Top 12 Scandinavian Horror Movies

Terror from the land of frigid fjords and near-endless winter nights.

winter_trees_800As we hunker down for a long cold winter, the chill of the season feels pervasive.   As horror fans, we’ve always been attracted to films that capitalize on winter anxieties, and these movies feel especially apropos this time of year. I’m talking about favorites like The Shining, Dreamcatcher, 30 Days of Night, and John Carpenter’s The Thing. These and other films take the physical chill of winter and translate it into a symptom of fear.

It should come as no surprise to fans of foreign horror that Scandinavia produces an incredible number of bone-chilling offerings. We can expect as much from the land of Northern Lights, frigid fjords, colossal glaciers, and near-endless arctic winter nights. This deep freeze serves as a perfect backdrop for films that seek to exacerbate feelings of isolation and powerlessness (both physical and psychological) in the face of cruel and uncaring outside forces.

By their very nature, films from this region usually require some effort from their viewers, a commitment that goes beyond simply reading subtitles. Even the most straightforward of plot lines can have incredibly nuanced subtexts, and many of these filmmakers don’t feel any obligated to deliver a neat and tidy ending; things are often left ambiguous on purpose. But if you’re ready to give your gray-matter a decent workout, an incredible new realm of terror will unfold before you.

The films below represent some of Scandinavia’s best horror offerings.

 

Let the Right One In (2008)

Country: Sweden

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Writers: John Ajvide Lindqvist (screenplay), John Ajvide Lindqvist (novel)

Stars: Kåre HedebrantLina LeanderssonPer Ragnar |

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Let the Right One In has emerged as a horror classic of the 21st Century. This unique spin on vampire mythology manages to be both chilling and incredibly endearing, an unlikely mix of horror and camaraderie.   The relationship between young Oskar and the eternally pubescent Eli is heartwarming enough to melt the snow around them—yet still loaded with complex and disturbing subtexts. I for one would love to see a sequel, something that explores the complexities sure to arise as Oskar becomes a man and Eli remains unchanged. The American version, Let Me In, is a decent enough remake, but doesn’t pull at the heart-strings near as effectively.

 

Hidden (2009)

Country: Norway

Director: Pål Øie

Writer: Pål Øie

Stars: Kristoffer JonerCecilie A. MosliBjarte Hjelmeland|

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Hidden (aka ‘Skjult’) was one of After Dark’s 8 Films to Die For in 2010; it revolves around a man with a troubled past who returns home to put affairs in order after the death of his mother. Staying in his childhood home stirs memories of death and abuse that creep from the recesses of his mind into physical reality; eventually he detects a nebulous stalker. The lonely cottage in the middle of a frozen forest is a common trope in Scandinavian horror, as is the idea of confronting past traumas and their manifestations. The ending is twisted and ambiguous enough to inspire repeat viewings. Hidden supplies atmosphere that’s as icy as the landscape.

 

Dead Snow (2009)

Country: Norway

Director: Tommy Wirkola

Writers: Tommy WirkolaStig Frode Henriksen

Stars: Jeppe Beck LaursenCharlotte FrognerJenny Skavlan |

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A rip-roaring send-up of the Cabin in the Woods subgenre of horror, this film will definitely appeal to fans of The Evil Dead franchise. But this crew of horny 20-somethings don’t battle ancient demons like Ash and company did; the villains of Dead Snow are Nazi Zombies. This film is an excellent Horror-Comedy that still packs some intense gore; the ending is a hysterical battle royal of unimaginable furry. Dead Snow 2: Red VS Dead was released via iTunes recently, but I’m waiting until it’s released on DVD to check it out.

 

Cold Prey (2006)

Country: Norway

Director: Roar Uthaug

Writers: Thomas Moldestad (story), Martin Sundland(story), 3 more credits »

Stars: Ingrid Bolsø BerdalRolf Kristian LarsenTomas Alf Larsen |

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Cold Prey is similar to Dead Snow in a few ways, as the action focuses on a group of 20-somethings who travel into the mountains for a day of snowboarding. But whereas Dead Snow is scary and funny, Cold Prey is completely humorless. When a member of their crew is injured, the pack seeks shelter in an abandoned/burned-out hotel resort that’s just as creepy and foreboding as the Overlook.   It’s a slasher film done right in almost every respect and the tension is bolstered by great acting and believable character development. The bad-guy is reminiscent of mute hulks like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, and very iconic—truly a villain with ice in his veins.

 

Cold Prey 2 (2008)

Country: Norway

Director: Mats Stenberg

Writers: Thomas Moldestad (screenplay), Thomas Moldestad (story), 4 more credits »

Stars: Ingrid Bolsø BerdalMarthe Snorresdotter Rovik,Kim Wifladt |

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Cold Prey 2 is a nearly impeccable sequel that’s very reminiscent of Halloween 2. The lone female survivor of the first film is taken to a hospital to recover from her traumas. Unbeknownst to her, the murderous mountain-man who killed her friends before being pushed into a frozen crevasse has also been brought to the hospital—and he’s not nearly as dead as we all thought. The instant transition from the first film and the fact that all of the action takes place in a single night makes this an intensely immediate continuation of the original. Cold Prey 3, a prequel that takes place in the 1980’s, has been released overseas but isn’t available in America yet; when it drops, I’ll be there waiting.

