Susan Year Itch: Terror on foreign soil

This year, I’m abandoning the usual horror suspects and queueing up psychological thrillers from all over the world. Let’s see how other countries get tense, shall we?

Tell the truth. Do the trailers for any of this year’s horror films make the blood pound in your temples?

With the Ghost of Halloween Past guiding my remote control, I spent some tense hours crossing oceans and traveling through time to bring you some of the world’s best creepy films from other decades. Not one of the five films listed below involve demons, witches, people standing in corners, heads twisting around, that kind of thing. Plenty of those movies exist, and lots of them are great, but modern special effects being as they are, the masks and make-up of old movies tend to be accompanied by an underwhelming fear factor.

So, the following movies are best described as “chillers.” Despite the ache from your clenched jaw and balled fists, you’ll also experience a measure of respect for how awesome filmmaking can be. Then you’ll get back to experiencing the depths of despair as you realize that, when you wake up in a sweat in the middle of the night, psychopaths can’t be dismissed as fictional by your rational mind like ghosts and goblins. Nope, insane people are all over the place. France, Germany, Japan….there’s no escaping them.

Oh, buck up, buttercup! They’re still just movies!

For your convenience, I have only selected movies that are available to watch instantly on Netflix. Because terror isn’t quite so terrifying when enclosed by a cheerful red envelope? Good video stores and libraries should carry the rest.

1955, France
Dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot

At a somewhat shabby boy’s boarding school in France, the wife and mistress of the school’s assholeish headmaster team up (like you always sort of feel that they should) to get rid of the guy. Permanently. But, dammit, those plans never really work out like they should, and it becomes clear very quickly that somebody knows what they’ve done. It also becomes clear very quickly that even in the throes of intense stress, French women look immaculate.

1931, Germany
Dir. Fritz Lang

One of the first great sound films and arguably Lang’s finest work, M is one of those movies that you watch in your first month of film studies. BUT HEAR THIS: it stands the test of time. AND, you get to really witness how sound added more than just convenience to filmmaking. Learning, expanding your horizons, quaking in your boots, what’s the problem? Watch it? (Oh, and it’s about the folks in an apartment complex trying to figure out who keeps murdering their kids. Community!)

1964, Japan
Dir. Kaneto Shindo

It’s always startling to watch sex scenes in international films from the 60s. Due to the Production Code that dictated morality rules in all Hollywood films for decades, we’ve sort of imagined that carnal lusts didn’t exist back then, and, after a reasonable amount of screen time has passed after a wedding, babies just appear from nowhere in the arms of proud mothers. Not so! In this film about Japanese peasants in the 14th century, killing each other to survive, everyone is reduced to their most animal instincts. And women are just plain terrifying, as the opening sequence clearly indicates. We see a shot of a dark hole in the middle of a field of long grass. “THE HOLE,” the titles say, “DEEP AND DARK….ITS DARKNESS HAS LASTED SINCE ANCIENT TIMES.” Then, a gong crashes, “DEMON WOMAN.” LOL!

Eyes Without a Face
1960, France
Dir. Georges Franju

What is going on France, guys? First that headmaster business and now this overachieving surgeon who insists on trying to fix his daughter’s face, which an auto accident (caused by the jerk himself) has permanently disfigured. Accompanied by clanging, disorienting carnival music, the formerly beautiful girl’s parents entice young ladies into their homes…young ladies whose facial tissue could be put to good use! Check out all the mirrors reflecting all the faces in this classic thriller about either parental devotion, vanity, or a guy who really blows, I’m not entirely sure.

The Vanishing
1988, Netherlands
Dir. George Sluizer

Here is what I love: when a film knows that you know something just based on the title alone, and they play with you accordingly. You know someone’s going to vanish, but it sure does take awhile. In the meantime, pulses race in this Dutch tale of a psychopath and a grieving dude. Time is the stressor here, as we follow Saskia and Rex up until her disappearance, then we back up and follow her captor to the same point, never really knowing what’s going to happen next. There are some plays between the Dutch and French language here, as much of the action takes place in France, and that’s a little hard to follow, but the rest of it is fascinating. And the ending, augh, prepare yourself.

Got any more creepy suggestions?

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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