Halloween might have roots in Ireland and other Celtic territories, but for many, it is a thoroughly American holiday, celebrated by watching scary movies—generally English language, Hollywood horror. Every year brings new offerings to go with old classics, slasher films, and cult favorites, but focusing only on U.S. films misses the rich vein of horror being mined all around the world.
Here are ten recent movies (all currently available to stream online) to watch if you want to add international flair to your spooky season.
Atlantics (Dir. Mati Diop, Senegal, 2019)
By just looking at the synopsis, this acclaimed release from French-Senegalese director Mati Diop sounds more like a romantic drama than it does a horror film. The movie follows Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) and Soulieman (Ibrahima Traoré), two star-crossed lovers trying to be together despite the former’s betrothal to another man, Omar (Babacar Sylla). Ada’s already slight hopes for happiness are dashed when Soulieman, headed for Spain in search of employment, drowns in the Atlantic. But just as she resigns herself to a life with Omar, strange supernatural events suggest that Soulieman may not be gone forever.
Beautifully acted and filled with powerful visuals, Atlantics grounds its gothic romance in the reality of dire circumstances.
Dream Home (Dir. Pang Ho-cheung, Hong Kong, 2010)
Like the killers in Italian giallo films who came before them, American slashers tend to be driven by some sort of psychological trauma. In Dream Home, director Pang Ho-cheung imagines something different: a murderer driven by economic anxiety. Hong Kong businesswoman Cheng Lai-sheung (Josie Ho) does her best to fulfill her life-long dream of owning a flat with an ocean-side view, but unscrupulous capitalists block her at every turn. Stripped of all options, Lai-sheung decides to make her chosen flat more affordable by going on a killing spree through the building.
Gory and mean-spirited, especially towards women, Dream Home is a hard watch. Yet there’s no denying the movie’s point about the dehumanizing nature of modern capitalism.
Tumbbad (Dirs. Rahi Anil Barve, Anad Gandhi, and Adesh Prasad, India, 2019)
When Americans think of Bollywood, we usually picture lavish musicals and soaring romances. But India has a long tradition of producing Hindi-language horror movies, including the folk-horror film Tumbbad. While it does feature a few original musical numbers, Tumbbad is a largely grim affair about a greedy man called Vinayak (Sohum Shah) who ignores local warnings and steals gold from a mad god trapped in his hometown. Vinayak seems to defeat the god and amass a fortune, but it’s just a matter of time before his lifestyle brings doom.
With its fantastic creature effects, including a cursed old woman with a tree growing from her body, Tumbbad is a memorable morality tale.
The Host (Dir. Bong Joon Ho, South Korea, 2006)
Thanks to his richly deserved Oscar wins for last year’s Parasite, Korean director Bong Joon Ho has become one of the world’s most famous filmmakers. While all of his films have a strong anti-capitalist message, Bong also loves to mix and mash genres, as demonstrated by his kaiju film The Host. Bong’s frequent collaborator Song Kang-ho stars as Park Gang-du, a ne’er-do-well who grows desperate after a giant monster leaps from the sea and kidnaps many people, including his daughter Hyun-seo (Go Ah-sung). Gang-du must fight his feelings of failure and sorrow to hunt down the monster and rescue his daughter.
Bong masterfully weaves social commentary and family drama into a satisfying kaiju film, making The Host one of the most complex monster movies ever made.
The Pool (Dir. Ping Lumpraploeng, Thailand, 2018)
The Pool is a movie about a guy who gets trapped in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. With a crocodile.
Okay, I know that sounds ridiculous, and it is. But somehow, Lumpraploeng builds from this premise a story that is as terrifying as it is moving and hilarious. Dog trainer Day (Theeradej Wongpuapan) makes a silly mistake to get himself trapped in the pool, but every decision he makes afterward is reasonable, even as his situation becomes more desperate. Much more than a catchy premise, The Pool is a clever story with far more heart and intelligence than its logline suggests.
Ojuju (Dir. C.J. Obasi, Nigeria, 2010)
Along with Hollywood and Bollywood, Nigeria (sometimes referred to as “Nollywood”) has become one of the world’s most prolific source of movies. However, despite its prodigious output, Nollywood films are fairly hard to legally watch in the U.S. The streaming service kweli.tv is trying to change this, offering a wide range of films from across the Black diaspora, including the Nigerian zombie movie Ojuju.
Shot on video in a slum outside of Lagos, Ojuju focuses on Romero (Gabriel Afolayan), a father-to-be who forgets his romantic woes when tainted water starts turning the townspeople into zombies.
First-time filmmaker Obasi demonstrates an eye for composition and a knack for quickly drawing interesting characters, even if he doesn’t always know what to do with them (thus the two-minute scene featuring a constipated woman on the toilet). However, it’s always interesting seeing the zombie format applied to a new region or culture, especially when it draws attention to the need for clean water in the country.
Tigers Are Not Afraid (Dir. Issa López, Mexico, 2017)
Given the real-life horrors of human trafficking and violence between drug-running gangs, monsters can seem like an unnecessary narrative extravagance. So it’s a relief that the ghosts in Tigers are Not Afraid come to help and not scare young Estrella (Paola Lara) and other children threatened by gangland violence.
The existence of ghostly friends, a fairytale tiger, and magical chalk makes Tigers are Not Afraid sound like a whimsical adventure, but make no mistake—the movie takes a direct, unsparing look at the daily threats faced by Estrella and her friends. Still, López’s deep affection for her characters shines through the film, making it all the more frightening.
Demon (Dir. Marcin Wrona, Poland, 2015)
The night before his wedding to Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska), a woman he met through the internet, Piotr (Italy Tiran) uncovers a skeleton on land owned by his bride’s family property. Piotr ignores this discovery and goes through with the wedding, so when he starts behaving oddly, the family chalks it up to nerves. But his symptoms include speaking Yiddish, and soon no one can deny that supernatural forces are at work.
Somber and striking, Demon is a powerful meditation on generational guilt on a level that we rarely see. It uses the conventions of horror to explore the weight of past sins.
Revenge (Dir. Coralie Fargeat, France, 2017)
A direct response to rape/revenge movies like I Spit on Your Grave, Revenge is the vicious story of Jen (Matilda Lutz), a woman who is raped by a friend of her married boyfriend Richard (Kevin Janssens) and left for dead in the desert. Jen somehow survives the attack and begins hunting Richard, who was complicit in the attack, and his friends Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dmitri (Guillaume Bouchède).
A stomach-churning movie, Revenge critiques the kind of portrayals of sexual violence that are all too common in horror movies, but it doesn’t forget to entertain. Jen hunts with a level of determination that would put Jason Voorhees to shame, leading to plenty of satisfying gore.
Under the Shadow (Dir. Babak Anvari, Iran, 2016)
When her doctor husband Iraj (Bobby Naderi) leaves to serve Iran in the 1980s war with Iraq, former medical student Shideh (Narges Rashidi) stays in Terhan with their daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi). There, Shideh and Dorsa must deal with daily shelling from Iraqi invaders and from the existence of djinn tormenting people in her building.
While its structure might be familiar to horror fans, Anvari takes advantage of the setting and draws on local folklore to portray the very real effects of wartime trauma.