I love scary movies. Although I’ll watch a shitty B-horror movie from time to time or give a more mainstream movie a chance (some are actually very good and have made it onto this list), I typically gravitate toward foreign horror/thriller films.
I’m not going to pretend that every foreign horror movie is amazing, though. There are some real duds out there (I’m looking at you, Sheitan and Calvaire!). However, in order for me to consider a horror movie “great,” it needs to do the following:
- Scare the shit out of me.
- Leave an impression on me by presenting images and/or forcing me to feel things that I can’t immediately shake once the movie is over. Bonus points if I still think about it years later.
- Have an interesting plot or twist that sets it apart from other horror movies.
And, for whatever reason, more foreign horror movies have fulfilled these three requirements than their American counterparts.
Before I get to the list (and at the risk of sounding like a total bitch), I do want to say that I really dislike when people refuse to watch foreign films because they “don’t want to read the movie.” If you’re one of these people, you probably won’t like many of the movies I’m including in this list.
Reading subtitles has never interfered with my enjoyment of a movie. It’s honestly not difficult to keep up with the words on the screen while watching the action. I’ve never seen a movie that flashed the subtitles so quickly that I couldn’t catch what was being said. I mean, if you don’t like that sort of thing, fine. But if you just think you wouldn’t like it, I urge you to give it a chance. I especially urge you to watch one of the movies on this list if you’re a fan of horror/thrillers … You may just have a new scary movie to add to your own list of favorites.
The Divulge and Indulge Guide to the Best Scary Movies
1. Them (Ils)
This is one of the first foreign horror films I recommend when people ask for suggestions. It’s not quite as “extreme” as some of the others that will make an appearance on this list, but it’s incredibly effective. I find home invasion movies especially terrifying, and Ils was no exception. It’s supposedly based on true events, and though that may or may not be true, the plot twist (which I refuse to spoil!) just made my skin crawl. I watched it 4 or 5 years ago, and I still think about it from time to time.
2. Inside (À l’intérieur)
I would not recommend this movie if you fall under any of the following categories: you (or your significant other) are pregnant, you dislike gory movies, and/or you have a weak stomach. This movie is ridiculously fucked up, but it’s still one of the best horror movies I’ve ever seen. Inside also utilizes the home invasion theme, but takes it up a notch (or fifteen). Following a tragic accident, a newly widowed woman is terrorized in her home by another woman who will stop at nothing to get her unborn baby. One scene in particular has literally haunted me for years. (And, if you’ve seen it, I’m actually not talking about the ending.) I remember watching and just staring at the screen with my mouth hanging wide open. I’m pretty sure I also started crying because it got to me that much. I know I’m probably not making this sound at all appealing, but trust me … If you like really fucked up horror movies, you need to watch this.
3. I Saw the Devil
I wasn’t sure if this should make the list simply because I consider it more of a “crime thriller” versus a “horror film.” Although it didn’t scare the shit out of me, it was definitely suspenseful enough to keep me on the edge of my seat. It also had an interesting plot and more than a few scenes that really stuck with me (particularly the brilliant ending) … So I figured it deserved a spot here. It’s kind of a long movie (almost 2.5 hours) with more than a few horrifyingly brutal moments, but it’s definitely worth watching.
4. The Vanishing (Spoorloos)
This is also more of a thriller than a true horror movie, but it will get under your skin. It’s not gory at all, so it’s perfect for someone who might typically be turned off by that sort of thing. The Vanishing is a powerful film that forces you to consider how far you’d go to find out what happened when the person you love goes missing. If you decide to check this one out, please make sure you’re watching the original 1988 version (not the American remake). Although I haven’t seen the remake, various reviews have made it clear that the filmmakers decided to take a more “Hollywood” approach (basically watering down the story and making the ending much less effective).
5. High Tension (Haute Tension)
I strongly suggest going into this film with little to no knowledge of the plot. I think you can still enjoy it even if you’ve come across spoilers and know what the twist is, but it’s definitely more fun if you have no clue what’s coming next. This is another intense French film filled with gore (similar to Inside), and many of the scenes will stick with you years later.
6. The Seasoning House
I just watched this movie last week, and I can’t stop thinking about it. The material is incredibly bleak and is, at times, extremely uncomfortable to watch. And while The Seasoning House probably won’t scare the shit out of you (this is another movie I’d consider more “thriller” than “horror”), it’s definitely an effective film (particularly when it comes to feelings of panic and claustrophobia). The movie grabbed my attention from the beginning, using haunting imagery and slowly piecing together the main character’s story through the use of flashbacks. And Rosie Day (the actress playing the main character) is fucking amazing. Her character, Angel, is deaf and mute, but Day manages to give an incredibly convincing and passionate performance without uttering a single word. All of the characters also speak English (though the movie is set in the Balkans), so it may be a more attractive choice for those who don’t like reading subtitles.
