If you’re a horror fan who avoids foreign language films because you don’t like reading subtitles: Get over it! Limiting yourself to English-language movies cuts you off from a veritable universe of incredible entertainment. Films made outside of Hollywood and America are often superior in terms of bold innovation and adventurous storytelling. Different cultures have unique perspectives on horror and the supernatural, making for some truly engaging and mind-expanding experiences.
If you’re a fan of foreign horror movies, the films on this list will surely tickle your fancy. And if you’re ready to move outside of your English-language comfort zone, these selections may inspire you to expand your horror horizons even further. You won’t be sorry for venturing into uncharted territories!
Cold Sweat aka Sudor frío (2010)
Country of Origin: Argentina
Set in Buenos Aires, a worried boyfriend tracks his missing girlfriend to an abandoned apartment complex, where he finds her suffering at the hands of two twisted sadists. She’s drenched head to toe in nitroglycerin gel, so a single drop of explosive sweat could have catastrophic consequences. This is white-knuckle, edge-of-your-seat suspense of the highest caliber. Cold Sweat has a hip vibe and a throbbing soundtrack that makes it a blast (pun intended) to watch—even if it gives you palpitations!
Sleep Tight aka Mientras duermes (2011)
Country of Origin: Spain
If you think Spanish horror cinema begins with Guillermo del Toro and ends with the [REC] franchise, you’re seriously missing out on what Spain has to offer. In Sleep Tight, apartment concierge Cesar (played by Luis Tosar) is an especially insidious brand of predator; his calm demeanor and benign appearance make him almost completely invisible. He uses his position of trust to access various apartments in his complex, wreaking psychological havoc on unsuspecting residents. His abuse of a young woman who seems truly content with life is especially deplorable, making Sleep Tight a gut-wrenching example of what I call “Emotional Horror”.
5150 Elm’s Way aka 5150 Rue des Ormes (2009)
Country of Origin: Canada
In 5150 Elm’s Way we follow Yannick (played by Marc-André Grondin), a young film student who falls into the clutches of a deranged family patriarch through the worst kind of happenstance. Subjected to unimaginable psychological abuse, Yannick becomes invested in a demented contest with his captor. Eventually, besting his nemesis becomes more important than escaping the fiend’s psychotic grasp. The film is fraught with suspense culminating in an unimaginably twisted climax that’ll leave you devastated.
Here Comes the Devil aka Ahí va el diablo (2012)
Country of Origin: Mexico
For parents Felix and Sol (played by Francisco Barreiro and Laura Caro respectively) the only thing more terrifying than losing their children while vacationing on the outskirts of Tijuana is having them returned with completely different personalities, essentially strangers. The truth of what happened during the children’s absence is more harrowing than anyone is prepared to acknowledge—until it’s too late. Here Comes the Devil has a kind of nightmare logic that takes some effort to decipher, but for those who can commit, it’s a punishing and visceral descent into unfathomable darkness.
Goodnight Mommy aka Ich seh ich she (2014)
Country of Origin: Austria
Goodnight Mommy was one of the most hyped and lauded genre offerings of 2015 and is destine to be regarded as a classic. On the surface, it’s an exploration of identity as it relates to perception, but digging deeper unearths disturbing subtexts relating to male puberty and matricide. Goodnight Mommy will keep you guessing until the very end, vacillating between regarding the film’s young twins as victims and perpetrator. While undeniably tragic, the film’s conclusion is surprisingly serene—certain to spark conversations and conjecture.
Cold Prey aka Fritt vilt (2006)
Country of Origin: Norway
Cold Prey follows a group of 20-somethings who’ve traveled into the mountains for a day of snowboarding. When a member of their crew is injured, the pack seeks shelter in an abandoned/burned-out hotel resort that’s just as creepy and foreboding as the Overlook (no doubt on purpose, as Cold Prey contains several “Easter Eggs” related to The Shining). It’s a slasher film done right in almost every respect, capturing the essence of the subgenre without resorting to “retro” aesthetics or scenarios. The nameless Mountain Man is the best original slasher icon since Michael Myers.
Cub aka Welp (2014)
Country of Origin: Belgium
While Unfriended is regarded as the anti-bully horror-hit of 2015, Cub is a much more impactful exploration of childhood and teen violence—and infinitely more disturbing! This Belgian export follows a young scout who befriends a feral child on a camping trip. Cub includes scenes of children being killed and animals being tortured, so never doubt that this one is hardcore! Those able to stomach the film’s intensity won’t soon forget the experience.
