As Winter tightens her icy grip across the Norther Hemisphere, Americans are settling in for a season of bitter cold and blustery weather. We should all keep in mind, however, that some geographies have it much worse than we do. In addition to our neighbors in The Great White North, the folks across the Pond in in Scandinavia are so close to the Arctic Circle, they'll only be receiving a few hours of sunlight a day (at most).
It's stark geological features, combined with a pervasive chill that can still be felt in most summer months, make Scandinavia an excellent backdrop to some truly gripping horror movies. For some of these films, the settings themselves become characters: Snowy tundra, frigid fjords, and jagged, icy mountains are as ominous and foreboding as any haunted house or masked villain. Perhaps this is why, while we don't see a huge number of genre films emerging from the region, the ones that do make it to our shores are usually stellar.
As we hunker down in the coming months, anxiously awaiting the spring thaw, here's a list of horror movies from Scandinavia certain to make you feel as chilled internally as the weather outside. While you may lose sleep over the content in these shockers, you might also walk away grateful that you live closer to the Equator than our Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish counterparts!
Let the Right One In - Sweden (2008)
Since Let the Right One in is always near the top of any list of the best horror movies of the 21st Century (so far), any list of Scandinavian genre films would be remiss to exclude it. And I say this without a shred of resentment, as Let the Right One In is one of those rare films that can please hardcore horror fans without alienating mainstream moviegoers. Yes, we've got a vampire, a serial killer, and a pack of demonic domestic cats, but Let the Right One In is about first love, a coming of age story that never shies away from harrowing portrayals of the terrors of adolescence. While you don't have to dig too deep to find some truly dark subtext Let the Right One In can simply be enjoyed as a true romance not dissimilar to Romeo and Juliet.
Lake Bodom - Finland (2016)
I've always been up front about the fact that I prefer supernatural and psychological horror to onscreen portrayals of violence, but that doesn't mean I don't love exceptional slasher flicks, and Lake Bodom is one of them. Inspired by a real-life grisly killing spree back in 1960, a case that remains unsolved, Lake Bodom is part Friday the 13th, part self-aware meta-horror like Scream, plus elements that make it completely original. This isn't your typical, formulaic tale of horny teens running afoul of a nefarious character with mommy-issues. Lake Bodom is a hip and horrifying ride with more twists and turns than a roller coaster.
Trollhunter - Norway (2008)
Trollhunter, even more than Let the Right One In, is a film horror fans can enjoy with their scaredy-cat counterparts. Have a blanket handy, because this one will make you feel like you're trudging through snowy forests right along with our protagonists. When Trollhunter first hit America, the found footage craze of the 2000s had cooled considerably, but the presentation works on a variety of levels. It fits the plot (a group of environmentalists trying to bust illegal poachers), it keeps the shaky cam footage to a minimum, and it makes excellent use of the night-vision feature (leading to some truly spinetingling sequences). Additionally, Trollhunter benefits most of all by simply telling a really great story, one that transcends its medium. Don't expect cheapo special effects either; it's all top-notch.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale - Finland (2010)
If you have a kid who's old enough to watch Gremlins without having nightmares, consider introducing your biological, budding horror fans to Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (though subtitles may prove challenging for slower readers). Ultimately, it's more of a dark comedy than a horror movie, but it actually features the now-popular Krampus, and this was years before Michael Dougherty's Krampus (released in 2015 and already considered a holiday horror classic). There's a Goonies/E.T. vibe to Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, as a kid must infiltrate a secretive drilling facility in order to uncover a disturbing threat to his community. It's also a poignant drama about a family overcoming grief by reconnecting after a period of loss and sorrow.
Thale - Norway (2012)
I'm starting to realize there are a few films on this list that will satisfy legit horror aficionados and mainstream entertainment-seekers alike, and Thale is perhaps the most universal. It's bound to strike a chord with anyone who enjoyed Guillermo de Toro's Oscar-winning The Shape of Water as, on paper, it's a similar tale of interspecies infatuation when a worker hired to clear out a dead man's house discovers a beautiful Thallen imprisoned in the basement. (A Thallen is a female creature from Nordic folklore supposedly able to seduce empathetic humans). Also like The Shape of Water, there's a shadowy group of government scientists hellbent on keeping the star-crossed lovers separated. Don't expect something with the scope (or budget) of The Shape of Water; still, Thale is an exceptional film with amazing cinematography and believable special effects. This one's perfect for snuggling up with your sweetheart on an especially chilly evening.
