October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article highlighting our ten favorite foreign slashers is part of our ongoing series, 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Hollywood may be home to the biggest and most well-known movie-making community in the world, but that doesn’t mean every style, genre, etc. was born there. Musicals and documentaries? Hollywood. Horror films and comedies? Thank you, France. Still, while Georges Méliès may have shot the first horror movie (a short, but it counts!), Hollywood and the United States as a whole can lay claim to the creation of the slasher.
What exactly constitutes a slasher? Definitions vary, but the core elements come down to a few things — one, the bulk of the film should unfold over a short time frame, like one night or a weekend; B, the film should focus on the victim pool and/or the killer while keeping police involvement to a minimum; and three, the events should take place in a relatively small geographical area like a campground, a big house, or a neighborhood. There’s room for flexibility here, but a slasher should meet at least two of those three criteria. (That said, art is ultimately subjective!)
While the U.S. produces more slashers than every other country combined, those foreign lands haven’t exactly been sitting idly on their hands. For this list we’re looking at foreign slashers, films made outside of the U.S. that still bring the goods with their kills, killers, and set-pieces. Keep reading for a look at the ten best/our ten favorite foreign slashers as ranked by Chris “The Night Man Cometh” Coffel, Brad “Gory George” Gullickson, Meg “The Bloody Mountie” Shields, Jacob “The Taint Torturer” Trussell, and me,
10. Cold Prey 2 (2008, Norway)
While slashers are growing in popularity outside the U.S., the number of foreign slasher sequels is still ridiculously low. Credit the quality and success of 2006’s Cold Prey then for earning not one but two follow-ups. While that first movie sets its horror against stark, wintry landscapes, the follow-up delivers the best Halloween II (1981) riff out there as the sole survivor is brought to a hospital immediately after the events of the first film. the great Ingrid Bolsø Berdal returns and, like Laurie Strode before her, is forced to keep fighting as the killer picks up where he left off throughout the hospital’s dark hallways and rooms. Don’t be quick to dismiss it as a Halloween II carbon copy, though, as the chilly locale, Berdal’s damaged character, and some bloody carnage ensure Cold Prey 2 delivers a sequel nearly as great as the first. (Rob Hunter)
9. Cub (2014, Belgium)
A group of young scouts go camping in the woods, and only one of the boys suspects the local legend of a feral child living among the trees might be true. Director/co-writer Jonas Govaerts sets up a familiar enough premise with characters both likable and despicable amid the potential victim pool before unleashing some unexpected terrors. Violence both physical and emotional cuts deep with an anti-bullying theme playing heavy beneath the surface, but once hell crashes the campground all bets are off as to who will survive the night. I’ll admit to being a little iffy on the final moments, but everything up to that point brings the goods from the kills to the beautiful cinematography to a pulsating score by Steve Moore. This is a slasher with a bit more up its sleeve than simple stabbings and slashings, and it hits just right. (Rob Hunter)
8. Grave Robbers (1989, Mexico)
A group of young grave robbers accidentally awaken an ancient satanic killer when they rob the wrong grave in one of the more appropriately named foreign slashers, Grave Robbers. After stretching his legs with a few killings, the now-awake Satanist sets out to bring the end of times by finding a virgin and impregnating her with the seed of the Antichrist. Rubén Galindo Jr.’s Mexican slasher is a splatter treat with hands bursting from chests, multiple ax shots to the face, a grisly decapitation, and perhaps my favorite depiction of a hand being chopped off. It also features a move straight out of the book of MacGyver with a character fixing a broken-down Dodge truck by grabbing a rock and wildly smashing the engine. The perfect midnight movie for those who believe dead people have no right taking their valuables with them to the next life. (Chris Coffel)
7. Stagefright (1987, Italy)
If you aren’t on board with Michele Soavi’s Stagefright by the time a man in a giant owl mask breaks out into a balletic dance routine, I don’t know how else to sell you on this movie. It’s a silly and audacious slasher with gory effects and a pulsating synth score from one of Dario Argento’s finest proteges. But Soavi’s connection with Argento begs the question: should this actually be considered a giallo film? Arguably, not at all, because Soavi’s movie shares far more commonalities with the American slashers of the 1980s, than the garrote-driven tension prominently featured in Italian giallos. Stagefright has a gimmicky set-up, eye-catching mask, and a killer with almost supernatural strength, so it’s no wonder that our big bad owl man seems cut from the same slasher cloth as Jason Voorhees, rather than any black-gloved killer you’ll find in Argento’s body of work. (Jacob Trussell)
6. Lake Bodom (2016, Finland)
Taneli Mustonen‘s Lake Bodom may not be Finland’s first horror film — that honor probably belongs to 1952’s The White Reindeer — but it’s definitely among the country’s best (and one of only a handful of slashers too). A group of friends head to a campsite that saw a quadruple killing over half a century prior, a killing that has never been solved, but while they’re hoping to find the truth it might just come at the cost of their own lives. Sorry, it will come at the cost of their own lives. Inspired by the real-life unsolved homicide of three teens camping on the lake’s shore in 1960, the film uses that as a jumping-off point that leads into a slasher fueled as much by a twisty plot as it is by the kills. Add in some attractive cinematography and solid practical effects, and you have a slasher well worth your time. (Rob Hunter)
