There’s something about foreign horror that really has the ability to get under your skin. Perhaps the unfamiliar faces of the actors better create a sense of realism. Maybe it’s the added focus on the dialogue from reading the subtitles. We’ve listed some of our favorite foreign horror films before, but this time we’re going to look at the truly dark and disturbing. Love them or hate them, they have an impeccable way of stabbing you in the gut and twisting the blade.
For the sake of brevity, I’m going to focus on modern foreign horror films here (my apologies to Cannibal Holocaust and Thriller: En Grym Film).
Here’s my top 5.
Calvaire – aka The Ordeal (Belgium, 2004)
Think of it as a cross between Misery and Deliverance; that should give you some idea of why it’s on this list. In the film, a lounge singer – on the way to his next gig – runs into some car trouble and is rescued by a lonely aspiring comedian. The longer he’s stuck waiting for a non-existent car repair, the more he’s subject to the fantasies of his unhinged host. Mix in an assortment of deranged locals, a sprinkle of delusion, and a splash of bestiality and he’s got a real problem on his hands.
Calvaire carries a dark sense of hopelessness that simmers to a boil over the course of the film. Every interaction between our protagonist and… anyone, really… creates a growing discomfort that’s just inescapable. There isn’t a lot of violence, but it is psychologically terrifying.
We’ve talked about Baskin before on iHorror, so if you haven’t watched it, let this be a reminder that you might want to. In Baskin, a squad of unsuspecting cops goes through a trapdoor to Hell when they stumble upon a Black Mass in an abandoned building. Accompanied by some imagery that will definitely stick with you, their journey is a bleak descent into darkness, madness and torture. Every gruesome visual culminates in their encounter with the character of Father in a viscerally horrific sequence of depravity and trauma.
This is one you may already be familiar with, but you might not have watched it. Hell, I don’t blame you, it’s a challenging film. The plot focuses on an aging porn star who agrees to participate in an “art film” in order to make a clean break from the business, only to discover that he has been drafted into making a pedophilia and necrophilia themed snuff film. It’s subversive, divisive, and it’s been banned in Spain, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Norway, with a temporary ban from screening in Brazil.
Among the details that add nuance to any film, the cultural affects of the sociopolitical context are probably the most palpable in the darkest films. Director Srđan Spasojević has explained that A Serbian Film is “a diary of our own molestation by the Serbian government… It’s about the monolithic power of leaders who hypnotize you to do things you don’t want to do. You have to feel the violence to know what it’s about.”
Martyrs (France, 2008)
Martyrs follows a young woman’s quest for revenge against the people who kidnapped and tormented her as a child. This leads her and a friend on a terrifying journey into a living hell. They are subject to experiments designed to inflict systematic acts of torture upon young women in the belief that their suffering will result in a transcendental insight into the world beyond this one. If you’re not big on torture in horror movies maybe avoid… well, most of this list… but in particular, avoid Martyrs. It takes physical torture to another level.
Martyrs has been associated with the New French Extremity movement (along with Haute Tension, Frontiere(s), Ils, and Inside) which demonstrates a “crossover between sexual decadence, bestial violence and troubling psychosis”. I could cover several of the New French Extremity movement films, but in the interest of a diverse list, I’ll advise you check them out if you’re in the market for something particularly dark.
Three hooded criminals burst into a home in a Madrid gated community, holding the family hostage and forcing the father to empty his credit cards. The premise is simple, but the execution is incredible. Secuestrados is composed of 12 long shots so you don’t ever leave the action; there’s no quick cuts to distract or release the tension. There’s a bit of a slow build, but the ending packs a punch.
I’d like to add an honorable mention for I Saw the Devil and Irréversible. The former is one I have already discussed at length. As for Irréversible, I have a hard time categorizing it as a horror film. That being said, it is dark as hell and probably one of the harshest films you’ll ever see.
What top 5 foreign films would be on your list? Tell us in the comments!