Most horror aficionados have seen the American classics: The Shining, The Exorcist, all the Halloween movies, or any of the other big franchises. You know the ones. While these films are disturbing in their own ways, American horror often follows similar, predictable patterns and tropes. If you’re ready to mix it up with something different and unexpected, it’s time to check out some international horror.
Each country’s scary flicks are unique to its origin, and they can teach you a lot about a culture. The best horror films use metaphors to address deep rooted fears in society; for instance, Frankenstein reflected a fear of technology.
Whether the goal is to make you think, make you laugh, or just scare the hell out of you, here are 10 great international horror films to stream this Halloween season, or any other time of year—if you dare.
Produced by Guillermo del Toro, El Orfanato is not a traditional horror film. Originally written in 1996 by Sergio G. Sanchez, it was not released until 2007. El Orfanato follows Laura (Belen Rueda), her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and their adopted son Simon (Roger Princep) as Laura works to transform the orphanage where she was raised into a home for disabled children. However, when Simon goes missing Laura sets out to find him, and uncovers the dark and ghostly mysteries of the place. The film doesn’t have jump scares or an axe-wielding maniac; its scares are far more psychological. Director J.A. Bayona was inspired by 1970s Spanish cinema, which is what gives El Orfanato its eerie atmosphere. The characters are fully developed and truly sympathetic, making the ending all the more shocking.
Where to stream it: Starz
This notoriously terrifying Japanese film from Takashi Miike will forever alter the way you look at piano wire. Originally based on a Japanese novel, Audition is a graphic psychological thriller about a relationship gone wrong involving body horror, torture, and disturbing images that won’t soon leave you. It’s not for the weak of stomach, that’s for sure. The story follows Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi), a widower who decides to hold a mock casting where young women “audition” for the role of his wife. He meets Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina) and is immediately enchanted. Despite her sketchy past, Aoyama decides to pursue her. After he pledges his love, Asami disappears. Aoyama searches for her, and discovers the chaos she’s left in her wake. Once she discovers he has an ex-wife, it’s all over for him. Part of what makes the film so terrifying is the wild transition that occurs halfway through the film. The film has been described as both misogynistic and feminist as well as a critique on child abuse. It’s no surprise that American horror director Eli Roth was heavily influenced by Audition, which makes Hostel look like a walk in the park.
Where to stream it: AMC + and Apple TV
While Japanese filmmakers are undeniably masters of scary horror, they’ve also produced films in the genre that are truly wild and hilarious. Originally released in 1977, Hausu follows a schoolgirl and her friends as they go to visit her sick aunt in the countryside. Much to their dismay, they quickly discover that the house is cursed. Not only is the house evil, but all its furnishings come to life to maim or devour the inhabitants one by one. The best death by far is when one girl is eaten by a piano (yes, a literal piano eats one of the characters). The special effects in Hausu are designed to look campy and unrealistic, resulting in some truly strange visuals. The film was not well received in Japan, but since its North American theatrical debut in 2009 it’s grown in popularity, eventually achieving cult status. Most of the actors in Hausu were not professionals; the director had to play the soundtrack on set to help them stay in character.
Where to stream it: HBO Max
If you’re not currently wearing a mask in public, this South Korean flick will convince you to. It takes place in a remote village where a deadly illness has started to spread. Instead of directly killing people, though, the illness causes its victims to kill their families. When it becomes clear that the sickness is connected to a mysterious stranger, policeman Jong-goo (Kwak Do-won) heads into town to investigate. Once there, he discovers that the stranger’s mountain home has an altar with a goat head (never a good sign) and number of the townspeople’s personal belongings, including a shoe from Jong-goo’s young daughter (definitely not a good sign). It’s then up to Jong-goo to save his daughter and the town. The Wailing has been praised for its mixture of Asian mythology and film noir. After all, there’s nothing scarier than the unknown, one of the many reasons that Covid has been so frightening.
Where to stream it: Amazon Prime, Tubi, Pluto, Hoopla, and AMC +
If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I want to see an Egyptian version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show starring Dracula that’s also a social commentary on capitalism in Egypt,” then have I got the movie for you! Anyab features every single one of those things in that exact order. The film begins as a near shot-for-shot remake of Rocky Horror, complete with a naive couple whose car breaks down, forcing them to seek help at a mysterious castle. However, instead of encountering a sweet transvestite from Transylvania, they end up finding a group of vampires led by none other than Dracula himself, and this version of the iconic count is really into disco. The funky vampires sing and dance for the young couple, and a narrator (just like the one in Rocky Horror!) informs us that Dracula has always been around us—at the grocery store, the mechanic, the gas station, etc., because he metaphorically “sucks the blood” of customers. There are very few films that have ventured into the utterly insane territory that Anyab does, but there are also very few that reveal so much about its country’s political and social state at the time. Get ready to disco down with Dracula, who won’t suck your blood, but he will suck your wallet dry.
