As the resident genre nerd at Words without Borders I thought I'd make a contribution to this month's “Horrors” issue with a listing of my top five favorite foreign horror movies. They are all entertaining and brilliant pieces of cinema that reflect different cultural ideas of terror while being relentlessly scary. I'm no film critic and I miss a lot of movies so this is in no way a definitive list and I welcome suggestions to add to my Netflix queue.
Also, I will never understand why American film companies remake absolutely amazing films (is it the subtitles, the lack of blood and guts, what?), but all but one of the movies on this list are scheduled for a remake or have been remade already and I have made note of that so you can keep a clear distance.
5) Pan's Labyrinth by Guillermo del Toro
Pan's Labyrinth walks the line between fantasy and horror and purists might quibble with my including it on this list, but between Captain Vidal delivering a brutal beating with the wrong end of a gun and the “pale man,” Pan's Labyrinth is as horrific a fantasy as anything recorded by the Brothers Grimm. Fortunately, having Guillermo del Toro as a director will probably save this from an American remake.
4) A Tale of Two Sisters by Kim Ji-woon
This story of a troubled adolescence and grief has only a handful of traditional horror movie moments, but is shot in a way that leaves your nerves on edge throughout the movie. It is actually one of my favorite movies, but is probably too subtle for the number one spot. Of course, that subtlety is in no way indicated in the trailer. A Tale of Two Sisters was remade as The Uninvited in 2009.
3) The Orphanage by Juan Antonio Bayona
Parent's who've lost their child, a creepy little boy with a sack over his face, lots and lots of ghosts; this movie had me gripping my seat the entire time. Yet it's more than just a really good ghost story. It has an incredible amount of heart and smarts, although the ending was less than nuanced. A remake has been stalled in production since 2007 and I hope it never makes it onto screens.
2) The Host by Bong Joon-ho
I don't really like monster movies, particularly “it-came-from-the-deep” monster movies, but The Host is just that and it is absolutely a terrific piece of cinema. I'm a little disappointed that the trailer doesn't showcase any of the humor, because it is remarkably funny, which is one of the many things that makes it so enjoyable. It is also, strangely, a critique on US foreign policy, which also isn't in the trailer. Of the five movies on this list, this is the one people tend to be most skeptical about when I recommend it so here's Quentin Tarantino for whatever that's worth. Remake talks started as soon as the film opened in the US.
1) Let the Right One In by Tomas Alfredson
This movie is so good that I have no desire to read the book lest it spoil the film for me. Unlike the other films on this list the trailer tells you everything you need to know. It was remade and released as Let Me In this year and that's a both a real shame and a terrible disservice to everyone involved with the original.