5. High Tension (2003, France)
Alexandre Aja makes gnarly movies, and High Tension might be his gnarliest. Marie with the concrete saw, Alex on the receiving end of it. It’s an image that burns into your imagination. The threat is as real as any horror movie threat can be, and Aja delights in the chase. High Tension starts as one thing and ends as another. The first time you watch, the turn may put you off. It may do the opposite. Whatever the case, it’s how the film sits inside you years later that matters. It’s the friendship eviscerated, the psychologies shattered, and the meat and blood left on the floors and walls that refuse to scab over your memory. (Brad Gullickson)
4. Cold Prey (2006, Norway)
Five friends head up a mountain for a snowboarding trip, but only one will make it back down alive. Why? Because poor choices land them in a big, abandoned lodge that’s now home to a hulking madman intent on eradicating the pesky visitors. Roar Uthaug‘s feature debut — can we pause to sing the praises of this guy’s parents for giving him this name? — is as pitch-perfect a slasher as you’ll find anywhere delivering thrilling set-pieces, suspenseful kills, and a great pairing between Ingrid Bolsø Berdal‘s hero and Rune Melby‘s murderous mountain man. A big part of the film’s appeal, and something that helps it stand apart from a crowded field, is the snowy, high-altitude setting. The blankets of white make for an atypical but welcome location for a slaughter and fight for survival, and while far from necessary, the film’s brief bookends add just enough mad pathos to the killer’s backstory. The film went on to see two sequels and a healthy filmmaking career for our friend Roar whose latest hit, Troll (2022), recently earned its own sequel coming soon to Netflix. (Rob Hunter)
3. Cold Hell (2017, Austria)
The concept of the “final girl” stems from the slasher subgenre and refers to the last protagonist standing, the one who finally defeats the killer (until the inevitable sequel) where everyone else fails. They most often fight back at the end in one form or the other, but it’s usually a defensive fight or one relying on traps of some sort. Stefan Ruzowitzky‘s Cold Hell instead asks, what if the final girl was a badass fighter who actually pursues the killer instead of waiting for them to attack? It’s a simple but brilliant setup, and the result is an exhilarating ride. Özge (Violetta Schurawlow) is an immigrant in Vienna who witnesses a serial killer’s latest kill, sees the police to be useless, and decides to take the bastard down herself. Brutal fights, chases, and a shocked killer raise the pulse for this tight, ninety-minute thrill ride. (Rob Hunter)
2. Angst (1983, Austria)
Improbably lodged at the intersection of slapstick comedy and snuff film, Angst would be at the top of this list if more of the cowards in the Film School Rejects voting body had seen it. [Editor’s note: Chris Coffel and Brad Gullickson are the cowards being called out here by Meg.] While Gerald Kargl’s unhinged sprint of a horror film is certainly not for the faint of heart, it is easily the best movie that got aggressively banned in Europe in 1983. So there’s that. (Fun fact: Angst didn’t secure American distribution until 2015 because apparently, it is “upsetting” and “immoral” to make a movie about a guy who really wants to kill and fuck as many people as possible, preferably in that order). Starring professional freak Erwin Leder as the unnamed psychopath (largely accepted to be a loose interpretation of real-life serial killer Werner Kniesek), Angst’s unhinged real-time narrative is only outdone by Zbigniew Rybczyński’s relentlessly kinetic cinematography, which hovers somewhere between Russian Ark and “The Surprising Adventures of Sir Digby Chicken Caesar.” Only the Austrians could have made a film like this, and they’ve been awfully quiet lately… maybe we should check on them. (Meg Shields)
1. Dream Home (2010, Hong Kong)
There are thousands of horror films out there, but somehow Pang Ho-cheung‘s brilliant and bloody Dream Home has managed to top two of this year’s lists. The second is coming later this month, but for now we’re talking foreign slashers, and there are none better than this gruesome, gut-wrenching, and sadly topical hack and slash from Hong Kong. Josie Ho plays a young woman who’s been working her ass off for years in the hope of buying her first home, a condo to be shared with her long-suffering parents, but when she’s screwed over by greedy assholes she slips and does what any one of us would — she starts slaughtering anyone she finds in the building.
Unlike most slashers, foreign or otherwise, Dream Home stays focused on Ho’s character leaving the victims to enter the film only to be slaughtered in increasingly violent and gory ways. Unlike the meta approach of something like Behind the Mask (2006) or the straight visit with a madman that is Angst, our time spent with a killer here is time spent with a human being in distress. We can’t help but feel for her and sympathize with the rage and helplessness, and while it never excuses her behavior — again, she is fucking brutal — it makes her relatable in ways most slasher killers could never hope to be. And that makes the horror all the more palpable and affecting. (Rob Hunter)
As you can see, our horror tastes have no geographical boundaries. Keep reading more 31 Days of Horror Lists to see what other lines we’re happy to cross.