In the past few years, I’ve been getting more into international horror. I still love American horror, but I’ve come to realize that there’s a wealth of genre content from other countries that’s just as good as the films made here in the states.
What I especially like about these movies is that they often don’t play by the same rules we’re used to. Many of them eschew the tropes and clichés that saturate American horror, and they tell stories based in different cultures and traditions than the ones we’re familiar with. As a hardcore genre fan, I really enjoy films that can give me something I don’t normally see, so I love the unconventional storytelling of international filmmakers.
However, diving into foreign movies is often easier said than done. They can be really hard to track down, so most of us don’t get a chance to see too many of them. But we horror fans are in luck. The streaming service, Shudder, has done a great job of bringing us some of the best international films the genre has to offer; so if you want to dive into horror movies from all over the world, Shudder is the place to go.
That being said, their international catalogue can be a bit intimidating when you first decide to explore it. It can seem like it’s just a bunch of movies you’ve never heard of, so it helps to have some guidance on where to begin. And that’s what I’m here to help you with. I’ve picked out five of my favorite non-American Shudder exclusives and originals to recommend to you, so if you want to go beyond the bounds of stateside horror, here are some great films to get you started.
Terrified is an Argentinian movie about a string of supernatural occurrences that take place in a seemingly normal neighborhood in Buenos Aires. In the first half of the film, we see these events begin to transpire, and then in the second half, we follow a trio of paranormal researchers trying to figure out what exactly is going on. As they study the phenomena, strange things continue happening, and the horror just gets worse and worse until it becomes too much even for these seasoned veterans.
On the surface, that may sound like a rather generic plot, but this movie has a few things going for it that set it apart from your typical supernatural fare. For one, we never find out what exactly is terrorizing the neighborhood, so there’s a sense of mystery that pervades the entire story. We do get a bit of an explanation, but it’s very vague and nonspecific, so it doesn’t really explain all that much.
Along similar lines, this movie also keeps you on your toes by combining different types of paranormal events. Because it never settles on a definitive kind of monster, all sorts of strange things take place throughout the film. In one scene, it can seem like a ghost or demon movie, and then in another it can feel almost like a zombie film. You never know what the next paranormal event is going to be, and that unpredictability makes the scares all the more effective.
In a nutshell, Terrified is a great example of why international horror can be so refreshing. It breaks the subgenre mold that we’re all too used to seeing, so if you’re a fan of supernatural horror, you should definitely check this one out.
Tigers Are Not Afraid
If you’re a fan of Guillermo del Toro, then I have the perfect movie for you. Tigers Are Not Afraid is a Mexican film about a group of homeless orphans who get into trouble with some members of a human trafficking ring, and one of the kids is followed around by a bunch of supernatural forces. She’s haunted by visions of ghosts, she sometimes sees little magical creatures flying around, and she has three pieces of chalk that each grant her one wish.
Much like Guillermo del Toro’s work, this one is more of a drama with fantasy/horror elements than a full-on horror movie, and it blends the bleak, hard-hitting realism of these children’s lives with the more fantastical elements to give us a nearly perfect cinematic “sweet and sour” flavor. However, this isn’t just a carbon copy of del Toro’s style. To take just one difference, del Toro tends to avoid overt scares, but this movie embraces them, giving us some truly creepy moments.
All that being said, the best thing about this film isn’t the horror elements; it’s the characters. The child actors do a fantastic job of bringing their characters to life and making you really care about them, so you become engrossed in their story. You feel for them when bad things happen, and you’re happy when they get a chance to just be kids and have a bit of fun.
Because of that, Tigers Are Not Afraid isn’t just a great horror movie. It’s a great movie. It’s a captivating narrative that has good scares and real, heartfelt emotion, and that combination is pretty hard to beat. Simply put, if you’re a horror fan who also enjoys great stories, you do not want to miss out on this absolute gem.
Satan’s Slaves is an Indonesian movie about a family that loses their mother, and after her death, they’re haunted by some Satanic choices she made before her children were born. I came across this movie randomly one day as I was looking for something interesting on Shudder, and I’m super glad I did. This is one of the best new films I’ve seen in years.
It has just about everything you could want in a horror movie, beginning with a great cast of characters. Pretty much every member of this family is really likeable, so you become attached to them very quickly. What’s more, the story is all about their love for one another, so it builds on your love for them, making it all the more compelling. Because you care so much about the characters, you can’t help but keep your eyes glued to the screen to find out what happens next.
