The Orphanage, High Tension, A Tale of Two Sisters, Time Crimes, Noroi: The Curse, Antibodies, The Skin I Live In, Three Extremes, Audition, The Divide, 5150 Elm's Way, Confessions, 7 Days, Julia's Eyes, Funny Games, The Horde, Ab-normal Beauty, Bloody Reunion, Dream Home, Macabre Livid, Pulse, Phenomena, Bird With the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red.