10 Remakes Of Foreign-Language Horror Movies That Are Worth A Watch (And 10 That Were Awful)
Few genres manage to cross international boundaries quite so effectively as horror. For serious horror devotees, it doesn’t matter whether the film in question is in English, whether or not any of the cast members are familiar, or how big a budget the filmmakers had. So long as the film gets the viewer’s heart rate up, then it’s worth a watch.
More and more in recent years, Hollywood has recognised this too. In the past 20 years, a striking number of major American horror movies have been remakes – either new takes on popular titles from years gone by (Halloween, Friday the 13th etc), or English-language reinterpretations of more recent acclaimed horror films from around the world. Of course, the problem with any remake is whether or not it really does anything to improve on, or in some other way significantly stand apart from the existing film. This is a particularly pertinent question when it’s a remake of a foreign language film made only very recently.
Sometimes, American remakes of international horror movies just feel like shameless cash-ins. However, now and then, if the right people are involved, we end up with a film that proves rewarding in its own right. What do you think of the following Hollywood remakes of foreign-language frighteners?
Good remake: Let Me In
Directed by Tomas Alfredson, 2008 Swedish chiller Let the Right One In was the first screen adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel of the same name.
The film quickly received global acclaim as one of the most unique and powerful treatments of vampirism in many years.
Let the Right One In proved particularly poignant and unnerving as it centres on young adolescent protagonists.
When the newly-revived vintage horror production house Hammer Films made English language remake Let Me In in 2010, fans of the original were sceptical.
Happily, thanks to the intelligent direction of Matt Reeves and the impeccable casting of Chloë Grace Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee, Let Me In proved to be almost as powerful as its predecessor.
Bad remake: Quarantine
2007 Spanish horror [REC] was one of the most notable films of the decade made in the found footage genre (in the vein of The Blair Witch Project).
Co-directed by Paco Plaza and Jaume Balagueró, it proved to be one of the most intensely frightening zombie movies ever, with a scene-stealing central performance from Manuela Velasco.
Three Spanish-language sequels followed, the last two of which boldly ventured beyond the found footage format.
It felt like a very cynical move indeed when US remake Quarantine was rushed into production and put into cinemas worldwide.
[REC] itself hadn’t even secured a US release at the time, misleading unwitting audiences into thinking they were seeing an entirely original film.
Director John Erick Dowdle’s 2008 film does little more than directly imitate what the original film had done almost blow-for-blow, right down to leading lady Jennifer Carpenter being dressed in identical clothing to [REC]’s Manuela Velasco.
Good remake: The Ring
Right at the tail-end of the 1990s, a new buzzword popped up among scary movie aficionados: J-horror.
A new wave of uniquely creepy movies made in Japan were attracting international attention, offering an altogether different flavour of chills than Western audiences were used to.
Of these, one film that garnered particular acclaim was director Hideo Nakata’s 1998 chiller Ring.
The sceptics were out in force when Gore Verbinski called the shots on 2002’s The Ring, but for the most part even fans of the original admitted that this English-language remake packed quite a punch of its own.
Helped by the casting of such Hollywood heavyweights as Naomi Watts and Brian Cox, The Ring gave the wider audience good reason to fear that cursed VHS tape. (Is it any wonder DVD took over around the same time?)
Fans of the mythos could be happy, as the remake spawned parallel Ring franchises, with both the Japanese and American films getting multiple sequels of their own.
Bad remake: One Missed Call
Takashi Miike, arguably Japan’s most notorious provocateur filmmaker, called the shots on original 2003 horror movie One Missed Call.
Hinging on a similar conceit to Ring, this film sees future murder victims being alerted to their fate by mysterious calls to their cellphones.
It was widely agreed that the film wasn’t one of Miike’s best, but that didn’t keep it from being commercially successful enough to spawn a sequel and a spin-off TV series.
A Hollywood remake was of course the next logical step, but it didn’t wind up doing the franchise any great favours.
Director Eric Valette’s 2008 English-language take on One Missed Call was a modest box office success, but one of the most critically reviled films of the era.
Currently, the remake sits on a big fat 0% fresh rating at reviews aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes.