Frontier(s) aka Frontière(s) (2007)
Country of Origin: France
Xavier Gens’ Frontier(s) is the crown jewel of “New French Extremity” and an absolute must-watch for all serious horror aficionados. While sometimes described as a French version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, that assessment barely scratches the surface of what awaits viewers of Frontier(s). Imagine the best aspects of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hostel, and The Descent, throw in more firepower than a Rambo flick—and you’re still nowhere close. And did I mention the Nazis? Frontier(s) is the kind of film that will leave you shaken to the core. Those unfamiliar with New French Extremity should be aware: Films of this subgenre don’t give a damn about happy endings. For the brave, Frontier(s) is an unparalleled cinematic experience.
The House at the End of Time aka La casa del fin de los tiempos (2013)
Country of Origin: Venezuela
The House at the End of Time has been extremely well-received in its country of origin, setting box office records in Venezuela during its 41-week theatrical run. This one’s a mind-bender of a mystery, as well as an examination of how the past can exert influence over the present—and vice versa. Heady themes buried in the subtext revolve around sin, religion, and destiny. Fans of “magical realism” in film and literature will love The House at the End of Time.
Left Bank aka Linkeroever (2008)
Country of Origin: Belgium
You definitely need some mental stamina if you plan on tackling Left Bank; this isn’t one of those mysteries that ties up all its loose ends in a tidy bow. But it’s absolutely a riddle worth unraveling. Sidelined track star Marie (Eline Kuppens) moves into her boyfriend’s apartment in Antwerp’s stylish Left Bank for a period of extended recuperation. She becomes obsessed, however, when she discovers the building harbors a sinister history involving pagan sacrificial rituals. What she finds in the labyrinthine basement defies all rational explanations.
Rigor Mortis aka Geung si (2013)
Country of Origin: Hong Kong
Produced by Takashi Shimizu, Rigor Mortis is a tribute to the Mr. Vampire film series and stars many of that franchises’ former cast members. It’s about the creation of a “Geung si”, a reanimated corpse with characteristics of both a zombie and a vampire, common in Eastern folklore. While the storyline is sometimes less than cohesive, Rigor Mortis is relentlessly creepy with just a touch of genuine sentimentality. Brilliant cinematography will keep your eyes glued to the film’s macabre meanderings.
Country of Origin: Finland
In 1595, after a long war between Sweden and Russia, two brothers are trekking through swamps in Finland making their way home. Both are dogged by memories of atrocities they committed in battle. They stumble into a village whose ghostly inhabitants seem to comprise an isolated country unto themselves. On the outskirts of the village: An ancient pagan sauna with otherworldly powers. Sauna is a study in atonement and the lingering after-effects of war.
The Skin I live In aka La piel que habito (2011)
Country of Origin: Spain
If you use your imagination, The Skin I Live In becomes a modern reimagining of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Brash and brilliant plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Ledgard (played by Antonio Banderas) becomes obsessed with the process of repairing and transforming the human body. When a petty criminal enters his life, the Dr. confines him to his basement laboratory where he becomes his greatest creation. Throughout the film, we learn details of the Dr.’s tragic past, shedding light on his twisted motivations. Gender identity is thoroughly deconstructed.
A Tale of Two Sisters aka Janghwa, Hongryeon (2003)
Country of Origin: South Korea
The American remake of A Tale of Two Sisters, The Uninvited (2009), barely conveys the complexity and brilliance of its source material. Upon returning from a psychiatric hospital, a pair of sisters are plagued by ghostly apparitions; the situation is intensified by a strained relationship with their new stepmother (a conflict which also deteriorates their once close relationship with their father). Are supernatural happenings afoot—or is it something altogether more terrifying?
Trollhunter aka Trolljegeren (2010)
Country of Origin: Norway
Trollhunter uses Scandinavian mythology as a jumping off point; it’s a found footage film about a group of conservationists investigating a series of unusual animal mutilations. They cross paths with a presumed poacher only to discover he actually works for a government agency that monitors and controls Troll activity. Yes, it all sounds preposterous, which is what makes the very real tension and suspense Trollhunter manifests all the more impressive. The creature FX are truly impressive. Great pacing and an awesome script help make this one an immensely entertaining experience.
Let me know what some of your favorite foreign language horror films are. Think there’s a movie on my list that doesn’t deserve these accolades? Let’s debate in the Comments section!