This article was originally written for Subtitled Online March 2013.
Ever feel like there are just too many things that go bump in the night to keep track of? Do you need help in recognising exactly what is making you cower in horror, and where the hell it came from? Well, look no further than this handy monster-spotting guide, organised by country, with advice on what kind of horror you can expect to find on your travels abroad according to the movies…
What to watch out for: Spirits (various)
Key films: RINGU (1998); JU-ON: THE GRUDGE (2002); DARK WATER (2002)
Japanese horror (or J-horror) is pretty much inseparable from the supernatural. Traditional Japanese folklore and fables provide a near-endless selection of creepy ideas for horror filmmakers to draw upon. You can usually spot a Japanese ghost by chalk-white skin (the ghost child Toshio in JU-ON), a dank, jet-black, face-obscuring curtain of hair (Sadako in RINGU) and a thirst for violent revenge (pretty much all of them).
If you want to avoid being quite literally frightened to death by such terrifying spectres, try not to play any unlabelled video tapes just in case they’re cursed (if you somehow still own a VHS player) and try to avoid moving into suspiciously cheap accommodation in case something nasty happened there and the victim wants to take it out on you from beyond the grave.
What to watch out for: Vampires and cannibals
Key films: CRONOS (1993); WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (2010)
According to Mexican horror films, towns and cities can be dangerous places. Never mind run-of-the-mill criminals and shady characters, you just might bump into a blood-craving vamp in a public bathroom (who may or may not be as morally complex as Jesus Gris in CRONOS), or far more terrifyingly you may run afoul of a threat that is all too human – a warped family of ritualistic cannibals (WE ARE WHAT WE ARE). The giveaway for what is tearing into your flesh will be down to whether you can detect signs of life – both may appear bestial, but if you can see it breathing and sweating it’s a cannibal; if it looks like it’s rotting before your eyes, it’s a vampire. Whatever you do encounter, there will be bucket-loads of blood spilt, and it’s highly likely that it’s all going to be yours.
What to watch out for: Nazi zombies and trolls
Key films: DEAD SNOW (2009); TROLL HUNTER (2010)
Whilst travelling the snow-covered forests of Norway, pick your place of rest carefully, and be on the lookout for long-forgotten legions of undead National Socialists who may be hiding out in the darkness (DEAD SNOW). If the swastikas on their arms don’t give them away, then their relentless pursuit of the contents of your head will, as might the fact that they refuse to stay down even after being disembowelled.
If you’re thinking of a more off-road Scandinavian journey, then make sure you don’t wander into the habitat of seldom-seen, government-protected trolls (and if you do, then why not try and film your experiences like in TROLL HUNTER?). Avoid roomy caves and the underside of bridges, and keep something that smells as bad as the creatures of Norwegian folklore close to hand if you want to avoid becoming lunch for a hideous behemoth.
What to watch out for: Ghosts and zombies
Key films: THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE (2001); [•REC] (2007)
Depending on whereabouts in Spain you plan on visiting, your scary experience will likely be quite different. If you take a tour of isolated wartime orphanages, be wary of drowned little boys holding a grudge (like THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE’s Santi), but if you’re in the city, avoid apartment blocks lest you’re quarantined when a zombie outbreak occurs ([•REC]). Either way you’ll likely find yourself trapped in creepy confined building with something none-too-friendly snapping at your heels.
If you’re interred with the decomposing, hungry living dead, then the outlook looks pretty bleak (especially if you’re chased into a dark attic room), but if it’s a child spectre pursuing you, then you might just have a chance if you play Scooby Doo and get to the bottom of a mystery…
Hopefully, this guide will prove useful on any future holidays to foreign shores. If you spot the signs soon enough, you could escape with your lives intact. Or if you don’t, then at least you’ll have the small comfort of knowing what form of terror took it from you. SSP