12 Amazing Scandinavian Horror Movies Guaranteed to Chill Your Bones
We’ve been buzzing for months about exciting things brewing at Dread Central Presents; in addition to a bunch of great films coming down the pike, our first release recently became available on Amazon Prime. Villmark Asylum, the third film directed by Pål Øie, takes place in an abandoned sanitarium where a clean-up crew encounters dark forces connected to the building’s violent past.
It’s a Norwegian horror movie, and releasing a foreign/non-English-speaking film is a bold move considering many genre fans avoid subtitles like the plague. This is a testament to Dread Central Presents’ commitment to bringing fans the best content, no matter where it comes from; and it speaks to the inherent uniqueness of Scandinavian horror movies.
Those who’ve already explored the arena of Scandinavian horror know exactly what I’m talking about. Films from Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland all carry a shared aesthetic and mood, no doubt influenced by the region’s specific geography and climate. More often than not, harsh and barren landscapes permanently encased in ice become essential components; in many cases, the geography becomes a character in and of itself.
Or perhaps it has something to do with the endless nights of winters and the insomnia-inducing summers (and I’m not implying that Scandinavian filmmakers are themselves off-kilter). But it’s as though these extreme dualities are reflected in regional horror movies where bleak beauty and glorious brutality are juxtaposed to create effective, visceral results.
If Villmark Asylum ignites a desire to explore more horror movies for this bleak, yet stunning part of the world, the ones listed below (in no particular order) all deliver top-notch chills and thrills. They could even end up inspiring you to further expand your horror-horizons.
I’ll kick off my praise of Lake Bodom by freely admitting I’ve become tired of traditional slasher tropes. It feels as though the once thriving subgenre has become a wasteland for mediocre actors, vapid scripting, and non-existent motivations. It’s almost as though those on a budget gravitate towards making slashers because they think they’re cheap and easy.
That said, Lake Bodom is one of the best slashers of the 21st Century, and I’m talking Top 5! It only abides by pre-established formulas for the first act; then, suddenly, a typical tale of horny teens in the woods becomes something altogether different—and more terrifying!
I’ve previously described Lake Bodom as a mix of the best elements of Friday the 13th, Scream, and High Tension. It’s currently streaming on Shudder, more proof that the streaming service is well worth the price of membership.
One of the few Scandinavian horror movies to have a significant impact in the US is Let the Right One In, based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. In an era when the vampire subgenre had been hijacked by the Twilight franchise, Let the Right One In was both romantic and terrifying.
In addition to offering unique and disturbing innovations on established vampire tropes, Let the Right One In communicates the pain of adolescence and the freedom of coming-of-age in a manner that transcends borders and language barriers. The story of Oskar and Eli could be the most universal and moving love story since Romeo and Juliette.
While the 2010 American remake, Let Me In, was fantastic, remaining fairly true to the source material, it doesn’t have the same resonance as Let the Right One In. This reflects the uniqueness of Scandinavian horror, suggesting key elements can’t be recreated anywhere else.
The use of the word Massacre in this film’s title reflexively establishes echoes to the seminal gore-fest The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—and that’s no accident. In addition to the fact that Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre (aka Harpooned) could accurately be described as TCM on the ocean, it features original Leatherface actor Gunnar Hansen as Captain Pétur.
But Reykjavik is more than just TCM on a boat; the brutal collision of tourists and locals gives this movie a distinctive Hostel vibe, and the gory practical FX are just as gut-churning. There’s also a strong eco-horror element, one that pits the idealism of conservation against the pragmatism of survival. And in addition to the white skies and cold winds that are often indicative of Scandinavian horror, the ice-cold ocean stokes a cornucopia of primal phobias.
Remember when I said Lake Bodom is one of the Top 5 slasher flicks of the 21st Century? In all seriousness, Cold Prey and Cold Prey 2 both occupy that same exclusive list, meaning Scandinavia has produced the best subgenre offerings in decades. A bold statement, perhaps, but don’t attempt to start an argument until you give these movies a spin.
Cold Prey and Cold Prey 2 are as immediate in their continuity as Halloween and Halloween II, which may have been intentional (as both examples feature a final girl from the original continuing her show-down in a hospital). But these films are more than just exemplars of convention. Though the hulking Mountain Man shares many similarities with Michael Myers, Cold Prey combines established tropes with elements unique to Norway and Scandinavia. By delivering real characters the audience can relate to, stunning settings, and powerful scripting, Cold Prey feels fresh without reinventing any wheels.
