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When people talk about scary movies, they tend to think about recent blockbusters such as The Conjuring or It. Or maybe they default to such horror classics as 1973’s The Exorcist or Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Such is the reach, influence, and power of Hollywood. Utilizing a proven formula that combines big name stars and directors, massive marketing budgets, and large-scale promotional activities, the horror output from big studios are typically top of mind for an audience that craves thrills.

But beyond the prequels and sequels that Hollywood predictably releases is a world (pun intended) of lesser-known, but equally bloodcurdling films that are distinctive and unique because they reflect their respective country’s history, culture, and social mores while sending chills down one’s spine. Here are three foreign-language titles that will take you to different parts of the world where things go bump in the night, and shadows are not what they seem.

(Note: To get the full cultural experience, these films should be seen in their original language, with English subtitles, of course. All titles are currently available on Netflix.)

Under the Shadow (Language: Persian)

Netflix
Under the Shadow (2016) is directed by Babak Anvari | Image from Netflix

Set in 1980s Tehran, Under The Shadow tells the story of a mother who elects to stay in the war-torn city with her young daughter despite the protests of her husband (a doctor called to military service). The little girl befriends a new boy who moves into their apartment building; it is from him that she learns of the legend of the Djinn, a supernatural creature with demonic powers. As the attacks on the city get worse, strange and unsettling things start to happen in their apartment. Are the frightening occurrences a manifestation of their PTSD (the horrors of war being just as terrifying) or are they being caused by a malevolent spirit? Under The Shadow eschews the overblown theatrics typical of a Hollywood film and goes for a quieter, more psychological approach to horror. But be forewarned, some moments will make you jump from your seat or cower underneath a blanket. 

Errementari (Language: Basque)

Netflix
Errementari (2017) is directed by Paul Urquijo | Image from aboutbasquecountry.eus

Based on an old Basque folk tale called The Blacksmith and The DevilErrementari is a dark fantasy/horror fable set after The First Carlist War (a civil war in Spain fought between two factions over the succession to the throne). To escape execution during the war and return to his wife, a blacksmith sells his soul to a demon (see featured image); after managing to lock it in a cage, the blacksmith has control of the horned creature and tortures it as revenge for his troubles. An unwitting orphan girl is tricked by the demon into releasing it and the blacksmith is compelled to deal with the consequences. Set entirely in Basque Country, the autonomous community located in the western Pyrenees straddling the border of France and Spain, this film features some of the unique superstitions and religious beliefs of its people. With its somber lighting and rich period details, Errementari is a visual feast that delivers chills and plenty of atmosphere.

Bulbbul (Language: Hindi)

Netflix
Bulbbul (2020) is directed by Anvita Dutt Guptan | Image from UNB News

Both a Gothic supernatural-mystery and a feminist statement on injustices that befall women, Bulbbul is a lush, atmospheric, and spooky tale about a series of bloody murders of men that plague a village outside of Calcutta. The killings are attributed by superstitious villagers to a chudail, a demon-woman with backward feet. Is there really a creature that haunts the dark woods or is there a more rational explanation for these grisly deaths? Framing this mystery is the story of a beautiful but enigmatic woman who was married off to a much older aristocrat when she was just a child. Now in her early twenties, she still harbors feelings for her husband’s younger brother, a man closer to her age with whom she grew up. The complicated relationships between these characters create tension and conflict which culminate in a devastating act of violence. Set in late 19th-century West Bengal, Bulbbul features several Indian customs and traditions that are portrayed in rich color and lavish detail. It’s a disturbing, creepy, yet relevant fable that will continue to haunt viewers for a long time. 

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