The horror genre seems to be dominated by Hollywood. Take, for example, the list of the best horror movies of all time, and what is found is mostly American movies. Truly chilling masterpieces, no doubt, yet a general horror-lover might miss some of the wonderful, spine-chilling, bloodcurdling gems outside of the US, many of which actually surpass Hollywood.
After all, the horror form in the west had been nurtured in Europe: from Greek myths to Grimm’s tales to Mary Shelley and Bram Stokers. The first movie that featured horror elements was Georges Méliès’ The Devil’s House, made in 1896 in France. Then, ditching the western-centric approach altogether, there is the eastern cinema, which is incredibly rich in its themes, characters, and forms. So here is a list of the finest 60s horror classics from all over the world. There is also a limit of one film per country just to make the selection as varied as possible.
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9 Mother Joan of the Angels
The mysticism and fanaticism of Christianity are surely fruitful soil for ghastly scares. A staple religious horror movie, the Polish nunsploitation feature Mother Joan of the Angels follows a priest that investigates a commune of nuns that seems to be possessed — and Mother Joan, the most possessed of them all. This movie looks deep at the inward struggle of religion and doubt, while high contrast black-and-white scenes accompanied by Latin chants create a hauntingly ethereal feel, from which the viewer is violently ripped out as the serene landscape shakes and distorts, symbolizing descent into madness. This is less of a freakish ghoul-fest and more of a contemplative horror.
8 Bhoot Bungla
It seems like 60s horror comedies made a comeback with this year’s The Munsters and Wednesday, so could there be a better time to appreciate the underrated absurdist Indian horror musical Bhoot Bungla? Directed by the brilliant Mehmood, who also stars in the film, the story is about a haunted bungalow surrounded by a jungle on the outskirts of Bombay. This ridiculous wonder of a parody is an amazing exercise in combining smart script, comic timing, and the ability to let your actors take the wheel and shine.
7 The Housemaid
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The Housemaid can be seen as a Korean expressionist study of desire, cruelty, and exploitation, investigating the depth of female rage and readiness for revenge. Martin Scorsese points out the movie’s “ability to see danger in all of the human interactions” when even children show their dark side and resort to violence. This nihilistic, downward, bleak view of family dynamics and interpersonal relationships is what builds up the disaster, tapping into the gender horror: the impotence of vain masculinity against brutal, ruthless femininity.
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6 Blood and Black Lace
Blood and Black Lace is yet another Giallo masterclass from the Italian horror artisan Mario Bava, also famous for his Black Sabbath and Black Sunday. His influence on modern cinema is ever present, with directors like Tarantino referencing Bava freely. Blood and Black Lace is a stylized horror that marks the emergence of the Giallo phenomenon and the rising popularity of erotic thrillers.
Bava turned the feeling of fear into an aesthetic experience: a maniac hunts for victims within the magnificent sets and fashionable interiors of the atelier. Bava masterfully proved that even B-movies can have high aesthetics — his chiaroscuro film routinely refers to Italian Manierismo and creates a bizarre mystical atmosphere.
5 The Haunting
This British release is considered the crowning achievement of ghost movies, remaining a benchmark horror film that relies on the escalation of fear and paranoia without actually depicting anything supernatural, gory — or even just remotely weird. Filmmakers, namely Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Stephen King, commend The Haunting for its brilliant work with props and the interior, especially the use of mirrors and stairs. With the right actors and masterful skills with ordinary camera and editing, The Haunting is an amazing example of horror that takes place in the minds of the characters (and the viewers) rather than in objective reality.
4 Eyes Without A Face
A French classic, Eyes Without A Face is a work of poetic surrealism that shocks and disgusts its audience, about a man who imagined himself a creator — and who ends up corrupting reality in his perverse obsession with illusory physical perfection. This movie brings to the surface some hauntingly philosophical pondering over the act of creation, crippling misogyny, and the horrors of Auschwitz.
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Eyes Without A Face etches itself on viewers’ eyelids with its haunting beauty and delicate references, claims The Guardian: “the masked daughter wandering about in the professor’s house like one of the sleepwalking beauties in an André Delvaux painting, or his dogs tearing the father apart like something in Greek mythology.”
3 Blind Beast
Japan gave us Blind Beast, an unhinged psychological horror, which is rightfully considered one of the pioneers of Ero Guro in cinema. This movie about a maniac is a maniac itself, whisking the viewer into the very maniacal abyss of its aesthetic. The premise is beyond simple: a beautiful girl is kidnapped by a blind sculptor with the help of his mother. Her torturers confine her to his workshop, as the psycho tries to charm her. He believes that he can elevate touch to the rank of art and create the ultimate art piece. The acting is horrifyingly wonderful, the plot revolves extraordinarily, and the story, set in a small closed space, becomes truly terrifying and unpredictable.
2 The Cremator
The Czechoslovak satire The Cremator is horror in disguise of sorts, promptly banned by the Soviets upon its release. This is a story of how monstrous a polite petty bourgeois can be. The ‘protagonist’ is extremely soft-spoken, but that is precisely what makes him so terrifying: he accepts monstrosities as a lawful, natural order of things. Film Comment points out: “The Cremator is a horror film all the more disturbing for its mock-genteel tone, although it gets nastier and more shocking as it goes along. It’s also a scabrously lucid satire about the way that bourgeois respectability erodes moral consciousness.”
1 Hour of the Wolf
“The strangest and most disturbing” of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman’s movies, by The Criterion Collection’s account, Hour of the Wolf is perhaps the most visually daring in the development of the director’s key themes: the impossibility of achieving understanding and true intimacy between people. The story follows Johan, who is haunted by nightmares — his complexes, fears, phobias, and hidden sexual desires are personified in the terrible characters that his imagination draws.
Gradually, the disease progresses. The hallucinatory characters begin aggressively intruding into Johan’s life. The boundary between the real and the imaginary thins out, and the viewer, along with the characters, is immersed in the poisonous world of dreams of a mad artist.