Guest Blog: Kate Hensley's Top Ten Foreign Horror Films of the Decade

by Kate Hensley.

10. Otto ; or, Up with Dead People (2008) I don’t think any country but Germany could have brought us a hardcore gay existential zombie flick, complete with gang bangs, wound penetration, and the first zombie suicide. Poor Otto the vegetarian zombie, doomed to feed on roadkill. But is Otto truly a zombie? Or does he just think he’s a zombie? If he thinks he’s a zombie, then he is a zombie, isn’t he? I hope he didn’t eat dead crows for nothin’. The heart-rending denouement has parallels in today’s un-undead gay community, but the scene where a zombie kills and eats a buff hottie who reanimates halfway through the meal and becomes the object of a different basic hunger really steals the show.

9. The Descent (2005) Yes, it’s set in America, but it was produced and filmed in the UK by a British director. Bucking tradition, it features an all-female, silicone-free cast, subterranean monsters called ‘crawlers’ who are played by actual people in these things called prosthetics and costumes, and a hell of a downer of an ending. Fear and tension are introduced slowly, using all the available possibilities a spelunking expedition has to offer – heights, claustrophobia, drowning, and the dark – before finally introducing some of the most terrifying monsters I’ve seen in a decade. Not that I don’t love American slashers and thrillers that wait oh, five minutes before they give it to you hard, then just keep pounding you with it ‘til the end; it’s just, well, can’t we ever just make love? And since this movie didn’t OD on CGI, I can watch it again in ten years without peeing myself at how ridiculous it looks.

8. The Orphanage/El Orfanato (2007) This Spanish film was inspired by classics like Poltergeist, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Omen, which results in a lack of gratuitous nudity or buckets of blood. What it does boast is a classic haunted house story, a genuine mystery, and creepy orphans. Without resorting to cheap scares – “I’m gonna shut this door to reveal my dog/my mom/absolutely nothing, and here’s some scary music and purposeless camera work to fake you out!” – The Orphanage gave me crawly skin and sweaty palms, and then bitch-slapped me with some Oedipus-level ironic tragedy. Ghost children and compelling plots aren’t your thing? The female lead has some impressive implants and a wardrobe full of low necklines!

7. [REC] (2007) P.O.V. style film-making is a hard style to pull off unless you’re a porno director, and not even my longtime boyfriend George Romero really thrilled me with his foray into the genre. However, this Spanish thriller about a news reporter and her cameraman quarantined with in an apartment building as some crazy rage-virus begins its world domination simply rocked my socks. I hope you made the effort to see the original. As much as I love Jennifer Carpenter’s legs, Quarantine, while being almost exactly the same, didn’t achieve the same beats per minute - kinda like banging Ashley Olsen. [REC] also went there and blamed the whole demon virus on the Vatican, which deserves a fist-bump, IMHO.

6. 28 Days Later (2002) I could seriously money-shot all over this movie’s face. It opens with the ever-elusive male frontal nudity, reinvents the classic zombie apocalypse premise while melding it with the coming-of-age drama, showcases a great cast playing interesting characters (and not one but two strong females), manages to pull your heart strings repeatedly yet end happily, and has a seriously badass and now-iconic score. Plus terror. Heaps and heaps of terror, paced perfectly, and culminating in an orgy of tension that had me literally writhing the first time I watched it. If I have to employ Pilates side-wall breathing to calm myself, it has earned its place in this list.

5. Martyrs (2008) This second effort from Frenchie Pascal Laugier combines survivor’s guilt, the revenge genre, mad scientists, and man’s quest for spiritual revelation in one of the most brutal packages ever to grace film stock. Lucie, an orphan who escaped from captivity and torture as a child, believes she has found her captors, and after blowing the whole family away with a double barreled shotgun, enlists her orphan best friend Anna to bury the bodies. But this is no simple torture flick. The family is but one branch of an organization dedicated to creating martyrs, in the hopes that in the time before their death the martyrs will share their revelations of the next world. Lucie, a failed experiment, is disposed of, and Anna begins her own agonizing journey. The end is such a pricktease I almost punched my television, but it’s somewhat mitigated by the most mind-blowing cringe-worthy full body prosthetic I have ever feasted my gorehound eyes on.