It’s worth noting that there’s a prequel, Cold Prey 3, that’s never received North American distribution—which is a damn shame.
Like the Cold Prey franchise, the Dead Snow movies don’t reinvent any wheels, but it exceeds both the boundaries and the expectation of its specific subgenres (in this case, the cabin-in-the-woods scenario and zombies). While it’s a riotous and irreverent horror comedy, it sports a talented cast, a crackling screenplay, and a pervasively chilling aesthetic. Most importantly, it never pulls any punches with each film building to a gory climax of epic proportions.
If I led you to believe you won’t find anything you haven’t seen before, allow me to correct myself immediately. We’ve seen Nazi Zombies, yes, but never a full-on zombie war between the Germans and the Allies. Though the first Dead Snow was an international breakthrough on par with Let the Right One In, not enough people have seen the sequel which strikes all the same sweet-spots.
Years before Mike Dougherty made Krampus a household name, the fearsome anti-Santa featured prominently in Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (though they don’t use the “K” word, we know exactly whom we’re looking at). Even though Krampus pushed the boundaries of PG-13, Rare Exports earns its R rating, delivering disturbing thrills that definitely aren’t for kids.
Though a child features prominently in the story, Rare Exports is for parents. In addition to spooky and unnerving elements, the film asks Moms and Dads to remember what Christmas was like when they were kids, reminding them that the holiday is a perfect moment to heal old wounds and break destructive or dysfunctional cycles.
One thing I can promise: You’ll never look at shopping mall Santas the same after giving this one a spin.
Those enamored by Guillermo del Toro’s creature romance The Shape of Water will love Thale, as the two films could be considered spiritual cousins. Both feature a uniquely beautiful mythic creature abused by scientists who fear them, and both are saved by unlikely rescuers who find themselves making an emotional connection that transcends all notions of the “other”.
The film’s title refers to the “Thallen,” a tribe of creatures in Scandinavian folklore somewhat comparable to English faeries. These creatures can appear in a beautiful form in order to elicit empathy, but can also reveal dangerous defenses and darker powers when threatened.
Sauna is a uniquely hallucinatory and utterly captivating piece of historical horror that’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Unfolding in the aftermath of the Russo-Swedish War (1590–1595) the story revolves around two ex-soldiers (brothers) tasked with establishing a new border between the formerly feuding nations. They establish order in a Pagan village whose residents revere an ancient stone structure hidden in the dark swamps.
In addition to the creepy villagers and oppressively dismal swamp, the brothers must contend with their inner demons, specifically the atrocities they committed in the war. The movie presents themes and parallels that connect to modern anxieties related to military service and its aftermath, specifically, the struggle to reconcile battlefield experiences with civilian life, and whether a return to normalcy is even possible.
Despite how it appears on the American poster, the title of this film is Trollhunter (a single word) not Troll Hunter, but the distinction is irrelevant. I only mention this to make finding it online or in stores easier. But before you let the title conjure up memories of the slew of crappy Gremlins knock-off from the 1980s, these trolls are actually scary! Get those images of naked plastic troll dolls out of your heads immediately!
In addition to being an excellent example of Scandinavian horror, Trollhunter is a top-notch found footage flick. While there are a few of the perils that come with the territory (shaky cams, jump scares, etc.) the presentation adds to the legitimacy of the plot, which never feels excessively fantastic or artificial.
Though presented as a mockumentary produced by investigative journalists, Trollhunter is a meta-movie that will resonate with fans of Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon when the ones behind the camera find themselves in starring roles. Steeped in regional folklore, it’s an irrepressible and captivating romp from start to finish.
If you enjoyed Villmark Asylum on Amazon Prime, you should definitely check out Pål Øie’s sophomore movie, Hidden. If there’s one thing the bleak Scandinavian landscape lends itself to, it’s evoking feelings of loneliness, isolation, sorrow—and even death. This film utilizes these elements in an emotionally devastating story about one man’s tragic homecoming.
When KK (Kristoffer Joner) returns home to settle affairs following the death of his abusive mother, he’s forced to come to terms with long-buried memories and forgotten truths that threaten to completely obliterate his sense of self. It culminates in a moment of catharsis that’s as thrilling as it is tragic, all the while leaving audiences questioning if what we’re seeing is real, or a reflection of the tortured protagonist’s psyche. It’s a heady trip, to be sure.