20 Best Foreign Horror Movies of All Time

20 Best Foreign Horror Movies of All Time

July 15, 2024

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Hold onto your seats and maybe a security blanket, because these spine-chilling masterpieces have terrified audiences across the globe. From the depths of Asian folklore to the go-to frights of found footage and religious evils, these foreign horror films prove that fear is a universal language. With heart-pounding suspense, hair-raising visuals, and plots that twist like a maze, these movies will have you checking under your bed and behind every door. So, whether you’re fluent in fear or just getting started, join us as we embark on a bone-chilling tour of the best foreign horror movies ever made – a world of fright that transcends borders and guarantees sleepless nights.

1. Cure (1997)

best

9.2

Country

Japan

Director

Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Actors

Akira Otaka, Anna Nakagawa, Denden, Hajime Tanimoto

Moods

Challenging, Dark, Gripping

Cure is about a mad society, where both cure and sickness might be one and the same. Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa subverts the police procedural into an interrogation without definite answers, an abstract study on the evil that resides and is suppressed in every person’s heart. Unlike most horror films, Cure’s scares are left in plain sight, hypnotically mesmerizing as they are gruesome, with a sense of mundanity associated with other Japanese masters like Ozu or Kore-eda. “At the time it just seemed the right thing to do,” a man answers when asked why he killed his wife, and it is this contradictorily calm, nonchalant demeanor that creates a feeling of unease in the film’s horror aesthetic.

2. The Orphanage (2007)

best

8.0

Country

Spain

Director

J.A. Bayona, Juan Antonio Bayona

Actors

Andres Gertrudix, Belén Rueda, Belén Rueda, Blanca Martínez

Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro creates another haunting movie that leaves you questioning your sense of reality. El Orfanato revolves around a mother tries desperately to find her missing adopted son soon after her and her husband move into her old orphanage. But the past horrors of the orphanage will not let her son be found so easily.

3. Train to Busan (2016)

best

8.0

Country

Korea, South Korea

Director

Sang-ho Yeon, Yeon Sang-ho

Actors

Ahn So-hee, An So-hee, Baek Seung-hwan, Cha Chung-hwa

Moods

Action-packed, Intense, Thrilling

A zombie virus breaks out and catches up with a father as he is taking his daughter from Seoul to Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city. Watch them trying to survive to reach their destination, a purported safe zone.

The acting is spot-on; the set pieces are particularly well choreographed. You’ll care about the characters. You’ll feel for the father as he struggles to keep his humanity in the bleakest of scenarios.

It’s a refreshingly thrilling disaster movie, a perfect specimen of the genre.

4. The Wolf House (2018)

7.9

Country

Chile, Germany

Director

Cristóbal León, Joaquín Cociña

Actors

Amalia Kassai, Natalia Geisse

Moods

Depressing, Original, Thought-provoking

This mortifying stop-motion fairy-tale is inspired by the very real horrors of Chile’s Colonia Dignidad: a cult colony turned torture camp under the Pinochet regime. Presented as colony propaganda, the tale tells the story of Maria, a girl who runs away from the safety of the colony into the forest and takes refuge in a house with two pigs. What transpires is a gut-wrenching allegory for the rise of fascism, colonialism, and white supremacy. 

The staggering animation which seamlessly shifts mediums from paper mâché to painted walls is a bewildering sight to witness. But it’s the synthesis of this boundary-pushing art and the underlying horrors it depicts, that make this stand as an unmissable cinematic event.

5. Zana (2019)

7.9

Country

Albania, Georgia, Kosovo

Director

Antoneta Kastrati, Female director

Actors

Adriana Matoshi, Alketa Sylaj, Astrit Kabashi, Bislim Muçaj

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Intense

Antoneta Kastrati’s debut feature film Zana follows Lume, who appears guarded and subdued as she goes about her daily routine: milking the cows, harvesting crops and flowers, hanging laundry out to dry. Part of Lume’s routine also includes visits to the doctor, accompanied by her mother-in-law and husband, who pressure her to conceive.

When conventional medical advice does not yield a viable pregnancy, Lume is brought to a witch doctor, and later a televangelist. The former suggests Lume may be cursed, while the latter insists she is possessed by a supernatural creature called a jinn. Lume appears largely apathetic, at least outwardly. But slowly, she starts to unravel—and with her undoing comes the reveal of the war that traumatized her. 

Kastrati’s family drama has elements of horror, but the real terror here is psychological. It makes for an important exploration of a deeply patriarchal society that is only beginning to heal the collective traumas of a complicated war, and how its violence continues to ripple through time and into domestic life. 

