The best horror movies tap into fears that get under everyone's skin. And while there are plenty of stateside flicks to satisfy your bloodlust, sometimes you're in the mood for a fresh kind of scare. That's why we collected our favorite foreign horror movies.
The international horror scene is rife with killer options for every kind of genre fan, from the influential Italian Gothic chiller Black Sunday to modern-day monsters like South Korea’s The Host or Australia's The Babadook. So get ready for a terrifying trip around the world with the best foreign horror movies. After all, a blood-curdling scream sounds the same in every language.
El espinazo del diablo / The Devil’s Backbone
No one conjures horror quite like Guillermo del Toro. The Academy Award-winning filmmaker behind Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water blends dark fantasy and wonder into his nightmarish visions, often heightening the experience by shooting from a child’s-eye view. In del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone, 12-year-old Carlos is sent to a remote orphanage after his father dies in the Spanish Civil War. But dark secrets haunt the orphanage’s halls and underground rooms—including reports of a child ghost named Santi.
El Orfanto / The Orphanage
In this Spanish horror film from 2007, Laura returns to the orphanage of her childhood with her husband and their adopted son, Simon. She plans to breathe new life into the shuttered building by turning it into a facility for disabled children. Not long after arriving, however, Simon begins communicating with a spectral friend—and then goes missing.
Låt den rätte komma in / Let the Right One In
Based on the 2004 novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist (who doubled as the film’s screenwriter), this icy vampire tale from Sweden set the horror world on fire in 2008. Young Oskar, bullied by the other children, finds a dark soulmate in the form of Eli: a pale and mysterious child from next door who possesses an insatiable thirst for blood.
Ōdishon / Audition
Years after his wife’s death, widower Shigeharu Aoyama is persuaded by his son to begin dating again. With the help of a film producer friend, they host sham auditions to find Aoyama’s new partner. The widower quickly falls for the beguiling Asami, but what begins as creepy courtship twists into a waking nightmare of blood and gore. Trust us: Keep your remote handy for the wicked final act.
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Under the Shadow
Set against the backdrop of the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, Under the Shadow blends psychological chills with real-life terror to frightening effect. Shideh strives to maintain a sense of normalcy for her daughter in war-torn Tehran. The conflict rages outside their window—and rains down from above when a missile crashes through the ceiling of their apartment building. Incredibly, the missile fails to detonate. Yet it still unleashes chaos. A malevolent presence now moves through the building and it threatens to destroy all those left behind.
Busanhaeng / Train to Busan
Flesh-eating zombies on a high-speed train—what more do you need? A band of terrified passengers on a bullet train in Busan smash and hack their way through the clamoring zombie hordes in this 2016 high-octane horror thriller from South Korea. Viewers hungry for more gory outbreak fare should check out the 2007 Spanish found footage horror, [REC].
Ils / Them
Lock your doors. Fans of home invasion flicks like The Strangers or Michael Haneke’s Funny Games will find much to love in this French-Romanian horror from 2006. Clémentine and Lucas live in a charming country house outside Bucharest, Romania. All seems idyllic ... at first. But when the sun sets, masked intruders emerge from the shadows and begin terrorizing the unsuspecting couple.
Ich seh, Ich seh / Goodnight Mommy
How well do you know those closest to you? This dread-steeped horror from Austria follows Elias and Lukas, twin brothers who do everything together. When their mother returns to their isolated home after extensive cosmetic surgery, her face is swathed in bandages. The boys are disturbed by her appearance, and even more so by her uncharacteristic behavior. Soon, the boys suspect the bandaged figure is not their mother at all, but is actually an imposter.
À l'intérieur / Inside
This nerve-racking horror from 2007, associated with the New French Extremity subgenre, severely ratchets up the stakes of the traditional slasher flick. Sarah is an expectant mother whose life is shattered when a car crash claims her husband’s life. She struggles with her grief as the birth of her child nears. But on Christmas Eve, a menacing woman enters Sarah’s home—and she’s dead-set on claiming Sarah’s unborn child for herself.
Akmareul Boatda / I Saw the Devil
Director Kim Jee-woon delivers a twisted tale of revenge in this South Korean serial killer thriller from 2010. A brutal murderer is on the loose, eluding authorities and leaving a trail of gore in his wake. When Joo-yeon becomes the killer’s latest victim, the victim’s fiancée, NIS agent Kim Soo-hyun, sets out to capture the killer. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to attain vengeance—even if it means becoming a monster himself.
