Bong Joon-ho, the director of the amazing Parasite (not exactly a horror movie, but definitely horror-adjacent) said “Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
Sometimes, those of us who speak English as a first language (and maybe don’t know any others) balk at films in a tongue other than our own, thus missing out on some really great movies. A whole world of horror opens when you don’t restrict your search to Anglophone films—particularly because different cultures have different concepts of horror, different tropes, and different mythos to draw from.
So, I’m compiling a list of my favorite horror films in languages other than English. I’m a native English speaker, and it’s the only language I’m fluent in (I know a little Spanish, a little Latin, and a tiny bit of Irish), so please forgive any omissions I may have made (and drop them in the comments).
Verónica: In this genuinely chilling tale, an eldest sister finds herself acting in ways she can’t quite control in the wake of using a Ouija board. It’s based on a true story (that of Estefanía Gutiérrez Lázaro), and Vero is one of the few horror protagonists who is not only smart and capable but lovable. Besides just being afraid for her, I cared about Vero and rooted for her until the end.
The Influence: This film has it all: an adult’s return to her troubled childhood home, her two innocent and vulnerable children, and her mother, a powerful and malevolent old woman who refuses to die. It’s pretty standard fare, but it does what it does well.
The Vigil: Okay, this movie isn’t entirely in Yiddish, but the characters speak it a fair amount, and it’s a good enough film that I want to include it anyway. Our protagonist is Yakov Ronen, a man on the outskirts of his Orthodox Jewish community but still willing to act as shimmer and sit Shomer for a recently-deceased man from the neighborhood. As he spends the night beside the man’s dead body, Yakov struggles to text a girl and only partially believes in his ritual. Memories of a violent, anti-Semitic attack come to his mind, as do nightmares and visits from the dementia-afflicted widow. As the night wears on, Yakov’s grip on reality begins to come into question—as do his chances of making it until morning.
Laddaland: This movie has a few tropes that absolutely infuriate me ([SPOILER ALERT]: abusive dad gets heroic death/redemption arc being chief among them [END SPOILER]), but the story and the characters manage to redeem it enough to be included in the list. Classically, a family moves to a suburb to build a better life, only to find death and darkness. This one’s long, (1hr 52min), so settle in before you turn it on.
Goodnight Mommy: I saw this one in theaters back in 2015 and had totally forgotten it wasn’t in my native language, partially because there’s very little dialogue. (Side note, it’s an Austrian film, not a German one.) Two boys are left on their own in a country house while their mother gets an unspecified medical procedure. The woman who returns, bandages on her face, acts somewhat strange, leading the boys to question who she really is. A slow burn, with a brutal ending, this film is psychological terror from start to finish.
The Mansion: An all-round fun, campy, haunted house story, this film has a huge cast fit for slashing up. We haven’t had a good teen scream in a while, in my opinion, and this one definitely fits the bill. Much more humor than horror, it’s still a fun bloodbath to watch on vacation with your own rowdy friend group.
Bonus: Irish Horror Movies
None of these movies are actually as Gaeilge (in the Irish language), but I’m including them as more international movies you should definitely watch.
The Lodgers: Clearly influenced by Shirley Jackson’s unparalleled We Have Always Lived in the Castle, The Lodgers introduces us to an ostracized bother and sister who live in a crumbling manor in Ireland, beneath which something lurks. Slowly, the family secrets begin to unfold.
The Hallow: British folks move to Ireland, and it’s pretty clear they’re not welcome. Okay, that narrows things down exactly 0%. Basically, researchers investigating a weird fungus find out they’ve bitten off a whole lot more than they can chew in the Irish forest. The environmental conservation message, tied in with a colonialism metaphor is subtle enough to work well, and this film is atmospheric and excellent.
The Hole in the Ground: If, like me, you think the changeling myth is absolutely terrifying, this movie is a great take on it. A single mother is convinced her son has been replaced by an identical copy, and her search for answers lasts until the credits roll. The film also turns the “creepy kid” trope on its head by making James’ newly sociable behavior the cause for doubt, in contrast with his withdrawn nature at the beginning of the movie.
What are your favorite non-Anglophone horror movies? Let us know in the comments.