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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Five Best: Foreign Language Horror Films of the Last 15 Years

Scene from "Shaun of the Dead" courtesy
Continuing the "scary movie" theme for the month, this week we'll look at how horror films are made elsewhere. Maybe Hollywood remakes so many foreign horror films because they're so good. Unfortunately, our reinventions aren't usually as good. Here's a look at the five best from the last fifteen years that you have to read subtitles for. I included two extras at the bottom that I refuse to call horror films, but plenty of others do. So, here they are in chronological order.

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Ringu (1998)

Before we remade it with Naomi Watts, Ringu was a terrifying Japanese horror film directed by Hideo Nakata. The story of a mysterious video that kills anybody who watches it is a pretty significant (and obvious) allegory on the dangers of technology, but it's also a pretty scary premise that somehow works, thanks to some well-timed scares and creepy imagery. It takes some crazy turns, but it still stands up as the superior to our American remake.
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Audition (1999)

This movie is nuts. Just warning you. Audition begins with a romantic-comedy flavor to it, with a Japanese widower mourning the death of his wife. When his son turns to a filmmaker friend, they decide to hold auditions for a fictional film to give the man a chance to choose a potential bride. When he becomes enamored with one particular woman, the gears completely shift and the movie goes to a completely different, disturbing place. Just pray that Hollywood doesn't get its hands on this brilliantly insane Takashi Miike film.
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The Devil's Backbone (2001)

Master of Spanish horror Guillermo del Toro directed this story set in 1939 around the civil war in Spain. We follow Carlos, the son of a war hero, sent to live in an orphanage. As he adjusts to his new environment, he is visited by the ghost of a former resident named Santi, who begins to repeatedly warn him that many will die. As the military forces approach and a ticking bomb sits in the courtyard, the ghost's predictions become all the more expected, but in an unpredictable manner. Del Toro is brilliant at horror involving child protagonists, and this is an excellent example.
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High Tension (2003)

A violent story of revenge and psychological terror, Alexandre Aja's film is a tough watch. College students Marie and Alex go to Alex's secluded family farmhouse for peace and quiet to study for exams. When a man breaks in a murders the entire family and kidnaps Alex, Marie hides and spends the entire film trying to free her friend from this ruthless killer. It sounds crazy enough, but it's accompanied by some pretty substantial obstacles, graphic imagery, and a twist you don't see coming (until just now...when I just told you there's a twist...sorry).
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The Orphanage (2007)

There's something inherently scary about orphanages, I guess. Laura and her husband Carlos decide to move into Laura's former home, an orphanage where she was raised, with their adopted son Simón. When Simón begins to talk about invisible friends he talks to in the house, Laura ignores it, while she decides to reopen the orphanage to care for abandoned children. But, when Laura starts seeing a masked boy and realizes her son is missing, things take a horrifying turn. Ripe with intensity and psychological themes, Juan Antonio Bayona's dark, twisted filmmaking keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.


A lot of sites and critics categorize these two wonderful films as horror, but I can't do it. Just because they have some disturbing imagery doesn't make them horror films. But I wanted to include them because they are two of my favorite foreign films of the last five years and I didn't want any complaints about not adding them to the list. See? I have my reasons for doing things.

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Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

This is really more of an adult-level fairy tale directed, again, by Guillermo del Toro. Ofelia is the stepdaughter of a sadistic military man in 1944 fascist-ruled Spain. She begins to escape into a fantasy world where a mysterious creature begins to give her tasks, which, upon her accomplishment, will ensure her entry into royalty as a princess. The story is vivid with beautiful imagery and wonderful performances, specifically from its young star, Ivana Baquero. As terrifying as some of the scenes are, I still can't call it a horror film. It's just too magical for me. And I adore the ending.
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Let the Right One In (2008)

This Swedish film was recently remade into a pretty good American movie called Let Me In, but the original is just so damn good. The film centers around a young boy named Oscar, feeling like an outcast, and a friendship with his neighbor Eli, a beautiful young girl who just happens to be a vampire. There's obviously plenty of themes of revenge, murder, and all the other "vampire storylines," but at its core, Let the Right One In is a movie about young love and finding a companion through difficult times. It never scared me - it made me harken back to my first crush in middle school. Is that creepy?

So, while I'll never be the one who tells you that foreign films are always better than American ones, in the realm of horror, it becomes a much more fueled argument.

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