Ranked: The Best Foreign Horror Films Since 2000

  • Publish Date: October 27, 2010
  • Comments: ↓ 36 user comments

Speaking in tongues

ImageOne of the right ones

Prior to the last decade, very few international horror films received a theatrical release in the U.S. This changed, however with the success of The Ring, a remake of the 1998 Japanese horror film, Ringu. The success of that film set off a remake frenzy that included The Grudge (based on Japan's Ju-on: The Grudge), Dark Water, The Eye (based on the Pang Brothers' The Eye), One Missed Call (based on Takashi Miike's One Missed Call), The Uninvited (based on A Tale of Two Sisters), Shutter, and two films that made our list of the top foreign-language horror films of the past decade (below): Pulse and Let the Right One In. In addition, the success of some of those films opened the door for the theatrical exhibition of films like High Tension, Inside, the U.K. import The Descent, and many films on the list below which in the past would have received exposure only at horror festivals (still the best place to catch the latest films).

While few of the films on our list would fall into the splatter or slasher genres of classic American horror films (or the unfortunately named torture porn films of the last five or six years), they are (sometimes very uniquely) horrific, stylistically adventurous, and reflective of their country's cultural history and social changes, whether it be totalitarian rule, military occupation, middle class consumerism, the ravages of civil war, the isolation of expanding technology, or the subservient role of women. If you haven’t seen them, go check them out.

Here are the foreign-language horror films released in the U.S. over the past decade receiving the best reviews from professional critics:

The 10 Best-Reviewed Foreign-Language Horror Films Since 2000

1. Werckmeister Harmonies (2001) Add to Netflix Queue

"This is as challenging as movies come, alluding to everything from philosopher Thomas Hobbes to the history of Western music."

--David Sterritt, Christian Science Monitor

Origin: Hungary
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 6
Good bar 2
Mixed 0
Bad 0
Awful 0
Critics: 92 Users: 7.0
Image

While some might gripe at Werckmeister Harmonies' inclusion on a horror film list, one can’t deny that it is disturbing, or at least upsetting. The debate will be over why. Is it because the film masterfully utilizes only 39 takes in 145 minutes as growing tensions in a cold, desolate Hungarian village come to a destructive end, or is it just because it is unbearably boring due to the slow pace, limited dialogue, and difficult source material (László Krasznahorkai’s novel The Melancholy of Resistance)? One thing is certain: Béla Tarr’s first feature film after 1994’s seven-and-a-half-hour Sátántangó will provoke you within the first 15 minutes to either contemplate the nature of man and the controlling systems of society, or to get up off your couch and eject the disc. It will depend on your sensibilities, or what you see in a dead whale’s eye.

American remake: None.

2. The Host (2007) Add to Netflix Queue

"The mix of dark humor, creeping suspense, and a sort of apocalyptic tenderness makes this the best horror flick in years."

--J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader

Origin: South Korea
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 23
Good bar 11
Mixed bar 1
Bad 0
Awful 0
Critics: 85 Users: 6.3
Image

Until Avatar knocked it off last year, Joon-ho Bong’s 2006 film was the highest-grossing film in South Korean history. It also introduced a major directing talent (which was reinforced with this year's Mother) to international audiences. The Host follows the Park family as they try to rescue their daughter after she is taken by a killer monster created by chemicals dumped by the U.S. military. The result is a genre mash-up of good old-fashioned monster movie pyrotechnics, family melodrama, and political commentary. A Korean sequel as well as a U.S. remake are in development.

American remake: In production; coming in 2011.

3. Taxidermia (2009) Add to Netflix Queue

"Only for fans of the bizarre and certainly not for those with even a faintly weak stomach. But for those meeting both qualifications: Welcome to a devious little nightmare."

--Matthew Sorrento, Film Threat

Origin: Hungary
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 6
Good bar 1
Mixed bar 2
Bad 0
Awful 0
Critics: 83 Users: 8.5
Image

Gyorgy Palfi’s 2006 film Taxidermia is the second Hungarian film on our list, but it is decidedly different in tone and substance than the first. Palfi takes the viewer on a surrealistic journey of the body through the obsessions (sex, food, and death) of three generations of men. While some might find its depictions of sexual perversion, gluttony, and self mutilation darkly comic, the average film viewer will require a strong stomach to get through the finish, which places the film within the body horror genre of which The Human Centipede is the latest example.

