Saturday, October 31, 2009

TOP 10: Foreign Horror

Happy Halloween! I knew with the dark holiday coming up that I wanted to do a top 10 of horror movies, but it seems like every film site everywhere does the same thing around this time of year. A person only cares to debate whether The Exorcist or Psycho is creepier so many times, so I decided to tweak the criteria a bit.

These are my 10 favorite foreign horror films. No matter what language you speak or what country you call home, these movies are guaranteed to inspire a few nightmares.

10. A Tale of Two Sisters

If you're planning on watching this one, be sure to make time to see it twice. This intriguing Korean ghost story has a shocker ending that'll have you rethinking everything you've just seen. When two sisters come home from the hospital after the death of their mother, they contend with two evils in their home - their bitter new stepmother and a vengeful spirit. It's a wonderful, somber movie about adolescence and mourning.

9. Nosferatu

This German silent film from F.W. Murnau is the original Dracula adaptation. The 1922 classic concerns a man named Thomas Hutter, who travels to Count Orlok's castle to sell him a house. But the monstrous man soon sets his sights (and his fangs) on Hutter and his loving wife. It may be mild by today's shocking standards, but an eerie, evil performance from Max Schrek as Orlok is still an unsettling and lasting image. It's a menacing tale that's still the definitive film version of Bram Stoker's classic story of death and decay.

8. Suspiria

Italian director Dario Argento was the undisputed master of horror when he made this classic in 1977. Suspiria tells the story of Susan, an American girl attending a famous school of dance in Europe. She's not there long before strange and unnatural occurances have her frightened and ill, and soon she discovers the school has long been a gathering place for a witches coven. Argento creates a surreal and chilling atmosphere and makes stomach-turning material more interesting than it has any right to be. And special kudos to Goblin's spine-tingling and relentless musical score.

7. Ringu

By now I'm sure you all know the story of Ringu. A cursed videotape seems to kill everyone who watches it after seven days. Reiko, a journalist, hears the urban myth of the tape and is drawn into the mystery of an otherworldly girl's death. Once she views the tape, she has one week to uncover the secrets surroundinng it in order to save her own life. One of the creepiest moments ever conceived and put on film is a girl's crawl from a well in the video and out of the television toward one of her victims. Thank goodness videotapes are pretty obsolete in this digital age, or I'd still be terrified every time I touched a VHS.

6. [REC]

Far and away one of the best zombie movies I've ever seen, [REC] takes the hand-held scare tactic - a tired device in horror films, if you ask me - and makes it into something new and thrilling. A Barcelona news reporter and her cameraman are on assignment filming a group of firemen, but suddenly find themselves quarantined in an apartment building where an unknown virus has turned residents into violent killers. Exceptional performances and an astonishing and unnerving ending turn this zombie flick into a must-watch horror gem.

5. The Devil's Backbone

There are some glaring similarities between Guillermo del Toro's 2001 gothic horror film and his sensational hit Pan's Labyrinth. His lead characters in both are children coping during the Spanish Civil War, with adversaries both real and supernatural. In The Devil's Backbone, Carlos is a young boy whose father has recently died in the war. He's taken in at the Santa Lucia School and soon meets the restless ghost of a murdered student. It's a compelling and convincing tale made with intelligence and ambition. A visually arresting and emotionally poignant ghost story that fits right in with del Toro's most beautiful and effective works.

4. Let the Right One In

Tomas Alfredson's brilliant vampire movie is more than a genre flick. It's a beautiful study of young friendship and the horrors of adolescence. A 12-year-old boy named Oskar is regularly bullied and friendless until Eli, also 12 and alone, moves is nextdoor. Her arrival coincides with a series of gruesome attacks, and though Oskar realizes there is something different about her, he befriends her. The loneliness they both feel is the only thing strong enough to unite them despite the vastly different worlds they inhabit. The film is a wonder to make a vampire movie and a tale of innocent childhood friendship fit together so beautifully.

3. Diabolique

As far as scares are concerned, Diabolique is relatively tame. But it's inarguable that French director Henri-Georges Clouzot was masterful with suspenseful thrillers. The film tells the story of two women - one the wife of a boarding school's brutish headmaster, the other his mistress - who bond over their apparent mutual hatred of the man and decide to do him in. The film is a masterpiece of deceit and double-crossings with a Hitchcockian flair that convinces you that you know where it's headed, only to yank the rug from under you time and time again.

2. Eyes Without a Face

Eyes Without a Face is a 1959 French film directed by Georges Franju. Its an elegant and subdued film with stunning and creepy visuals. A plastic surgeon becomes obsessed with fixing his daughter Christiane's horribly disfigured face. He and his nurse conspire to fix her by kidnapping other young women and removing their faces. It's wonderfully controlled filmmaking that places mood over scares, and the lead performance from Edith Scob - wearing a bizarrely blank mask - is jarringly serene. Plus, there's a killer bit with a dog (I'm a sucker for any scene with a German Shepherd).

1. The Orphanage

The best ghost story I've ever seen is J.A. Bayona's The Orphanage. Laura and her husband move in to the seaside orphanage in which she grew up and turn it into a facility for disabled children. But when their son goes missing, Laura discovers terrifying secrets about the house and the children who lived there. A modern horror film that understands and smartly uses suspense is rare, but this is one of those films. The Orphanage doesn't rely on cheap and frequent scares, it instead chills you from moment one with dread and anticipation of what might happen. Belen Rueda gives a knockout performance and the final act's startling revelation is more horrifying than any ending you've ever seen before.

There you have it, the best of foreign horror. Three of these titles have spawned inferior U.S. remakes, with two more on the way, but do yourself a favor and catch the originals next time you're in the mood for a good scare.

What are your favorite horror films? Do any of these foreign gems make your list?

2 comments:

katrina kay said...

i thought the orphanage had some good scares!

on my list: not sure if this counts but, the host & dead alive

The Mad Hatter said...

THE ORPHANAGE! Great call!!! That one freaked me out so badly I actually said out loud to the lesbian sitting next to me "Susie, hold me!"

(Got a big laugh from the rest of our row)

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