Outside the States: Six Multi-Cultural Horror Movies You Need to Watch

Nearly every culture in the world has contributed to the horror genre at one point or another, but it’s pretty clear that Hollywood is still the de facto capital of genre filmmaking. That’s why it makes sense that most popular horror tropes and monsters are based on traditional western mythology and religions, as these films are usually made by – and meant to appeal to – a certain demographic.

However, dealing with the same old ghouls and possessions can get old after a hundred and thirty years of cinema, and that’s why we’re lucky that some filmmakers decide to incorporate elements from lesser-known cultures into their scary stories. Whether it’s a foreign film daring to apply the “Hollywood” treatment to a local monster or a north American production taking inspiration from international legends (like Bishal Dutta’s recent It Lives Inside), some of the best horror experiences are the result of this multi-cultural exchanges.

And with that in mind, we’ve decided to come up with a list highlighting six highly entertaining examples of multi-cultural horror for your viewing pleasure, as there are plenty of scares to be had outside the confines of mainstream storytelling.

As usual, don’t forget to comment below with your own favorite tales of unconventional terror if you think we missed a particularly spooky one.

Now, onto the list…

6. The Shrine (2010)

I’m a sucker for low-budget folk horror – especially when it comes from before the “elevated horror” craze that eventually took the genre by storm. That’s probably why I enjoy Jon Knautz’s The Shrine so much, as this unpretentious Canadian production dives into the terror of a Polish cult in the fictional village of Alvainia that appears to be sacrificing tourists to a mysterious Slavic deity.

The flick completely mangles many of its Slavic influences, featuring numerous cultural and historical inaccuracies while creating a pastiche of pagan tropes instead of borrowing from existing beliefs, but I’ve heard from Polish viewers that this is actually considered a great horror-comedy by those who speak the language, and that’s why it still makes it onto the list as something of a schlocky “guilty pleasure.”

5. The Vigil (2019)

From the holocaust-inspired mythology of The Wolfman to one of the very first horror franchises (Der Golem), Jewish beliefs have been informing genre filmmaking since the very beginning. That’s why it’s a shame that we don’t see more direct adaptations of Jewish scary stories in film. Thankfully, there are a handful of exceptions, and one of the scariest is Keith Thomas’ 2019 thriller The Vigil.

Following a troubled man who’s hired to keep watch over a deceased holocaust survivor in the Orthodox Jewish community of Brooklyn, the film introduces us to a malevolent spirit known as the Mazzik – an invisible entity that latches onto traumatized individuals and one of the scariest supernatural antagonists in recent memory.

And if you like this one, I’d also recommend Oliver Park’s slightly less serious take on Jewish demonology, The Offering.

4. Under the Shadow (2016)

The ancient middle eastern belief in the Djinn has been a surprisingly popular fixture in genre storytelling for years now, informing the basis for storybook “genies” while also inspiring films like Wishmaster and occasionally showing up in video games. However, many of these western adaptations fail to capture the complexity of the original mythology, and that’s precisely why I think Babak Anvari’s Under the Shadow stands out as a particularly effective horror flick.

Taking place in late-1980s Tehran, Under the Shadow tells the story of a former medical student who finds herself living in a warzone while also attempting to protect her young daughter from the influence of a malevolent Djinn. While the supernatural aspects of this dark little flick are terrifying enough, it’s really the relatable social anxieties that make these scares so memorable.

3. Skull: The Mask (2020)

Brazil has had a love affair with American slasher flicks for decades now, but it’s a shame that it took so long for local filmmakers to capitalize on that passion with a masked killer of our own. Taking inspiration from pre-Columbian mythology as it tells the story of a São Paulo detective who becomes embroiled in a supernatural mystery involving a cursed mask that transforms its host into a vessel for the evil Anhangá, there’s enough blood and guts here to please even the most demanding of gore-hounds.

The script may get a bit messy with its multiple sub-plots about Nazi experiments and corrupt businessmen, but you can always count on these less interesting scenes to be punctuated by a brutal killing or two. Plus, the whole thing feels like a Brazilian take on Konami’s Splatterhouse, so I can’t help but recommend Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman’s strange little movie.

2. Onibaba (1964)

Also known as The Hole in some territories, Kaneto Shindō’s Onibaba is far from your average J-Horror experience, taking inspiration from a Shin Buddhist parable about a cursed mask instead of the familiar long-haired phantoms that usually populate Japanese legends. In this darkly erotic period piece, we follow an isolated old woman and her daughter-in-law during the Onin War as they rob and murder passing soldiers in order to survive – until the arrival of a mysterious masked samurai threatens their way of life.

The film takes a while to get to the frightening bits, with the first half feeling more like a bizarre historical drama than a proper scary movie, but I promise that you won’t soon forget the existential terror of Onibaba’s final act.

1. Tumbbad (2018)

Tumbbad Fantastic Fest Review

A passion-project that took over two decades to get made, Rahi Anil Barve’s Tumbbad combines elements of folk horror, cosmic horror and historical drama to tell a deeply compelling cautionary tale about a family who decides to worship a forbidden deity in order to become rich in early 20th century Western India.

Inspired by a story written by Narayan Dharap (who was himself inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King), Barve aimed to craft a historical epic that would use Hindu mythology as a jumping-off point for a decidedly Lovecraftian antagonist, with the resulting film benefiting from a unique fusion of international horror influences.

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