We’ve talked a lot over the past week predominately about American horror and the influences of the land of the free on this indelible genre. Yet there are just as many dominant entries from foreign soil that have served to inspire filmmakers and transcend this genre from the toned down entries coming out of Hollywood in the late ’90s and early 2000’s. Entries from as far and wide as Britain, France, Spain, Italy and Sweden to Japan, Korea, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand, countries all over the globe were churning out horror films indicative of their culture and centuries-old fables.
From as early as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) horror film has been massively influenced by films from all over the world, not just the studios of Hollywood. Each country injects its own culture into these films and there is a distinct difference in each type of film from each country – a ghost story from Britain will often differ when compared to a ghost story from Japan. Our influences are often our ancestors and this is none more evident than the classic horror stories seen in films like The Awakening, Ju-On and The Orphanage – different countries, different takes on classics.
Foreign horror film is responsible for creating timeless sub-genres as well as individual classics. Itallian Giallo influenced psychological horror across the globe, and Japanese Horror – or J-Horror – pretty much took the world by storm. There are various waves that have become historically relevant to the horror genre and are necessary because of their country of origin.
NEW FRENCH EXTREMITY
We’ve talked about New French Extremity recently when discussing Martyrs and the ‘torture porn’ genre. This wave had its prominence in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, with French filmmakers not pushing but completely annihilating boundaries in pursuit of the audience’s deepest, darkest fears. These films sought to engage the audience by showing them everything – nothing was off the menu in these films as their explicit scenes of torture and degradation were showing in close up. Just like ‘torture porn’ the term ‘New French Extremity’ sought to be defamatory to these films but despite this, most of the films in this era were critically successful.
Just like the exploitation films of 1970’s America and the HIV-fearing body horror’s of the 1980’s, the French New Extremity films tend to focus on the destruction of the human body but gave a more intense focus on the psychological as well as physical destruction. Martyrs, as we’ve already discussed, managed both not only to its characters but also to the audience. Other successful films in this category include Switchblade Romance, Frontiere(s), Sombre and The Pornographer. Though this wave is currently at low tide, its films have still had an astonishing impact on the genre and surprisingly enough, none of these films have been remade in the American market.
Probably the most widely recognised and lauded of all foreign horror films, J-Horror is now synonymous with the poor Western counterparts that were produced in the wake of the originals success. Japan has an immense attitude to horror film that ranges from the sublimely gory to the tactfully scary. Films like Audition and Ichi the Killer shocked audiences and showed a sensibility towards horror and the human mind that America only dared to dream of; classic fables and old wives tale ghost stories that surrounded Japan were successfully adapted to modern day with films like Ringu and Ju-On playing on the effects of these age old curses. These films are terrifying – if not for the long, wet-haired antagonists contorting and moaning out of TV screens and loft hatches then definitely for their unrelenting tales of curses and the revenge of those hard done by. These stories didn’t translate well when remade in America as their cultural reference was lost to Western audiences.
Whether we’re talking about the native tongue or the country itself, Spanish horror has been prominent in the world of horror. Guillermo Del Toro pioneered the language driven horror films like Julia’s Eyes, The Orphanage and Devil’s Backbone with Spain itself producing such hardcore zombie flicks like REC. Again, there is a sensibility to these films that works because of the location it is set in, the family archetypes established and the way in which different cultures react to such supernatural occurrences. Spanish cinema has only continued to seek new ground in the horror world, as REC continues to expand its repertoire of entries with a fourth on the way this year, and Del Toro shows no signs of stopping.
Other countries far and wide have produced astonishing entries in horror history: Australia (Wolf Creek), New Zealand (Black Sheep), Sweden (Let the Right One In), and even Britain (Mum and Dad) and continue to challenge the Hollywood machine. But one problem remains: remakes. Why remake them? Hollywood time after time parades through these other countries in search of something to translate to American audiences, particularly with those that have already proven successful. Remakes of foreign entries are happening within a year of the original being release which is tainting the original’s creativity. Audiences are not lazy – they don’t mind subtitles, yet America seems hell bent on remaking them and though they manage to produce inventive or exciting set pieces (see Let Me In, remake of Let the Right One In), they fall short of the point originally being made because of the cultural significance of the country of origin. Some have even sought to remake the films in those countries but with the English language but this has still managed to lose the intended effect.
One things for sure – as we have chronicled the history of horror we have seen the wheels of the Hollywood machine lose traction with its audience through repetition and whilst it tries to find the next ‘new big thing’ with which to bombard us with, out there in the little corners of the world are writers and filmmakers putting together these little films that end up taking us all by storm. It is the intimacy as well as the cultural difference that attracts us to them, and as Australian entry The Babadook has proved this Halloween – we’re thirsty for more.
TOMORROW: Horror Anthology