Good remake: We Are What We Are
Mexican chiller We Are What We Are garnered huge critical acclaim around the world in 2010.
Directed by Jorge Michel Grau, the film (an implied semi-sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos) presented a largely grounded, inventive take on cannibalism.
The film was a big hit at festivals, winning prizes at Fantastic Fest, Fantasia International Film Festival and others.
Three years later, American filmmaker Jim Mickle called the shots on a remake of We Are What We Are.
Having Mickle in the director’s chair immediately put it a cut above other remakes; Mickle called the shots on such acclaimed horror films as 2010’s Stake Land, and has since gone on to work on acclaimed TV series Hap and Leonard.
Transposing the narrative to a Southern Gothic setting, the 2013 remake of We Are What We Are presents a distinctly different take on the same essential premise, with a personality all of its own.
Bad remake: Pulse
2001’s Pulse (aka Kairo) was one among the many Ring-esque horror movies to emerge from Japan around the turn of the millennium.
Stylishly written and directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, the film was widely acclaimed as a genuinely unsettling modern day ghost story that packed in some powerful scares.
Sadly, the same could not be said of the English-language remake that followed in 2006.
This was particularly disappointing for horror fans, as the Pulse remake was co-written by the legendary Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street).
It also boasted some strong lead actors in Ian Somerhalder of TV’s The Vampire Diaries, and future Frozen star Kristen Bell.
Even so, director Jim Sonzero’s remake just feels tired, cliched and instantly forgettable, although it still proved popular enough to spawn two direct-to-DVD sequels.
Good remake: The Grudge
2000’s Ju-On is frequently mentioned in the same breath as Ring as one of the most beloved and influential J-horror movies.
There’s an obvious connection in that both films hinge on the presence of a scary female phantom with long black hair hanging down over her deathly white skin.
Takashi Shimizu’s film is by no means a Ring clone, however; it messes with the audience’s mind in its own special way, thanks to its non-linear structure.
The signs were good right away for US remake The Grudge, as it was produced by noted horror veteran Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead).
Raimi made one smart move no other Hollywood remake of an overseas horror movie had done up to that point: he hired the original director.
Shimizu returned to call the shots on the 2004 remake, helping maintain a distinctly Japanese atmosphere despite the largely American cast including Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Sarah Michelle Gellar.
Bad remake: Mirrors
After J-horror became a whole new subsection of the genre for fans everywhere, K-horror wasn’t far behind.
The appetite for Eastern horror meant that numerous South Korean shockers came to the attention of the global audience.
One among these was 2003’s Into the Mirror, which centred on a department store that becomes the site of a series of bizarre, grisly deaths, all of which somehow involve mirrors.
Director Alexandre Aja already had some experience with remakes after helming the 2005 update of 70s shocker The Hills Have Eyes.
Unfortunately, 2008’s Mirrors proved to be a misfire, even with a decent cast headed up by the esteemed Kiefer Sutherland.
Mirrors’ grislier moments pleased some horror fans, but on the whole the remake proved empty and repetitive.
Good remake: The Uninvited
Another of the first films to really make a stir when K-horror broke big was 2003’s A Tale of Two Sisters.
A potent blend of psychological drama and ghost story, director Kim Jee-woon’s film became the most commercially successful Korean production ever at the time.
A Tale of Two Sisters also became the very first Korean production to go on general release (albeit in a limited capacity) in US cinemas.
Director brothers Tom and Charlie Guard called the shots on the 2009 US remake, The Uninvited.
The film’s strong, female-dominated cast includes Emily Browning, Arielle Kebbel and Elizabeth Banks.
As a PG-13 horror movie it’s less visceral than the original film, but it’s still an atmospheric and engaging take on the story.
Bad remake: Martyrs
Very few 21st century horror movies have left audiences quite so shell-shocked as 2008’s Martyrs.
French director Pascal Laugier’s film seems to set itself up as a fairly conventional home invasion thriller, but then takes a left-field turn that few viewers saw coming.
While it tends to polarise opinion, most agree that Martyrs is one of the most intense, bleak and gruelling horror films you’re ever likely to see.
All of which made it all the more difficult to believe that any Hollywood remake could stand a chance of having anything like the same impact.
