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FANTASTICA Presents: Where in the World is the next Foreign Horror Movement?

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One of horror’s main appeals is that it is truly a genre that is beloved around the world. Hell, from the dawn of cinema, international audiences have been getting frightened by tales of the macabre, with German/Danish cinema in particular giving us some of the first great vampire films with Carl Theodor Dreyer’s VAMPYR and F.W. Murnau’s iconic NOSFERATU, to say nothing of German Expressionism’s  long lasting impact on cinema in general; Anybody who has seen THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI knows that TIm Burton owes his career to the film.

As recently as the 2000’s, there have been notable waves of great genre cinema produced from countries all over the world. The early 2000’s saw the recognition of Japanese horror (frequently referred to as J-horror on the ‘net) as American remakes of J-horror classics such as RINGU (a/k/a THE RING) and JU-ON (a/k/a THE GRUDGE) hopefully helped stateside audiences discover other gruesome fright flicks the Land of the Rising Sun had to offer, from twisted thrillers like Takashi Miike’s AUDITION, to older, more surreal fare such as Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 HOUSE, a neon-lit assault on the senses. Regardless of how deep viewers plunged, an entire generation has now come to shudder at the thought of pale Japanese ghost children crawling about their homes, coming for their souls.

A bit later on in the early to mid-aughts, filmmakers from France made some noise via a group of  transgressive films that critics later placed under the banner of the New French Extremity Movement, with films such as Gaspar Noe’s infamous IRREVERSIBLE,  Claire Denis’ TROUBLE EVERY DAY, Maury & Bustillo’s INSIDE, and the particularly brutal French-Canadian torture extravaganza MARTYRS taking the concept of torture porn to its absolute limits. The films were notable both for their extreme employment of violence and their deliberate decision to eschew any kind of excessive stylization that could be used to fetishize the violence. Blood was shed and breasts were bared, but the realistic grit and grime of the settings, the flat lighting, and extremely long takes helped to make damn sure that nobody, save for perhaps the most sadistic viewers out there, got any kicks out of the death and defiling going down on screen.

And again the Asian continent gave fans of gore and brutality the world over something to sink their teeth into: Korean Revenge films, particularly Park Chan Wook’s spiritual trilogy of SYMPATHY FOR MR.VENGEANCE, OLDBOY, and LADY VENGEANCE, started a trend of ultra-stylized crime thrillers complete with hardcore action set pieces, with nihilistic plots centered around wrongfully-imprisoned loners leaving a bloody trail to hunt down the bastard(s) who did them wrong. While these films appear to still be getting made, 2010’s I SAW THE DEVIL felt as though it was suitably visceral cinematic round-out to this wave.

And now the question lingers: from what corner of the globe will the next tidal wave of international terror originate? The sad truth is that for the first half of this decade we’ve yet to get anything in the form of a true wave of international genre cinema. There have been the occasional impressive imports here and there; one that comes to mind is THE BABADOOK, which came to us from Australia from writer/director Jennifer Kent. But THE BABADOOK has not yet lead to the groundswell cultural phenomenon of Australian genre cinema in the sam way that Japan, France, Korea, or to a lesser extent, Britain (who briefly rode a wave of zombie flicks into the zeitgeist with 28 DAYS LATER) and Spain (following PAN’S LABYRINTH’s popularization of fantastical horror).

Former FANGORIA web editor Sam Zimmerman wrote an encouraging report on the Blood Window, the genre film arm of the Latin American Film Market that takes place in Buenos Aires, Argentina and has been gaining traction as of late. It gives this writer hope that perhaps we can expect a new school of Latin American horror to come to the U.S., but as of now this is little more than a hope, with no evidence of any building movement.

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And why is this the case? There are some old faithful culprits that we can point our finger at; American audiences in particular can be notoriously hesitant reading subtitles (with dubs being a mixed bag at best), and so far there have yet to be any latin horror films that have been successful enough to attract an American remake (save for 2008’s QUARANTINE, a subpar shot-for-shot remake of the Spanish horror flick [REC]) that could potentially stoke the crossover effect that popularized J-horror.

The increased media landscape is also an easy explanation. While streaming services like Netflix have made it significantly easier to browse through and watch international genre titles, it has also made it much easier for them to completely slip through the digital cracks and languish in obscurity. Great films, such as the haunting yet beautiful Venezuelan picture THE HOUSE AT THE END OF TIME, might be known to dedicated FANGORIA readers with their fingers placed right atop the pulse of international and independent horror, but there seems to be little fanfare for the film outside of its native country, where it was wildly successful. And yet, here in the land of country music and cheap beer, tumbleweeds.

New Zealand also managed to scare up (pun intended) two great comedy-horror films in 2014 with HOUSEBOUND and WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS. Perhaps Peter Jackson’s native country could become the global genre community’s trusted source for a steady combination of screams and yuks? Again, there’s no reason to see a pattern forming. We’ll just have to keep our eyes and ears open, and when some random film critic coins a term for a new batch of horror films that gets the press and the people talking, we’ll be about one or two years into the new trend of horror from whatever foreign territory before we start to wonder how this new movement just came out of nowhere. That’s how it always feels, doesn’t it? You’re never ready for a new film trend to come about, it just kind of happens and only becomes noticeable when it begins to overwhelm you.

And then there’s our brutal brothers from up North, as Canada’s tax breaks and retro-aesthetics have begun an exodus of genre entertainment that has become more impressive by the entry. The Soskas created a monster with genre gem AMERICAN MARY, while Jason Eisener, Astron-6, Brandon Cronenberg, Jerome Sable, Zach Lipovsky, Bruce McDonald, Craig David Wallace and more each introduce old school takes on contemporary horror stories. However, these films don’t quite connect with one another on the same level as J-Horror or New French Extremity, as the aesthetics are rarely coming from an overriding sense of cultural unrest.

Perhaps with festival favorite DEATHGASM, New Zealand can keep the horror-comedy ball rolling into something bigger and brighter, but horror-comedy has never quite been the subgenre to dominate the horror landscape. And perhaps it might just be the timing of stateside horror, as the rise of horror television and the increase in genuinely impressive American efforts in the indie U.S. horror scene. Right now, however, it’s still quiet on the foreign horror front, and the silence is eerie.

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About the author
Christopher La Vigna
Christopher La Vigna is a writer, filmmaker, and the newest batch of blood to be welcomed into the haunted halls of FANGORIA. He’s a graduate of Hunter College*, and can be found lurking around any movie theater or comic shop near his person. You can argue about movies with him on Twitter: @Chris_LaVigna
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