4. High Tension/Haut Tension (2003) Okay, I realize that this movie has massive plot issues. Severe dissociative identity disorder and homicidal tendencies need to be supported by more than unrequited lesbian lust. Also, Dean Koontz called and says he wants some royalty kickbacks. That said, the title is incredibly apt, and this film is a tension filled splatter-fest. Also, Cécile de France is hot. Get your hands on a European release for two more very important minutes of arterial spray, shotgun blasts, and a bookcase decapitation.

3. Inside/A l’Interieur (2007) Johnny Depp’s hot French wife loses her husband in a fatal car crash. On Christmas Eve, she prepares to spend the night alone in her Parisian home during the suburban riots. The next day, she will go to the hospital to deliver her baby - or will she? Not if Béatrice Dalle has anything to do with it! Armed with some wicked huge shears, she infiltrates Allysson Paradis’s home, intent on stealing the fruit of her womb, destroying anyone who happens to stop by – friends, family, the police, even some poor teenager who just wanted to set a car or two on fire. The unflinching end – come on, you know where this is going – is a prosthetic triumph awash in a sea of blood. Can you tell I like female-centric films?

2. Shaun of the Dead (2004) The best romantic comedy zombie movie since Dead Alive, SoTD combines humor, heart, and well, hearts, with a great rock and roll soundtrack and the best-choreographed zombie fight scene ever, hands-down. This British flick is proof that you don’t have to trade blood and guts for character development and the exploration of human connection, as everyman Shaun combats an undead horde while evaluating his relationships with his girlfriend, his ex- girlfriend, his best friend, his flatmate, his mum and (step)dad.

1. Let the Right One In/Lat den Ratte Komma in (2008) Swedish vampires don’t sparkle, they employ Renfields who commit mass murder and bring home the bacon in Tupperware. Twelve-ish year old Eli befriends lonely, bullied Oskar and encourages him to stand up for himself. Their friendship blooms and she manages not to eat him when her servant consistently flubs the takeout. We get to see an acid burn, a turned vampire commit suicide with the sun, a teenager drained like a prize buck, a vicious classic vamp attack, and Oskar snotting all over himself, Blair Witch-style, but the infamous swimming pool end takes the cake. Or head. Whatever. It’s a beautiful, artful, touching exploration of childhood loneliness and friendship, reinvents some facets of vampire mythology and the sound effects team deserves a righteous b.j. Look for a crappy American remake this year.

So that’s it, kids! I love American slashers, gorefests, thrillers, and frightfests, but get over yourself and read some subtitles!

Kate Hensley teaches English to teenagers at Lycee Arthur Rimbaud in Douai, France, while also modeling for figure drawing, sculpture, and portrait classes at L’Ecole d’Art de Douai. She was unlucky enough to work with Randall in his first attempt at a real job, but wound up forgiving him for being so damn neurotic, and then gave him a hug anyway. She’s currently touring the Continent, and if you’d like her to school you further on foreign films, she can be contacted via her
Facebook page.

6 comments :: Guest Blog: Kate Hensley's Top Ten Foreign Horror Films of the Decade

  1. foreign horrors... that's a nice take. I'm amazed not to see any of the really awesome Asian horror movies that came out in the last decade (not even counting the mainstream grudge and ring Asian originals), though.

  2. Well, she's in Europe. So I'd imagine that was why the focus leaned that way a little.

  3. hi guys! there are two reasons: 1) i pretty much hate j-horror
    2) that's the first thing people think of when you say 'foreign horror',and the last thing i am is predictable.
    i actually considered 'old boy' or 'lady vengeance' for this list, but i simply like zombies, ghosts, and slashers more than revenge flicks.

  4. I mean, generic j-horror is worth shrugging off. but some of it is really epic and really great. most of the horror movies we see nowadays take their influence from great Asian horror (Asian=more than Japan; Asian horror= more than j-horror). Lady Vengeance is a really good one. I totally forgot about when I was making my list (I guess I had it in my head that it was older). Some of the Asian horror movies I've seen still stick out in my mind.

  5. I'd think Asian horror would be a totally different list from European horror, which is of course a totally different list from American horror. Every part of the world has a varying view of what's scary. Great list, lot of flicks I'll need to look into.

  6. @NiXon
    I'm going to be covering some Asian horror offerings when I send my list to Randall. Korea in particular had some startling offerings the last decade.