Unsurprisingly, when the English-language take on Martyrs arrived in 2015, it was widely panned as a meaningless exercise in regurgitation.
Contrary to early rumours, Hollywood’s Martyrs didn’t tone things down for a PG-13 (which is very difficult to envisage), but the remake still heavily sanitises the harsher content of the original.
Good remake: Suspiria
In certain circles of horror fandom, Italian director Dario Argento is held up as a genius responsible for some of the best films ever made in the genre.
Argento’s 1977 film Suspiria in particular is considered hallowed ground by many – so the idea of a Hollywood remake was not looked upon kindly by devotees.
However, 2018’s Suspiria stands apart from many of the films on this list in that it was an Italian co-production, from acclaimed Italian director Luca Guadagnino.
Almost an hour longer than the original movie, the Suspiria remake strikes a very different tone to the 1977 original.
Whereas Argento’s film rested heavily on heavily stylised lurid aesthetics, Guadagnino’s film offers a more cerebral take on the tale of an elite ballet school which secretly houses a coven of witches.
The remake was widely acclaimed as a unique and powerful work, and all but the most fanatical Argento fans seemed happy to accept it on its own terms.
Bad remake: Funny Games
Austrian writer-director Michael Haneke caused a stir around the world with his 1997 film Funny Games.
The controversial shocker helped establish the ‘home invasion’ horror format, although Haneke has insisted it was intended as a satirical drama about film violence.
A decade later, when horror remake fever was at its peak, Haneke decided to shoot the same film again, this time set in the US.
Naomi Watts and Tim Roth star as an unwitting couple who become the target of two adolescent sadists.
The 2007 Funny Games may have proved shocking to the uninitiated, but those who were familiar with the original were left wondering what the point was.
Not unlike the 1998 remake of Psycho, 2007’s Funny Games is essentially the exact same film as the original, shot-for-shot, and as such it feels like an almost entirely redundant exercise.
Good remake: Dark Water
Another early entry in the wave of Hollywood J-Horror remakes came in the form of this 2005 take on the 2002 film by Ring director Hideo Nakata.
Based on a short story by Ring creator Koji Suzuki, 2002’s Dark Water centres on a single mother who moves into a new apartment with her daughter, where they experience strange, disturbing phenomena related to the water supply.
The 2005 remake from director Walter Salles followed the same premise with Jennifer Connelly in the lead role.
The reception to 2005’s Dark Water was a little lukewarm (water-based pun intended), partly because it was another remake which basically hit all the same beats as the original.
However, in this instance the combined powers of Brazilian director Salles (fresh from his acclaimed The Motorcycle Diaries) and leading lady Connelly (a recent Oscar-winner for A Beautiful Mind) elevate the material.
Dark Water doesn’t rewrite the rule book for Hollywood takes on J-Horror, but it follows the playbook with greater skill and feeling than most.
Bad remake: The Eye
2002’s The Eye (also known as Seeing Ghosts) is a little different from the bulk of the Far Eastern horror movies that broke through internationally.
The film from directorial duo the Pang brothers stands apart from all the J-horrors and K-horrors in that it’s a co-production of Singapore and Hong Kong.
Angelica Lee stars as a blind violinist who regains her sight following cornea transplants – but then also starts having horrific visions.
Six years later, Jessica Alba was cast in the English-language remake of The Eye from directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud.
It’s a lifeless, by-the-numbers retread which gives the impression that no one involved actually wanted to be there, not least leading lady Alba, who received a Razzie nomination for her performance.
Fun fact: this was actually the fourth version of The Eye, as it had already been remade as 2004 Tamil film Adhu, and 2005 Hindi film Naina.
Good remake: 13 Sins
2006’s 13 Beloved is a Thai comedy-horror that centres on a struggling young man who finds himself drawn into a strange reality-based game show.
With the promise of significant financial compensation, he’s persuaded to partake in a series of increasingly outlandish challenges – but the further the game goes, the more sinister these challenges become.
Eight years later, a US remake arrived in the form of 13 Sins, from The Last Exorcism director Daniel Stamm.
Mark Webber takes the role of the man lured into the macabre game, whilst Ron Perlman co-stars as a cop hot on his tail.
