Horror films are scary enough as it is, but there’s something even creepier about those hailing from foreign countries - especially when they’re inspired by disturbing ghost stories and folklore. When films take inspiration from urban legends that are deeply rooted in a particular culture, it adds an extra layer of authenticity, heightening the horror.
Settle in and take a trip through some of the most terrifying foreign films inspired by urban legends. While some are based on horrors that don a different mask depending on location, like the Vanishing Hitchhiker, others, like the legend of the Tyanak, serve as a unique taste of the region they call home. There is even one urban legend that's made an appearance in scientific research. The one thing they have in common? Each and every one of the myths is absolutely nightmare-inducing. Dig in!
The Japanese Legend Of Kuchisake-Onna Inspired "Carved" (2007)
To this day, one of the most frightening urban legends in Japan is the story of Kuchisake-onna (a.k.a. Slit-Mouthed Woman). While there are many interpretations of the myth, the most popular belief is that some time during the Edo period, a Samurai used a sword to slice his wife's face from ear to ear after he found out she was cheating on him.
Since that time, there continue to be alleged sightings of a malicious female spirit walking the streets with her face covered by a surgical mask, stopping victims to ask whether she is pretty. If they reply no, she kills them with a pair of scissors. If they reply yes, she removes her mask and asks “How about now?” If the victim answers yes again, she slices their face from ear to ear, just like her. If they answer no, she cuts them in half.
The disturbing legend has been adapted several times to manga, anime, television, and film. The most popular version is the 2007 film Carved: The Slit Mouthed Woman. While similar to the original myth, the Kuchisake-Onna in this version is capable of possessing female hosts in order to terrorize the town.
The Legend Of The Vanishing Hitchhiker Inspired "Return To Glennascaul"
Where there are cars, there is probably some version of the Vanishing Hitchhiker urban legend. Though different depending on the region, the premise remains the same: people are accompanied by a mysterious hitchhiker who disappears without explanation. In several versions, the driver makes contact with the family of the ghost at some point and learns that the person they picked up matched the description of their dead relative.
In the 1951 Irish film Return to Glennascaul (a.k.a. Orson Welles’ Ghost Story), Welles (as himself) encounters and picks up a man with car trouble. As the two drive through the countryside, the mysterious man recounted a story he experienced in the area. According to his tale, he once picked up two female hitchhikers. When he brought them to their manor, they invited him in for a drink. After he left, he realized he’d forgotten his cigarette case and went back retrieve it. When he arrived, he found the estate in ruins. After he inquired about it, he learned that the two women who lived there had died several years prior.
The Fetal Cannibalism Myth Inspired "Dumplings" (2004)
This well-known urban legend hails from Hong Kong. According to the myth, aborted fetuses are believed to restore beauty and youth, as well as increase fertility. In one notable case, performance artist Zhu Yu allegedly consumed fetuses for a conceptual art display entitled “Eating People” at the Shanghai arts festival in 2000. The “shock art” sparked controversy, and provoked federal investigations.
In the Chinese film Dumplings, a fading actress reaches out to a local chef named Aunt Mei. After the actress explains her problem, the chef prescribes her famous youth-rejuvenating dumplings. The main ingredient? Fetuses. After realizing the secret recipe worked, the plot spiraled out of control and reached violent heights.
The Legend of the Dybbuk Inspired "The Dybbuk" (1937)
The tale of the Dybbuk dates back to 16th century Hebrew writings, and is still popular today. According to the legend, the Dybbuk entity is a malicious spirit that posses and attaches itself to a human. In most cases, the spirit departs after accomplishing some sort of goal.
Michal Waszynski’s Polish film The Dybbuk, based on S. Ansky's Yiddish play by the same name, tells the story of a young bride possessed by a Dybbuk on the eve of her wedding. While the entity has been at the center of several more recent films including The Possession, The Unborn, and the critically acclaimed Polish film, Demon (2015), The Dybbuk is regarded as the first mainstream discussion of the spirit.