7. The Conjuring
This is another movie supposedly based on true events. I don’t know how much is fact and how much is fiction, but I will say that this movie definitely met all three of my aforementioned criteria for a great horror movie. In fact, just looking at the stills to find a good picture for this post made my heart race … The images brought back memories of the movie, and reminded me why it deserves a spot on this list. I recently tried to explain this movie to a friend who hadn’t seen it, and I realized there was no way to describe it without making it sound dumb (and like pretty much every other haunted house horror movie out there). If you haven’t seen this, though, you need to … It’s so much more than your average scary movie.
8. 28 Days Later …
I’m pretty sure everyone has probably seen this movie by now, but it deserves a spot on this list anyway. I saw this movie when it was originally released in the theater, and I’ve seen it numerous times since then (I have it on DVD). Although the ending is a little “meh” for me, I love everything else about this film. One of my favorite things about it is the fact that it’s not just a typical zombie movie. (I actually don’t like zombie stuff that much.) The other thing I love about it is that it has characters that you actually learn to care about (which is more than I can say for a lot of horror movies). Without giving anything away (just in case you haven’t seen it yet), I cry pretty much every time I watch Jim in his childhood home … It just completely breaks my heart. If you’ve never seen this movie, please do yourself a favor and watch it immediately.
I admit it: I loved Saw. I haven’t seen all of the sequels (and the ones I did see were either not very good or just okay), but I thought the original was fantastic. I actually went into it thinking it was probably overrated and that it wouldn’t scare me at all … And then I watched it. I think the concept is really what got to me. The idea that someone could be out there, watching me, knowing that, as someone who struggles with depression, I often take my life for granted really freaked me out. I was living alone when I first saw this movie, and I remember very clearly coming home from work every night and checking all of the closets, under the bed, and behind the shower curtain before I could relax. I knew it was just a movie, but at the time I watched it, I was extremely depressed … So I couldn’t shake the fear that someone (obviously not Jigsaw, but someone with similar ideas) might be waiting for me to come home to “teach me a lesson.” This movie hit really close to home, and, because of that, I found it terrifying.
10. Audition (Ôdishon)
Audition was one of the first Asian horror movies I watched, and it definitely sparked my interest in seeing more. The concept was interesting (a widower holds an “audition” for a new wife, and he becomes fascinated with a woman who isn’t quite what she seems), and the film was (at least in my opinion) not simply made for shock value. It’s actually pretty tame when compared with some of Takashi Miike’s other work. (Don’t believe me? Watch Visitor Q. It’s not really a horror film, but it’s fucking disturbing and disgusting. I will not be seeing that one again!) While I didn’t find Audition to be the scariest movie out there, it’s deeply unsettling and not something you’ll easily forget.
11. Let the Right One In (Låt den Rätte Komma In)
I really struggled with whether or not to include Let the Right One In on this list. To me, it’s more of a drama than a horror or thriller. However, because the film’s main focus is vampires and because some of the scenes are rather brutal, I felt like it deserved a spot here. I haven’t seen the American remake, so I honestly don’t know how the two compare. I will say, though, that the Swedish version is darkly beautiful and, in many ways, quite sad. I’ve seen this movie a few times, and it never fails to leave an impression.
12. The Exorcist
I’ve always been pretty freaked out by the concept of demonic possession, but The Exorcist is the one film I’ve seen on that topic that really got under my skin. I was initially worried that the special effects would seem ridiculous so many years after the film’s release, but they really didn’t. I was completely drawn into the story, and haven’t forgotten it years later. This is truly a must see for any horror fan.
13. The Girl Next Door
The Girl Next Door is not for the faint of heart. I can stomach a lot, but this movie depicted so much intense brutality that even I found it difficult to watch. That being said, this movie is fucking scary. It’s loosely based on true events (the film An American Crime is based on the same story, and though I haven’t seen it, all reviews tend to imply that it’s more factual than The Girl Next Door), and I think that makes it even more sickening (if that’s possible). If you do choose to watch this one, please be warned: the images of torture and abuse are not easy to forget. Trust me … I still think about this movie, and I watched it several years ago. I’m not sure I could handle watching it again.
I was initially going to try to list at least 15 movies here, but I think this list is sufficient. There were some movies I considered adding (and some that made this list that definitely didn’t meet all of my criteria for a great horror film), but in the end, these seemed like the best choices.
I don’t often get many comments on this blog, but if you’ve seen any of these, I’d love to know what you think about them. I’d also be open to any horror/thriller movie recommendations … So feel free to share those as well!