As ever in these cases, it’s debatable as to whether or not the remake does much that the original hadn’t done already, but in this instance it’s delivered with enough gusto to work.
13 Sins is an engaging and darkly funny piece of work, helped significantly by the chemistry between the charismatic cast.
Bad remake: The Echo
Director Yam Laranas enjoyed critical and commercial success in the Philippines with his 2004 film Sigaw.
Working from the now-familiar set-up for Far Eastern horror, the film sees the new resident of an old apartment building haunted by strange phenomena.
Laranas himself headed stateside to call the shots on The Echo, the 2008 Hollywood remake of Sigaw.
Transposing the action to New York, The Echo casts Jesse Bradford as a recent parolee who hears strange noises in his apartment.
Sigaw arguably wasn’t an especially original film to begin with, so it’s hardly unexpected that The Echo just feels like a copy of a copy.
By 2008, the Eastern-flavoured ghost story set-up had already grown overfamiliar, which may explain why this one sank without a trace at the box office.
Good remake: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
While the bulk of the remakes on this list arrived within a few years of the original, 2005’s The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is rather different.
The original film was made in Germany all the way back in 1920 by pioneering expressionist filmmaker Robert Wiene.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is often considered the birthplace of horror cinema – so once again, it’s not a film anyone would remake lightly.
Directed by David Lee Fisher, 2005’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a heartfelt homage to the original, and to the early years of horror filmmaking in general.
Shot on a very low budget in monochrome, Fisher’s film apes the visual aesthetics of Wiene’s film, but adds spoken dialogue and broadens the plot.
It was never going to be anything more than an interesting arthouse experiment, and could clearly never hope to have the same impact as the original, but it’s an entertaining and intriguing piece of work nonetheless.
Bad remake: Down
Dutch filmmaker Dick Maas first achieved success in his home country as the writer-director of De Lift.
This 1983 horror movie centred on a simple but outlandish premise: an elevator gains sentience, and goes about killing all the humans who ride in it.
De Lift proved successful enough to set the director off on a long career – and 18 years later, he set about remaking his debut film in the US.
The result was 2001’s Down, also known as The Shaft: and as you can see from the trailer below, it’s – how best to put this? – certainly an unusual piece of filmmaking.
Down was made in 2001 but didn’t see a wide release on home entertainment until 2003 – and when a movie spends that long gathering dust on the shelf, it’s rarely a good sign.
It’s unlikely the film would have got much attention at all were it not for the presence of big name stars Naomi Watts and Ron Perlman.
Down certainly isn’t short of entertainment value of the so-bad-it’s-almost-good variety, but any way you look it’s still an undeniably bad film.
Good remake: Silent House
Uruguayan horror film The Silent House arrived to a flurry of interest around the world in 2010.
Director Gustavo Hernández’s film had an intriguing and unique selling point: it was reportedly shot in real time in a single take, with no editing (although this claim has been disputed).
While reviews of the film were mixed with some critics deeming it too reliant on a gimmick, few could deny its technical achievements were impressive.
As such, when a US remake followed the very next year hinging on the same real-time one-shot hook, many considered this an example of Hollywood remakes at their laziest.
However, thanks largely to a powerful central performance by Elizabeth Olsen, 2011’s Silent House is an impressive film in its own right.
Olsen and directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau have been forthright in admitting the film was not in fact shot in one continuous take, but a series of 12-minute takes with the cuts carefully hidden, in the style of Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rope.
Bad remake: Shutter
2004 Thai horror movie Shutter was a big box office success back home in the Far East.
Another ghost story, this one deals with photographs showing mysterious images from the spectral plane.
In concept and execution, it clearly owed a lot to J-horror, so it’s not too surprising a Japanese director was hired for the Hollywood remake.
Masayuki Ochiai called the shots on the 2008 English language take on Shutter starring Joshua Jackson and Rachael Taylor, but neither the director nor the cast were able to breathe any life into the tired, overfamiliar concept.
The fact that Shutter cost only $8 million to make meant that its $48 million box office takings rendered it very profitable, but critics were unimpressed and audiences quickly forgot all about it.