When it comes to horror films, Americans must humbly bow their heads and concede defeat to their international brethren. Sure, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, George Romero and others deserve all the accolades they've received, but as the below films prove, clever horror knows no American territoriality.
Eerie houses, ghost eyes, and sadistic doctors can be found anywhere.
Here are nine extremely scary exports every horror fan needs to see.
'The Eye' (2002)
Country: Hong Kong
Why So Scary: You'll hear this a lot from us, but skip the 2008 remake starring Jessica Alba (if you even remember it) and check out the Pang brothers' tale of a blind woman who receives a corneal transplant and begins seeing strange, dark figures everywhere she goes. It'd be a betrayal to give away any more than that. Let's just say we dug our fingers into the seat cushion more times than we'd like to admit.
'Eyes Without a Face' (1960)
Why So Scary: Plastic surgeon Doctor Génessier is still tormented by the car accident that mangled his teenage daughter's face. To help heal her – and hide her shame – the benevolent father forces her to wear a mask while he kidnaps unsuspecting young females. The plan: graft their faces onto his daughter's. What's the worse that could happen? A graphic movie for its time – particularly the infamous transplant scene – director Georges Franju still injects his characters with pathos and warped sentimentality.
'Funny Games' (1997)
Why So Scary: Forget the 2008 shot-for-shot U.S. remake. What makes Michael Haneke's story of two men that break in and hold a vacationing family hostage so creepy is the filmmaker's breaking of the fourth wall and complete lack of motive and reason for the crime other than evil enjoyment. Paul, one of the men, talks to the camera – and by extension, the audience – teasing the viewer with the sadistic tortures he's about to inflict. Unlike other horror films that allow you to keep a safe distance, "Funny Games" forces you to be implicit in the crimes and makes you question why exactly you're entertained by the film. What's more horrific than crushing self-reflection?
'Let The Right One In' (2008)
Why So Scary: There's been dozens of vampire movies before Tomas Alfredson's adaptation of a popular Swedish book, but few have been as poignant and emotionally wrenching as this film. Don't get it twisted: there's enough gore to satiate any "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" fan, but at its core, the film revolves around the relationship between the socially awkward 12-year-old Oskar and his new female neighbor Eli, a vampire who needs to murder, as vampires will do, to survive. Decapitation never looked so beautiful.
Why So Scary: F. W. Murnau's adaptation of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" remains, 90 years later, a horror essential. When real estate agent Hutter ignores everyone's warnings and accepts a meeting at reclusive Count Orlok's castle, he quickly realizes that the coffin naps and blood fetishes may be a giveaway that something's a bit off. So begins a wave of unexplained murders and a town panicked. The film's groundbreaking make-up and Max Schreck's startlingly convincing Orlok ensure classic status.
'The Orphanage' (2007)
Why So Scary: Juan Antonio Bayana's brilliant, mesmerizing and startling debut film (produced by Guillermo Del Toro) begins with a couple who return to the orphanage where the wife grew up to reopen the home for disabled children. When their own child, Simon, begins displaying erratic, bizarre behavior patterns, it's quickly realized that the new house may hold some very disturbing secrets. Bayana opts for a classic, gothic feel a la "The Others" over Craven-esque scares and delivers a film that's both beautiful and terrifying.
Why So Scary: Before "The Ring" became a 2002 cinematic event, Hideo Nakata's original "Ringu" captured Asia's attention with a simple, yet beguiling, story: if you watch a particular video at a certain time, you receive a phone call and die one week later. When the aunt of one of the victims sees the tape herself – and receives the subsequent call – she frantically searches for clues that will keep her alive past the allotted time. Ads for the film cautioned potential viewers to not watch this one alone, proving that just because it's marketing hyperbole doesn't mean it's not true.
Why So Scary: When photographer Tun and his wife Jane are involved in a hit-and-run on a deserted country road, they don't count on a spirit being less than forgiving of their vehicular crime. Returning home, Tun begins to see strange images in his photos, while Jane's dreams turn into intolerable nightmares. When they return to the scene of the accident, nobody knows anything about it. Maybe. As the couple's friends begin dying off one by one, you can guess who's next. (Again, skip the 2008 American version.)
Why So Scary: Shock/shlock director Dario Argento's horror masterpiece revolves around Suzy, an American transplant in Germany who instantly sees her new prestigious ballet school for the gruesome sanctuary of murder that it is. With the occult playing a prominent role in the school's founding, Suzy goes deeper and deeper into a nightmarish world involving witches and curses. "Suspiria" is a blood-soaked, gory gem that has, 30 years later, retained its ability to shock.
Originally published Oct. 1, 2010.