Move over Hollywood. Cinephiles have these European arthouse gems to gush over.
Europe was not only the birthplace of important film movements like German Expressionism in the 1920s as well as the French New Wave that emerged in the late 1950s. Nicknamed "The Other Hollywood," European cinema bestowed upon films a newfangled frame of mind from the public, where films possessing often experimental in addition to an emphasis on psychological and metaphysical occurrences are treated with similar adoration by audiences compared to mainstream films.
Lavished with themes ranging from death and existentialism to bizarre coming-of-age stories, European art-house horror films are no exception to both bewildering and intriguing audiences from every corner of the world.
No visually-terrifying art-house horror film list is complete without touching on the mastery of Italian director Dario Argento. While audiences are perhaps most familiar with the director's 1977 horror masterpiece Suspiria, its giallo horror predecessor Deep Red (1975) deserves equal attention and adulation from viewers today.
Deep Red sees David Hemmings as an English jazz musician who witnesses the murder of a famous psychic. With the assistance of a zealous reporter played by Daria Nicolodi, both starts investigating a series of appalling murders performed by an anonymous figure wearing black leather gloves.
Greatly inspired by French horror classic Eyes Without A Face (1960), this 2011 Spanish psychological thriller reunites director Pedro Almodóvar and actor Antonio Banderas again since Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989), and it's undoubtedly a truly beguiling yet skin-crawling experience.
Motivated by a family tragedy, plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard (Banderas) has developed an artificial skin named "GAL" that is resistant to any kind of damage, even burns and insect bites. Unbeknownst to the public, he has been testing his creation on a beautiful woman with a mysterious past called Vera (Elena Anaya), who is held against her will in his secluded estate.
Literally translated as "The Devil", Polish director Andrzej Żuławski's Diabel (1972) is a horror drama that despite a heavy dosage of Polish history, still and all manages to introduce viewers to an unfamiliar world of hysteria accompanied by a heavy psychedelic rock soundtrack.
The film follows a young Polish nobleman Jakub (Leszek Teleszynski) who is unexpectedly set free from imprisonment by a stranger. Together with a white-clad nun, Jakub gradually spirals into madness and becomes a murderer due to the nightmarish chaos plaguing his hometown, where incestuous exploitation and vacuous corruption reign supreme.
Austrian psychological horror film Goodnight Mommy (2014) owns one of the most eerie twins in cinema since the girls from 80s horror staple The Shining (1980). The film is partially influenced by the 1972 American horror The Other and has since undergone an American remake released on Amazon Prime in 2022.
When their mother returns home after her cosmetic surgery, the nine-year-old twin brothers are taken aback by their mother's vastly different appearance where her head is shrouded in bandages as well as her eccentric and at times, hostile behavior. They begin to question whether the cruel woman in their house is actually who she says she is.
Austrian film director and screenwriter Michael Haneke is no stranger to delivering morally ambiguous and societally estranged characters in his oeuvre. Causing one-third of the audience to walk out of the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, Haneke's Funny Games (1997) is anything but funny.
The psychological thriller explores the violent and humiliating shenanigans two psychotic young men force a family to take part in for their amusement. With no obvious explanation of the men's identity or intentions, the distressing family can only participate reluctantly whilst scavenging for any likelihood of escape or help from the outside world.
What happens if you find out that your best and only friend is a 200-year-old vampire? Swedish horror drama explores that albeit with little jumpscares, replaced with plentiful of romanticism and lyrical poetry aided by the captivating landscapes of Blackeberg, Stockholm.
Set in the year 1982, lonely outsider Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is constantly bullied by his classmates for his introversion and peculiarity. After befriending his new next-door neighbor Eli (Lina Leandersson) who only appears at night in the playground, Oskar learns to step up to the bullies and even becomes romantically attracted to Eli. Their relationship is put to the test when Oskar discovers that Eli kills and feeds on human blood to stay alive.
Known by fans as the "Master of the Macabre", Italian director Mario Bava's films usually feature recurring themes and visuals that make audiences question the distinction between reality and fantasy, leading to an abundance of horror cult classics that have inspired many arthouse horror films today.
Bava's Kill, Baby… Kill! (1966) focuses on a European village in the early 1900s that is terrorized by the ghost of a young girl who curses those she visits. When Dr. Paul Eswai (Giacomo Rossie Stuart) and medical student Monica Schuftan (Erika Blanc) investigate the mysterious deaths in the village, they soon become entangled by nightmarish hallucinations of the little girl with a vendetta,
Gaspar Noe's Irreversible (2002) is a film so brutal and cruel that you'll only want to watch it once for the sake of your compos mentis. Told in chronologically reverse order, the psychological horror film is a tour-de-force not to be ignored from the French New Extremity film movement at the turn of the 21st century.
When the charming and free-spirited Alex (Monica Bellucci) is mercilessly attacked and sexually assaulted in an isolated pedestrian underpass by a perverted psychopath known simply by his nickname Le Tenia, two men Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and Pierre (Albert Dupontel) tirelessly seek revenge upon her assailant. The desperation and nihilism of the film are further exacerbated when audiences are forced to visit the trio's blissful past prior to the tragedy.
Fans of gothic horror are indisputably familiar with director Guillermo del Toro's impressive filmography, including his lesser-known gems like the 2002 horror fantasy drama The Devil's Backbone (2002) where the undead and other supernatural circumstances provide a spine-chilling, blood-curdling cinematic experience.
In the last days of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, a young orphan Carlos (Fernando Tielve) settles in the Santa Lucia orphanage where he not only strikes up friendships and witnesses the horrors of war but becomes bombarded by haunting visions of an otherworldly entity who embodies the dark secrets of the school he currently resides in.
Combining chimerical beings from Greek mythology like satyrs and fauns that exhibit half-human, half-animal characteristics, Valdimar Jóhannsson's Icelandic folk horror film, unlike the 1991 horror thriller Silence of the Lambs, does place the usually tame species as its focal point where bedlam ensues.
After discovering one of their pregnant sheep has given birth to a half-lamb, half-human newborn on their farm in Iceland, a couple Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) decide to adopt the mystifying hybrid as their own child. Living a seemingly blissful life, the couple slowly realizes that their happiness is only temporary when both nature and humanity are adamant about returning the half-breed child to the wilderness.
NEXT: 10 Best English-Language Art-House Horror Movies For A Visually-Terrifying Halloween
A recent Monash University graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Media Communication and a Specialisation in Film Studies. She’s fresh freelance writer with a passion for international cinema. Her favorite directors are, but definitely not limited to, Martin Scorsese, Wong Kar-Wai, Krzysztof Kieślowski and Juzo Itami. When she’s not busy writing or daydreaming, Jia Yee Bridgette enjoys spending her free time watching whatever films she could rummage up, listening to songs mostly released in the pre-2010s era and the ocassional indulgence in the act of beer-drinking. Follow her on Letterboxd for personal reflections and rants: https://boxd.it/1PrwF.
Move over Hollywood. Cinephiles have these European arthouse gems to gush over.