Where to stream it: Archive.org
When Vampyr was first released in 1932 it wasn’t well received. But like a fine wine the film has become more popular with age and is now considered a classic of the horror genre. The German/Danish film follows traveller Allan Gray (Julian West), who has an obsession with vampires. He arrives in a small village, where a local informs him that his daughter has been bitten by a vampire. Gray and the inflicted girl’s sister, Gisele (Rena Mandel), set out to take down the original vampire. Vampyr utilizes very little sound (it was the first sound production for director Carl Dreyer) and in order to enhance the film’s eerie atmosphere, a soft, slightly blurred focus was used. Despite its rather meandering plot, Vampyr has been praised for its striking and disturbing visuals. Since most of the actors were not professionals, this is the first and only film they appear in.
Where to stream it: HBO Max, The Criterion Channel
Filmed in a documentary style with reality TV influences, this film may not seem like it qualifies as horror, but there are parts of it that are genuinely chilling and gruesome. You may already be familiar with it thanks the popular TV spinoff of the same name, which features different characters and a new location, but the same format and tone. This is original inspiration. Actually, the Hulu/FX show is the second of two spinoffs, the first being Wellington Paranormal, a sort of mash-up of The X-Files and Cops which follows a pair of police officers first introduced in What We Do in the Shadows. But it all started as an independent short film written and directed by Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi. They went on to expand the idea into a full-length feature using some of the same cast members and the rest is history.
In case you don’t know the concept, What We Do in the Shadows is a mockumentary about four vampires who share a flat in Wellington, New Zealand. There’s Viago (Waitit), a dandy from the 17th century; Vladislav (Clement) who behaves far more like classic Dracula and is haunted by “The Beast” (in a hilarious twist of events, The Beast is revealed to be his ex-girlfriend); Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), who, at 183 years old, is the young and rebellious one; and Petyr (Ben Fransham) who is 8,000 years old and closely resembles Nosferatu. When the group turns an intended dinner guest into a vampire, it disrupts the delicate balance of the house. They also make a human friend, Stu (Stu Rutherford), who introduces them to technology. What We Do in the Shadows has been applauded for its dry humor and absurd juxtapositions of the ordinary and supernatural, like an argument among the vampire flatmates over who does which chores. Many of the film’s best scenes include Stu, whose straightforward personality never changes, even when he’s about to be devoured by vampires.
Where to stream it: Fubo, Apple TV
If given the chance, would you film a TV show in one of Korea’s most haunted places? The characters of Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum decide to do just that (with terrifying results, of course). Known as one of the seven freakiest places on Earth, Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital is an actual place that is indeed rumored to be haunted (it was shut down for a much more mundane reason: sewage issues). The film focuses on the supernatural legends rather than the poo. Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum follows a YouTube channel crew who decide to film an episode at the old hospital and see if they can conjure up some ghosts. Fun fact: the owner of the asylum filed a lawsuit against the film being shown in theaters because he thought it would affect the sale of the building.
Where to stream it: Hoopla, Tubi
If you’ve ever wanted to watch the epitome of German expressionist cinema, this silent masterpiece is the film to watch. Released in 1920, it involves the mysterious hypnotist Dr. Caligari, who puts on traveling shows with his somnambulist partner Cesare. It turns out, the doctor also uses his sleeping subject to commit murders for him (because if you’re going to kill people, it’s so much easier to hypnotize someone else into doing it for you). The unusual premise is only part of the fun; the film is more well known for its striking visuals and is considered to be one of the first true horror films ever made. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari can also be interpreted as a reaction to the aftermath of World War I and as a reflection of Germany’s willingness to follow authority which, considering what happened after this film was released, certainly makes sense.
Where to stream it: AMC +, Hoopla, Tubi
It isn’t uncommon for vegetarians to eat fish on occasion, but most vegetarians don’t start eating human flesh. In the French film Raw that’s exactly what happens to poor Justine (Garance Marillier), who just wants to become a veterinarian but discovers she has a hidden cannibalistic streak. It begins when Justine is forced to participate in a hazing ritual where she has to eat raw rabbit kidneys (what kind of vet school is this?), leading her developing a craving for meat, all kinds of meat. It only goes downhill from there. The film has been lauded for its exploration of the different kinds of “hunger” we experience as humans. When the film was first released in 2016 some audience members famously fainted in theaters during the most graphic scenes. So be warned: this is not an easy film to watch.
Where to stream it: Netflix