 

6. Under the Shadow (2016)

7.8

Country

Iran, Jordan, Qatar

Director

Babak Anvari

Actors

Amir Ranjbar, Aram Ghasemy, Arash Marandi, Avin Manshadi

Moods

Intense, Suspenseful

Horror movies have always been creepier to me when they play on our fear of the “unknown” rather than gore. Under The Shadow does exactly that. The story is based around the relationship of a woman, Shideh, and her daughter, Dorsa, under the backdrop of the Iran-Iraq war. As widespread bombings shake the ground beneath their feet, the two grapple with a more insidious evil that is faceless and traceless, coming and going only with the wind. The movie’s dread-effect plays strongly on feelings of isolation and helplessness. The scares are slow and it’s obvious the director takes great care in making every single second count and in raising the unpredictableness of the action. Like the bombs, the audience never knows when or how the next apparition will materialize. The former is always on the edge of fear, wondering what is no doubt there, but is yet to be shown on the frame. In terms of significance, Under The Shadow features too many symbolisms to count and will most likely resonate with each person differently. But one thing remains relatively unarguable: this is a wonderful movie.

7. One Cut of the Dead (2017)

7.8

Country

Japan

Director

Shin'ichirō Ueda, Shin'ichiro Ueda

Actors

Ayana Goda, Donguri, Harumi Shuhama, Harumi Syuhama

Moods

Action-packed, Challenging, Grown-up Comedy

Another indie zombie movie? Far from it. One Cut of the Dead, written and directed by Shin’ichirô Ueda, became a global sensation following its small theatrical run in Japan for its creative and original screenplay. A hack director and film crew are shooting a low-budget zombie movie in an abandoned WWII Japanese facility when they are attacked by real zombies. That’s all you need to know about the plot, as the film is full of surprises that will catch you off guard. Wondering how an independent film with a budget of just $25,000 was able to gross over $30 million worldwide? The answer lies in the film itself. 

8. Audition (1999)

7.8

Country

Japan

Director

Takashi Miike

Actors

Eihi Shiina, Fumiyo Kohinata, Jun Kunimura, Kanji Tsuda

Audition is not for the faint of heart. It’s shockingly violent and deeply unsettling, filled with sights and sounds that will haunt you for days on end. But there is grace to its terror; it’s profound and artistic in ways that elevate it from generic horror fare.

On a deeper level, Audition is about the destructive power of abuse, trauma, and loneliness, about how a society that neglects to recognize this eventually suffers from it. The revenge plot isn’t merely individual, as well, but a representation of the female subconscious: tired of objectification, eager for redress. And everything about the way the film is made, from the shaky camera and titled frames to the dramatic shadows and eerie lighting, reflects that imbalance. 

Audition may be chilling and gruesome, but it’s also smart and important, a psychosexual thriller that captures female anger well before it became the rage. 

9. Poison for the Fairies (1986)

7.8

Country

Mexico

Director

Carlos Enrique Taboada

Actors

Ana Patricia Rojo, Anna Silvetti, Arturo Beristáin, Carmela Stein

Moods

Dark, Depressing, Intense

For better or worse, friendship can be the most important relationship a child can have, especially when they move into a new school. Poison for the Fairies takes a look at an unusual friendship, one that’s forged not by regular schoolgirl hobbies, but by witchcraft, spells, and superstition. It’s incredibly unnerving how Flavia and Veronica’s dynamic gets, as each morbid claim gets questioned but is never fully explained, as each unanswered question slowly adds to the terror, and as each boundary gets pushed because of those few moments of calm. But it’s also incredibly tragic, considering the ways Flavia and Veronica are characterized. Writer-director Carlos Enrique Taboada makes it all the more creepy by centering the camera through their eyes, by capturing the uncertainty of this terrible friendship.

10. The Innocents (2021)

7.7

Country

Denmark, Finland, France

Director

Eskil Vogt

Actors

Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Irina Eidsvold Tøien, Lisa Tønne

Moods

Challenging, Dramatic, Raw

The Innocents is a Norweigan thriller that follows four kids who discover they have supernatural powers over the summer. They play around and experiment in the woods nearby, but what begins as harmless fun quickly develops into something much more disturbing and sinister.

This unnerving film, a blend of fantasy and horror, doesn’t waste time explaining the origins of its mysticism. Instead, it goes straight into action—bending, twisting, and splitting open anything and anyone that gets in its way. This kind of rawness is shocking given the age range of the characters, but it also works to subvert what we’ve come to expect from kids, youth, and goodness. The Innocents isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you can manage some bloody and unhindged scenes, then it’s sure worth checking out. Directed by Eskil Vogt, co-writer of critically-acclaimed films like Thelma and The Worst Person in the World.

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