To celebrate unique chillers and thrillers you may not have seen, Moviefone is spotlighting the best foreign horror films in a variety of categories. If you're up for a good scare -- and don't mind reading the occasional subtitle -- then consider this a world history lesson.
For today's class: the supernatural. Ghosts. Evil spirits. Lost souls seeking vengeance. Every civilization -- in an attempt to explain the unexplainable -- has created superstitious tales. This collection of movies demonstrates that no matter where you are in the world, some scares are universal, and no matter what language you speak, a strange noise coming from a dark room will always be very creepy.
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
What's It About? As Kudo and her friends try to figure out why their friend Taguchi committed suicide, his spectral image begins to appear on a computer disk he was working on and he leaves messages on her phone begging for help from the afterlife. Soon, people begin to randomly and mysteriously disappear, leaving behind only shadowy imprints. Meanwhile, Ryosuke's computer exhibits a life of its own, exposing him to images of ghosts, leading him to believe that their unrest souls are invading the earthly realm.
Why Is it Awesome? The "J-horror" scene was swallowed up by Hollywood, who churned out tame remakes -- including a 2006 remake of 'Pulse' -- and then burned audiences on the same repeated spooky imagery, until it all became cliché. But where 'Pulse' shines is in the totally creepy atmosphere created by director Kiyoshi Kurosawa. With 'Pulse' he takes the "ghost in the machine" trope that was worn out so heavily, and pushes it to an apocalyptic conclusion. The supernatural is represented as both the traditional "ghost," and as a lingering image of despair that invoked the atomic bomb blasts of WWII. In a world that is becoming increasingly industrialized and technologically connected, 'Pulse' is proof that it can still be a scary, lonely place.
Buy or Rent 'Pulse'
4. 'Black Sunday' (1960)
Director: Mario Bava
AKA: 'La Maschera del Demonio,' 'The Mask of Satan'
What's It About? The Moldavian witch Asa (Barbara Steele) is burned at the stake in the year 1630. Two centuries later, doctors inadvertently disturb her grave and resurrect the undead servant of Satan. She begins to amass vampiric followers in an effort to capture and sacrifice the young, beautiful Katia in a bid for immortality.
Why Is it Awesome? 'Black Sunday' is one of cinema's greatest Gothic productions. Mario Bava's film not only examines but revels in viewers' fears of the occult and all its evil possibility. The film shocked audiences with its levels of of violence and gore; they apparently forgot that history has always had a nasty streak when combating what they perceived to be the magic arts. Few movies have depicted medieval torture and execution with as much lavish artistic design.
Buy or Rent 'Black Sunday'
3. 'The Devil's Backbone' (2001)
Director: Guillermo del Toro
AKA: 'El Espinazo del Diablo'
What's It About? In 1939, after becoming another victim of the Spanish Civil War, young Carlos is sent to an orphanage. Things seem bad at first when he is picked on by the older Jaime, but they get seriously worse when he begins to hear strange noises at night. His investigations reveal the orphanage to be haunted by another young boy named Santi. Before he can safely get away, Carols discovers that the bullying Jaime and the adults in charge may be connected to the supernatural mystery. And even if he can survive whatever threats are closing in on him, he still must contend with the escalating and approaching war outside.
Why Is it Awesome? Guillermo del Toro has since broken through to Hollywood and international audiences, but 'Backbone' represents a personal creative peak for del Toro, who fused the genuine, moody scares of a ghost story with the shocking confusion of war. The film's young protagonists and their innocent view of the world make the film's tragic setting even more nerve-wracking.
Buy or Rent 'The Devil's Backbone'
2. 'Ringu' (1998)
Director: Hideo Nakata
What's It About? Most people are familiar with the super-successful Hollywood remake so here's the gist of it: the journalist Reiko investigates the death of her niece, which came about after she watched a supposedly cursed videotape that will kill anyone who views it. As she searches for clues, she discovers the true nature of the videotape, the terrifying little girl that is broadcast every time it is watched and the cruel game of tape-passing that must be played.
Why Is it Awesome? 'Ringu' is Japan's highest grossing horror movie of all time. And as far as remakes go, the American version isn't bad. But before the cross-continental movie fad spawned countless imitators, there was the original 'Ringu.' Over a decade later it stands tall as a dark, atmospheric twist on urban legends and ghost stories; there's no better example of how freaked out you can get from simply sitting in an empty room, watching images on a TV screen.
Buy or Rent 'Ringu'
1. 'Suspiria' (1977)
Director: Dario Argento
What's It About? American ballerina Suzy (Jessica Harper) arrives at a prestigious dance academy in Munich just as her new classmates are terrorized by a vicious killer with superhuman abilities. Suzy and her roommate investigate their mysterious school for answers and discover they are trapped within an evil terror, hundreds of years old.
Why Is it Awesome? It's all in the execution(s). Trying to describe 'Suspiria' doesn't begin to do it justice. It sounds like a traditional fairy tale-inspired story of a young girl and an evil creature, but Dario Argento's film is a symphony of gore and beauty. As Italy's last Technicolor film, the movie is a vibrant, choreographed display of carnage and other-worldly scares. Most movies frighten their audiences by drowning the scenes in black, but 'Suspiria' has managed to freak people out for over 30 years using all the colors of the rainbow.
Buy or Rent 'Suspiria'
Check back every day, for more installments of Moviefone's best of international horror. Coming up tomorrow: the Best Monster Mutations.