Sauna- Finland (2008)
Okay, the rest of the movies on this list are strictly for the grown-up! Sauna is a 16th Century period-horror set in the aftermath of the Russo-Swedish War, a brutal, 25-year affair. It follows two brothers, former soldiers, as they establish a new border between the once-feuding nations. When they stumble into a remote village with extremely suspicious and secretive residents, things take a turn towards the truly bizarre. In the swamps surrounding the village lies an ancient, Pagan sauna, one that brings a person's internal wounds to the surface. This leads to a truly perplexing conclusion, I'm talking Donnie Darko levels of WTF. I needed to do a deep-dive online afterwards just to wrap my mind around what had actually transpired. Don't let that turn you off, especially if you enjoy hallucinatory fever dreams with arthouse sensibilities that still maintaining a cohesive narrative. And, ultimately, it's clear that Sauna is about the lingering trauma of war and facing up to personal atrocities committed under the orders of others.
Cold Prey - Norway (2006)
Like Lake Bodom, Cold Prey is proof that Scandinavians know how to make truly entertaining slasher movies, ones with actual characters as opposed to two-dimensional archetypes and real storytelling as opposed to a series of otherwise random, violet vignettes. While not as twisty as Lake Bodom, it clearly takes a few pages from John Carpenter's Horror Handbook, introducing a faceless, mute brute who seems almost supernaturally unstoppable. When a group of snowboarders are forced to seek assistance for an injured compadre, they enter an abandoned lodge that bares more than a passing resemblance to The Shining's Overlook Hotel. No one reinvents the wheel here, but I don't mind following familiar paths when they lead to satisfying destinations. Have a parka handy, because the chill of Cold Prey is palpable.
Cold Prey 2 - Norway (2008)
Just as Cold Prey clearly followed tropes established in John Carpenter's Halloween, Cold Prey 2 is a near remake of 1981's Halloween II. The first film's "final girl" finds her harrowing ordeal is only half over, as her seemingly inhuman stalker reappears at the hospital. Of course, the power goes out and the facility's skeleton staff become inevitable victims of circumstance. What makes Cold Prey 2 especially compelling is its immediate continuity, picking up exactly where the first film ended; and, while we're relieved by our heroine's apparent rescue, we immediately buckle-up for what's certain to be a brutal ride. There's a Cold Prey 3, one that never made it to North America. It's supposedly a prequel, one that flushes out the mysterious "Mountain Man's" backstory. It could be for the best, as Americans seems to prefer our slasher's mysterious, proven in spades when Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween attempted to humanize "The Shape". Myers and his ilk are always scariest when they leave their masks on.
Dead Snow - Norway (2009)
I saved the best for near-last; Dead Snow is simultaneously a perfect homage to and satirical send-up of the cabin-in-the-woods subgenre of horror. And while today's moviegoers are spending beaucoup dollars to see Nazi zombies in Overlord, Dead Snow set them loose in legions back in 2009. It descends into a gorefest that must have require barrels-full of fake blood, one with a body-count that will put any American blockbuster to shame. It's as funny as Sam Raimi's Evil Dead and as gruesome as Fede Alvarez's 2013 remake. Certain to send the squeamish fleeing, Dead Snow is a perfect combination of hilarious and grotesque likely to seduce mainstream entertainment-seekers to the dark side.
Dead Snow: Red vs Dead - Norway (2014)
Dead Snow was such a hit with Americans (most likely thanks word of mouth that began when it graced Netflix, back in the early years) 2014's Dead Snow: Red vs Dead is mostly in English. It isn't as good as its predecessor, but besides The Empire Strikes Back, what sequel truly is? Still, it's an absolutely worthy predecessor featuring the first film's lone survivor and a new posse of American tourist (hence the English) who also happen to be zombie enthusiasts. It culminates in a clash of armies as the undead Nazi's face-off against the descendants of those they butchered in World War II. It's, essentially, an inter-generational grudge-match. And it's clear they had a bigger budget for Red vs Dead, with even more barrels of blood utilized-along with some serious firepower!