This extreme horror flick, also associated with the New French Extremity subgenre, split critics upon its release in 2008. The film’s graphic scenes of torture and depravity repulsed some, while others saw the unyielding violence as integral to the film’s impact. In any case, we suspect you now know whether Martyrs is your grisly cup of tea. Lucie and Anna, two young women with deeply traumatic pasts, set out to exact revenge. Blood-spattered mayhem ensues, peeling back a reality beyond their darkest imaginings.
Janghwa, Hongryeon / A Tale of Two Sisters
Inspired by a Korean folktale, this 2003 psychological horror from Kim Jee-woon casts a dark and disturbing spell. After an extended hospital stay, sisters Su-mi and Su-yeon return to their father’s country estate. Their father, a widower, has remarried, and the sisters do not get along with their cruel stepmother. But as Su-mi and Su-yeon try to adjust to life at the gloomy home, sinister events threaten to consume the family, culminating in a shocking revelation. The film is currently available for instant streaming with a Shudder subscription.
Los ojos de Julia / Julia’s Eyes
You’ll want to leave the lights on after watching this 2010 Spanish horror produced by Guillermo del Toro. Julia’s twin sister Sara is dead. Officials rule it a suicide, but Julia suspects a sinister force took her sister’s life. As she strives to make sense her sister’s mysterious end, a degenerative disease slowly claims Julia’s sight. Each day grows darker—and who knows what lurks in the gloom.
Goksung / The Wailing
Ghosts, demons, murder and more descend upon a mountain village in this riveting South Korean horror from 2016. Soon after a stranger arrives in the remote village of Goksung, a mysterious sickness spreads among the villagers—one that sends the infected into a murderous rage. Jong-goo, a policeman, investigates the sinister case. But when his daughter falls under the spell of the spreading darkness, he must track down the cause before it’s too late.
Ringu / Ring
Released in 1998, Ringu helped ignite the J-horror craze at the turn of the 21st century. It spread from its native Japan much like the cursed videotape at the heart of its narrative–by word of mouth. Decades later, it remains one of modern horror’s most unsettling visions.
A journalist named Reiko investigates a cursed videotape said to kill a viewer seven days after watching it. When Reiko witnesses the footage herself, she must unravel the truth behind the tape before her seven days are up. Ringu is currently unavailable for streaming, though you can purchase it in physical format. But never fear, a world of J-horror terror awaits for your instant viewing pleasure, from Ju-on: The Grudge and Kairo to 2002’s Dark Water directed by Ringu’s Hideo Nakata.
One could spend days sorting through the best Italian horror flicks, yet Dario Argento’s lurid masterpiece would still sit at the top of the bright and bloody heap. An American ballet dancer named Suzy travels to Germany to study at the illustrious Tanz Dance Academy. But after a series of brutal murders occur, it soon becomes clear that the academy is a front for something far more sinister. Visually dazzling and boasting a ghoulish soundtrack by Goblin, Suspiria is something every horror fan needs to see. The original Suspiria is currently available in Blu-ray and DVD. There are also plenty of other streaming Argento flicks to satisfy your dark desires, from Deep Red to Inferno.
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Les Yeux Sans Visage / Eyes without a Face
Released in 1960, this visually striking French horror is a dark treat for the eyes even as it turns your stomach. Dr. Génessier, a plastic surgeon, causes an accident that leaves his daughter disfigured and forced to wear a mask. Determined to remedy the trauma he inflicted upon his daughter, Génessier begins kidnapping women, slicing them up, and attempting to graft their surgically removed features onto his daughter’s face. Needless to say, the doctor’s twisted efforts do not go as planned.
Hausu / House
In a word: bonkers. A young girl nicknamed Gorgeous gathers six of her friends and visits her aunt’s old house in the country—only for each doomed visitor to meet a bizarre and terrifying end after entering the cursed estate. Gleefully demented, this surreal Japanese horror comedy failed to find an audience in 1977. It has since inspired a cult fanbase and is best enjoyed at a midnight showing in a movie theater full of horror maniacs.
Featured still from "El Orfanto" via Warner Bros. Pictures de Espana