American remake: None.

4. Let the Right One In (2008) Add to Netflix Queue

"Funny, fear-inducing, with periods of voyeuristic gore and an undercurrent of anxiety and dread, Let the Right One In is up there with the bloodsucking classics."

--Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer

Origin: Sweden
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 14
Good bar 15
Mixed bar 1
Bad 0
Awful 0
Critics: 82 Users: 8.5
Image

Let the Right One In has been in the news thanks to Matt Reeves' recently released and well reviewed American remake, Let Me In, and the critics' fondness for this new version speaks to the solid storytelling of John Ajvide Lindqvist's original novel and screenplay and Reeves’ reverence for Tomas Alfredson’s original film. Alfredson’s visual style is so strong that Reeves echoes it throughout his own film, but it’s the relationship that develops between a bullied young boy and a young (at least in appearance) vampire that’s at the heart of this acclaimed Swedish movie.

American remake: Let Me In 79 (2010).

5. The Devil's Backbone (2001) Add to Netflix Queue

"Here is a ghost story so dynamic you could call it a ghost poem."

--F.X. Feeney, LA Weekly

Origin: Spain
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 4
Good bar 20
Mixed bar 1
Bad 0
Awful 0
Critics: 77 Users: 7.8
Image

Many horror fans got their introduction to Guillermo del Toro in 1993 with Cronos, but 2001’s The Devil’s Backbone reinforced del Toro’s skills at creating scares behind the camera. On the surface, The Devil’s Backbone is a ghost story set at an orphanage at the end of the Spanish Civil War, but critics embraced del Toro’s ability to create real human drama within the trappings of genre, a feat he would accomplish again with the more surrealistic Pan’s Labyrinth in 2006.

American remake: None.

6. The Orphanage (2007) Add to Netflix Queue

"By the end, you'll be chilled and disturbed by what you've seen -- and, rare as this is in a horror movie, touched to the heart."

--Lawrence Toppman, Charlotte Observer

Origin: Spain
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 9
Good bar 20
Mixed bar 4
Bad 0
Awful 0
Critics: 74 Users: 8.5
Image

Is it just a coincidence that two films set at orphanages in Spain happen to appear one after the other on this list? Well, yes, but Guillermo del Toro did produce this debut feature from director Antonio Bayona. The film focuses on the psychological troubles of Laura, who returns to the orphanage of her youth with her husband and seven-year old adopted son, intending to re-open the facility as a home for disabled children. Instead, after her son’s disappearance, she struggles to unravel a terrible mystery. The Orphanage was Spain’s highest-grossing film in 2007, a testament to its ability to deliver real chills and real humanity.

American remake: In production; release tbd.

7. Little Otik (2001) Add to Netflix Queue

"Little Otik is too outre not to turn off some, but for those who can go the increasingly macabre distance, its sheer power to confound can be enthralling."

--Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times

Origin: Czech Rep.
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 4
Good bar 6
Mixed bar 3
Bad 0
Awful 0
Critics: 74 Users: 9.2
Image

In this comedic horror film, director Jan Svankmajer combines his own brand of stop-motion animation with live action to deliver a Czech folktale set in contemporary Prague. A childless couple’s obsession with having a baby produces a living, breathing, and very dangerous tree-child, whose growing appetite puts everyone at risk, including the family cat. Sometimes hilarious and oftentimes creepy, Little Otik finds the horror in the unchecked appetites of consumer culture.

American remake: None.

8. Thirst (2009) Add to Netflix Queue

"Thirst is deliriously bonkers and keeps getting more so; you watch it holding your breath, waiting to see where Park will zigzag next."

