by Charles Reis
American cinema is a dominant force in the world, which includes horror films movies. While it’s undeniable the cultural impact of such American films like Poltergeist, The Amityville Horror, and The Blair Witch Project have had, this leaves many non-American horror movies, particularly ghost-themed movies, getting overlooked. In celebration of the Halloween season, it’s time to acknowledge some great ghost movies made outside of America. (Movies with dual credits with the U.S., such as The Haunting, don’t count).
8. The Eye (Hong Kong)
The idea of mediums and ghosts often go hand-in-hand in these type of movies, and this Hong Kong classic is no exception. Released in 2002 and directed by the Pang Brothers, The Eye tells the tale of a blind woman named Wong Kar Mun who receives an eye transplant. Not only is her vision restored, she starts seeing visions of the future and many ghostly figures, with some being not very friendly. Suspenseful and chilling, the film’s underlining theme is that one cannot escape fate. Like several other Asian horror films, it was so good that it received an inferior Hollywood remake starring Jessica Alba.
7. Shikoku (Japan)
Japanese ghost films are no strangers to American horror fans. While Ringu and Ju-On have received an audience in the States, it’s the 1999 thriller Shikoku (aka Land of the Dead) that is the most underappreciated. The plot is about a young woman named Hinako who returns to her hometown, where she learns that her childhood friend, Sayori, has passed away. Due to a ritualistic pilgrimage that Sayori’s mother is conducting, ghosts start appearing throughout the town. What makes this movie stand out more compared to other Japanese ghost films are the influences of Japanese mysticism and traditions, such as the yūrei and the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Besides being creepy and visual, viewers may learn a little culture from this hidden gem.
6. The Babadook (Australia)
This is a recently released psychological horror film that comes from the land down under. Partially influenced by dark fairy tales, the movie focuses on a stressed-out mother who is dealing with the death of her husband and issues with her troubled young son. Her troubles are made even worse when a supernatural entity that is based on creepy nursery rhyme comes to terrorize her life. The film is both disturbing and frightening, as it’s filled with metaphors for people dealing with loss and grief. The film allows the viewer not only to be creeped out but also relate and sympathize with the main character.
5. The Legend of Hell House (United Kingdom)
It’s no surprise to see an entry from the U.K., as British cinema is common for American audiences. While there are many British ghost films to choose from, The Legend of Hell House is the most fun and entertaining. With a screenplay written by author Richard Matheson and starring cult icon Roddey McDowell, the movie has a group of mediums and paranormal investigators staying at a mansion where a massacre had happened in order to prove that there’s life after death. The movie is a little cheesy, which adds to the fun and entertainment factor, but there’s plenty of effective creepy moments that may give you nightmares. It’s no wonder why it was a drive-in favorite.
4. The Changeling (Canada)
Many might think this classic is an American film, (likely due to it starring Patton himself, George C. Scott), but this great fright fest comes from the neighbors to the North. Released in 1980, it starts off as a traditional ghost story about a widower named John who moves into a mansion that’s haunted by the spirit of a boy. As the story progresses, though, it turns into a mystery as the circumstances surrounding the boy’s death comes to light. Filled with suspense and scares (including a scene involving a wheelchair), this is a must-see, beautifully filmed movie to watch anytime of the year.
3. The Phantom Carriage (Sweden)
Just like the belief in ghost goes back years, as do the making of ghost movies. The Phantom Carriage (Swedish title is Körkarlen) was released in 1921 during the silent era and was directed by Victor David Sjöström. Based on an old Swedish folk tale, the plot has three men talking about how the last man to die just before the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve must drive the Phantom Carriage. For the following year, that person must collect the souls of the dead. Soon after, one of the men dies before midnight. For the era, the film contains some state-of-the-art special effects and great cinematography that creates an eerie and enjoyable cinematic experience.
2. The Devil’s Backbone (Spain)
Guillermo del Toro is best known for his movies such Hellboy, Pacific Rim, and Crimson Peak, but one of his earliest and possible his best horror movie is 2001’s The Devil’s Backbone (El espinazo del diablo). Taking place in 1939 during the Spanish Civil War, the movie follows a young boy named Carlos as he is placed in an orphanage that is often harassed and attacked by fascist troops. Eventually, Carlos comes across another boy named Santi, who turns out to be a ghost. Dark, Gothic, and strangely beautiful (a trademark of del Toro), it’s an emotional and creepy tale that deals with the tragedy children face when caught in the middle of a battlefield.
1. A Tale of Two Sisters (South Korea)
Out of all the ghost movies to come from Asia, A Tale of Two Sisters is arguably one of the best from the region. Based on the Korean folktale entitled “Janghwa Hongryeon jeon”, this 2003 movie tells the tale of a young girl named Su-mi, who has returned home after spending time at a psychiatric hospital. Reconnecting with her sister, Su-mi must deal with her cruel stepmother (who often abuses her sister) and of a ghostly presence that’s haunting her. It’s a deeply psychological supernatural drama that touches on guilt, trauma, and mental disorders, but it doesn’t shy away from spooky scares. It’s a top rated film that should be on anyone’s favorite list.