(Ch)Op-Ed #4: Best Modern International Horror Films Pt. 1 #20-#11

Sometimes, the scariest movies can come from outside of the United States. I fell in love with the J-Horror phenomenon of the early 2000’s, more for my interest in the Japanese culture: the honor; the odd schoolgirl fascination. I also found myself feeling like an outsider watching them, like I didn’t belong, almost taboo in my voyeurism. That heightened the scares and the bizarre nature of the films. I also love the Italian films of the 70’s and 80’s: the style over substance; the colors; the black gloved killer. They didn’t always make sense, but they were fun. France, Mexico, Korea, all have had their moment in the sun.  

The list that follows is my top 20 modern international horror films. To meet the criteria, I am simply looking at films from other countries filmed between 1993 to 2023. Simple, huh? Let’s start with the back 10. 

#20: Funny Games (1997) Austrian 

Funny Games, directed by Michael Haneke, is a tale of two young men who hold a family hostage and then torture them. It is perhaps best known for its breaking of the fourth wall, in which a character will make facial expressions to or speak directly to the camera. It also features someone using a remote control to “rewind” the action of the movie and undo some things. Haneke would go on to direct a shot-for-shot remake of the film in English starring Michael Pitt, Tim Roth, and Naomi Watts, in 2007. 

#19: Them (2006) French Romanian 

Them aka Ils, is a film from directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud. Clocking in at a mere 74 minutes with credits, this film tells the “true story” of a vacationing couple who are attacked and tortured by a group of young kids. Some of these movies get dismissed along with 2004’s Saw, just due to the torture aspect and the time period in which torture porn was king, but it actually shares much more thematically with 2008’s The Strangers. 

#18: Frontier(s) (2007) French Swiss 

Frontiere(s) by Xavier Gens, is another example of the torture porn fad of the mid 2000’s. A street gang holes up in an inn that is run by a family of Nazis and chaos and gore ensues. Rate NC-17 in the US, it was released onto DVD as part of the After Dark Horrorfest series. Gens would go on to direct The Divide, Hitman (based on the video game of the same name), and ABC’s of Death (X is for XXL).  

#17: Nightwatch (1994) Danish 

Nattevagden is Ole Bornedal’s first theatrically released film and features a young nightwatchman at a forensic medical institute in which he frequently encounters dead bodies in the morgue. A creepy film, Bornedal would direct an English-speaking version featuring Ewan McGregor, Nick Nolte, Josh Brolin and Patricia Arquette. Later, he would produce Guillermo del Toro’s Mimic, and in 2012, return to the US to direct The Possession, a Sam Raimi and Bob Tapert production, starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan. 

#16: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) Finnish 

Rare Exports spoils the secrets behind Santa Claus. It tells us how a company traps wild Santa Clauses and trains them and exports them throughout the world to help celebrate Christmas. Part scary, part action, part comedy, it is Jalmari Helander’s first film. He would go on to direct Sisu, a 2022 historical action film about the famous Finnish gold prospector and commando who fights a German death squad.  

#15: The Devil’s Backbone (2001) Spanish Mexican 

El Espinazo del Diablo is a ghost story set at an orphanage in 1939 during the Spanish Civil War. A chilling tale of greed, war, retribution, and murder, it would go on to place 61st on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Guillermo del Toro’s 3rd film, it marked his first major studio picture. He would go on to direct Hellboy, Blade II, and many more genre films. 

#14: Wolf Creek (2005) Australian 

Wolf Creek is another “based on true events” film that features backpackers in Australia who are hunted down and murdered by a serial killer. Greg McLean would direct this film, its 2013 sequel, the 2016-2017 Wolf Creek TV series, alligator creature feature Rogue, The Darkness and The Belko Experiment. Wolf Creek 3 is due to be released this year, although it is not written by nor directed by Mclean. 

#13: Let the Right One In (2008) Swedish 

Låt den rätte komma in, directed by Tomas Alfredson, is a Swedish vampire film. In it, a young boy befriends a young vampire girl who is protected by her familiar. A romantic gothic horror film, it both captures the innocence of children while showing the gory animal like tendencies of a vampire. Let Me In, an English version of the film, was released in 2010 and directed by Matt Reeves, starring Chloe Grace Moretz and Elias Koteas. 

#12: Inside (2007) French 

À l’intérieur is directed by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo and features yet another tale of home invasion. In this one, a young pregnant woman is attacked by an intruder who is trying to take her unborn baby. It is brutal, violent, and hard to watch in some parts. It was remade in 2016 for American audiences without the involvement of the original directors. Bustillo and Maury would go on to direct the Texas Chainsaw sequel Leatherface, as well as the fantastic 2021 film The Deep House. 

#11: Martyrs (2008) French Canadien 

Martyrs, directed by Pascal Laugier, is a movie about revenge. A girl and her friend invade the house of a family that they believe tortured and abused her 15 years prior. Simple on the surface, it delves into religion, the afterlife, and much more as the film progresses. Rolling Stone included it in a list of the greatest horror films of the 21st century and IGN ranked it 32/100 of the best horror films of all time. It also got an English remake in 2015 without involvement from the original director. Laugier would direct The Tall Man starring Jessica Biel. 

Look for part 2 where I continue my list from #10-#1. What are your favorite international horror films on the past 30 years? What did I forget?

About RetRo(n) 61 Articles
I like the 80s, slasher films, Italian directors, Evil Ed, Trash and Nancy, Ripley and Private First Class Hudson, retro crap but not SyFy crap, old school skin, Freddy and Savini, Spinell and Coscarelli, Andre Toulon, and last, but not least, Linda Blair.