--Ty Burr, Boston Globe

Origin: South Korea
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 4
Good bar 13
Mixed bar 4
Bad 0
Awful 0
Critics: 73 Users: 6.6
Image

Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2009, Thirst is the second Korean film on our list to star Kang-ho Song as well as the second vampire film. It tells the story of a priest who volunteers for a medical experiment to help find a vaccine for the disease ravaging his people. Even though the experiment fails, the priest makes a full recovery after a blood transfusion, the unfortunate side effect of which is becoming a vampire. From there, director Chan-wook Park (Oldboy) throws together a cocktail of comedy, love, sex, and a lot of blood to create a unique vampire romance far different from the stolen glances of Twilight.

American remake: None.

9. Pulse (2005) Add to Netflix Queue

"Like the best horror movies, it doesn't beat you over the head, splatter you, or fold, spindle and mutilate you. Rather, slowly and subtly, it creeps you out."

--Stephen Hunter, Washington Post

Origin: Japan
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 4
Good bar 9
Mixed bar 7
Bad bar 1
Awful 0
Critics: 70 Users: 5.9
Image

Completed in 2001, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse did not get a theatrical release in the U.S. until 2005, a year before the critically panned American remake starring Kristen Bell premiered. Pulse is not concerned with the trappings of blood-and-guts horror, but with the loneliness and alienation of a modern society enthralled with technology. The film relies on eerie images of ghosts and suicides to create a pervasive dread that can be quite creepy, but not all viewers fell under its spell; many found it too long and lacking in focus and narrative drive.

American remake: Pulse 27 (2006).

10. Audition (2001*) Add to Netflix Queue

"One of the most shocking Japanese horror films ever. It needs to be seen to be believed, but those with queasy stomachs would do well to stay away."

--Eric Campos, Film Threat

Origin: Japan
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 5
Good bar 9
Mixed bar 3
Bad bar 2
Awful 0
Critics: 69 Users: 8.2
Image

This Japanese thriller tells the story of a lonely widower who, on the advice of a friend, holds a fake audition to meet women. He immediately falls for Asami and decides to pursue her, against his friend's wishes. This is an unfortunate choice. A polarizing film in its structure and reception, Takashi Miike's Audition teases viewers with a romantic beginning before knocking them out with a brutal, torture-filled ending. Critics were divided over whether Miike’s film stereotypes women or is a subversive commentary on the way men objectify women. Either way, Audition was, for many American moviegoers, the first taste of Miike’s prolific, genre-jumping output. Some went back for seconds, but others never made it through the first course.

American remake: None.

* Audition was released in the U.S. in 2001; the original Japanese release was in 1999.

What do you think?

Have you enjoyed any of the movies listed above? How do you think foreign horror films compare to their American counterparts? Let us know in the discussion section below.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (36)

  • justin  

    Why isn't Pan's Labyrinth on this list? It's got plenty of horror elements and is one of the best films I've ever seen.

  • Ed  

    Amazing list.
    Let The Right One In and The Host were stunning films. More than just horror films, they actually have so much insight both in the psychology of the individual, as well as sociologically. The Orphanage and The Devil's Backbone were also stellar.
    Really want to see Pulse and Thirst now!

    My favourite mainstream horror ever now is The Descent!

  • Jozxyqk  

    The Host is a bloody brilliant film, a genre-mashup masterpiece with scares, laughs, and is a genuine roller-coaster thrill ride. It seems to be a very polarising film, though, so if you can't see its brilliance then that's your bad luck.
    The bow-and-arrow subplot has one of the best punchlines I've ever seen in a film...or ever!

  • Dr. Sparkle  

    "Prior to the last decade, very few international horror films received a theatrical release in the U.S." That is an incredibly bizarre statement to make! British horror films from Hammer and others were well distributed in the US from the late 50s to 70s. And countless Italian gory thrillers made it to US drive-in's and grindhouses in the 70s and 80s. Aside from a few arthouse releases like those listed above, there are fewer foreign horror films in theaters now than there were 30 years ago.

  • Mitch Tough  

    The Host was extremely average in my book - Metacritic led me astray there. However, Let The Right One In is incredibly good. Check that out immediately.

  • Yvan  

    "Martyrs" was the top foreign horror film of the last 10 years.

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