On top of that, director Joko Anwar is also a master at building up tension for just the right amount of time and then releasing it with an awesome scare. Even when he uses familiar horror tropes that feel like worn out clichés in the hands of lesser filmmakers, he manages to inject them with a spine-tingling atmosphere that makes them work as well as if you were seeing them for the first time.
And finally, this movie adds a little twist that sets it apart from just about every other film in the genre. The story is based in Islam rather than Christianity, and while I love my Christian demon movies, it’s just refreshing to see something a bit different every once in a while.
All in all, few horror films work as well on every level as Satan’s Slaves, and even fewer do it while also going outside the Christian box that American genre filmmakers often seem stuck in. This movie is just an absolute treat to watch, so if you’re a fan of ghosts, demons, and Satanic cults, you’re going to want to put this one on your to-watch list.
Impetigore is another Indonesian movie directed by Joko Anwar, and it’s just as good as Satan’s Slaves. It’s a folk horror film about a young woman who travels to her ancestral village to take possession of her family’s old house there, but soon after she arrives, she learns that the villagers have a nasty secret that might prove fatal for her.
This movie has pretty much the same strengths as Satan’s Slaves. It has likeable characters that you root for, a compelling story that divulges its secrets at just the right pace, and some great horror elements. It’s also based very much in Indonesian culture, and some of the major plot points even have to do with a traditional form of Indonesian puppetry called wayang kulit, so it has a really unique cultural touch that you simply don’t get in American films.
However, the two movies aren’t entirely the same. The most obvious difference is their subgenres, as Impetigore is a folk horror while Satan’s Slaves is more of a typical ghost/demon tale, but there are other differences as well. Impetigore also doesn’t have as many scares as Satan’s Slaves. Instead, it’s more about the eerie atmosphere that permeates the entire narrative.
This film is just dripping with it, especially once you get to the village. Because it’s an obscure place that neither you nor the main characters know anything about, all the movie needs to do is play into the village’s inherent creepiness, and Joko Anwar does that brilliantly. He makes you feel all the unease and anxiety that come with being a stranger in an unknown place, and that more than makes up for the lack of individual scare moments.
So, if you’re a fan of folk horror or of movies that rely more on atmosphere than on scary things jumping out at you, you should definitely check out Impetigore. It proves that Joko Anwar is far more than a one-hit wonder, and it once again goes far outside the box of typical American horror.
Monstrum is a South Korean movie that takes place in the 16th century as a monster roams the Korean countryside and a deadly plague spreads among the people. It follows two former soldiers who’ve been commissioned to hunt the creature down, and along the way the movie gives us a few narrative twists and turns plus a surprising amount of comedy to keep viewers on their toes.
This movie does everything you want a creature feature to do, and it does it very well. For one, it does a great job with its monster. It takes a somewhat Jaws-inspired approach by not showing the creature for a large portion of its runtime, choosing instead to build up the mystery and anticipation for the big reveal, and when that reveal comes, it does not disappoint. The creature design is relatively simple, but it still looks pretty cool.
Secondly, the film also handles its human characters really well. The two hunters have a classic comedy duo kind of a feel, with one being the “straight man” and the other being the “funny man.” It’s very entertaining, so you don’t get bored waiting to finally see the monster. You just enjoy seeing these characters do their thing until the creature finally makes an appearance.
On a similar note, the movie also manages to avoid a pitfall that ruins way too many monster movies. Many of them fail because they try to spice up their narratives with subplots that don’t add anything to the main story, but those subplots just fall flat and end up distracting from the main attraction. Monstrum circumvents this danger by including subplots that bear directly on the main story. It’s all about the creature and the danger it poses to the people, and the film finds a way to keep the plot interesting without going beyond the bounds of that central idea.
So if you’re a fan of monsters, I’d highly recommend Monstrum. It’s a monster movie done right, and it’s also the only one I’ve ever seen that takes place in 16th century Korea. The setting adds a cultural twist that you just don’t get from American movies, and when you combine it with a cool monster and an enjoyable human story, it all adds up to a highly entertaining creature feature that’s sure to satisfy your desire to see a savage, man-eating beast doing what it does best.