 

The Monitor (2011)

Country: Norway

Director: Pål Sletaune

Writer: Pål Sletaune

Stars: Noomi RapaceKristoffer JonerVetle Qvenild Werring |

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Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy, Prometheus) is completely captivating as a single mother in crisis. Hiding from an abusive ex-husband, she’s become paranoid nearly to the point of agoraphobia. She treats her 8-year-old son like he is much younger, and even buys a baby monitor so she can listen to him while he’s sleeping. But when the monitor begins receiving troubling transmissions from somewhere else in the building, Rapace descends into a hellish and hallucinatory rabbit-hole. While this may be the only film on the list that isn’t coated in snow, it is one of the most chilling. The end is shocking and devastating—yet still somehow beautiful.

 

Thale (2012)

Country: Norway

Director: Aleksander Nordaas

Writer: Aleksander Nordaas

Stars: Silje ReinåmoErlend NervoldJon Sigve Skard |

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Thale is a modern retelling of the Norwegian myth of the Huldra, a seductive forest creature that can be kind or ruthless depending on how well she is appeased. A crime-scene cleanup crew makes a startling discovery in an abandoned basement: A secret room housing a beautiful woman—with a cow’s tale. She makes bizarre noises and her behavior is erratic; she appears to have been a victim of medical experimentation. In many ways, Thale is an examination of science vs. nature, greed vs. compassion. Silje Reinamo is brilliant as the mute yet evocative Huldra who manages to speak volumes of wisdom through her wide, unblinking eyes.

 

Troll Hunter (2010)

Country: Norway

Director: André Øvredal

Writer: André Øvredal

Stars: Otto JespersenRobert StoltenbergKnut Nærum |

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You’ve probably noticed by now that this list is dominated by films from Norway, and Troll Hunter is another recent export. Like Thale, Troll Hunter uses Scandinavian mythology as a jumping off point. It’s a “found-footage” film about a group of conservationist/documentarians investigating wild animal mutilations. They cross paths with a man they presume is a poacher but discover he actually works for a government agency that monitors troll activity. Yes, it all sounds preposterous, which is what makes the very real tension and suspense Troll Hunter creates all the more impressive. And just to be clear, these aren’t those little critters who live under bridges and toadstools, these trolls are gigantic and violent.

 

Sauna (2008)

Country: Finland

Director: Antti-Jussi Annila

Writer: Iiro Küttner

Stars: Ville VirtanenTommi EronenViktor Klimenko |

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Sauna is a dark and disturbing examination of sin and atonement. In 1595, after a long war between Sweden and Russia, two brothers trek through swamps in Finland, making their way back home. Both are dogged by memories of atrocities they committed in battle. They stumble into a village whose ghostly inhabitants seem to comprise an isolated country unto themselves. On the outskirts of the village: An ancient pagan sauna that harbors otherworldly powers. The film is moody, nuanced, and intelligent throughout with an ending that is as engrossing as it is perplexing.

 

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

Country: Finland

Director: Jalmari Helander

Writers: Jalmari HelanderJalmari Helander (based on the original idea by), 3 more credits »

Stars: Jorma TommilaPeeter JakobiOnni Tommila |

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Rare Exports would make a brilliant holiday triple-feature with Gremlins and The Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s a complete upturning of Santa Claus mythology—or rather a return to Santa’s dark roots; this is not the jolly old fat man we’re accustomed too. Instead, we’re presented with a demonic Santa who revels in dispensing punishment even more than presents. And have you ever wondered how Santa Claus can be in so many places at one time? Watch Rare Exports and you’ll know the secret. Tweens and teens will love it too, but it’s important to note that Rare Exports can be extremely creepy and younger children will definitely find it disturbing.

 

Mara (2013)

Country: Sweden

Directors: Åke GustafssonFredrik Hedberg1 more credit »

Writers: Pidde Andersson (contributing writer), Åke Gustafsson2 more credits »

Stars: Angelica JanssonCecilia SamuelssonEmelie Frantz Nilsson |

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This film got a ridiculously low score on IMDB, but I really enjoyed it. Mara is similar to Hidden in that it revolves around a young woman returning to her childhood home to confront past traumas. When her friends all disappear after a night of heavy drinking, Jenny finds herself trapped, isolated, and vulnerable. Mara unfolds in a fashion similar to The Usual Suspects with a detective interviewing a witness of questionable validity. It’s a deceptively simple film, one that presents a mystery with 2 probable conclusions—only to hit the audience with an ending no one could have possibly predicted. Fans of psychological horror will be especially pleased with this Nordic chiller.

 

Valhalla Rising (2009)

Country: Denmark

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Writers: Nicolas Winding RefnRoy Jacobsen1 more credit »

Stars: Mads MikkelsenMaarten StevensonAlexander Morton |

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Fans of moody, violent period pieces will enjoy Valhalla Rising at least as much as Sauna. This film follows a mute, prophetic slave who gains his freedom only to be spirited away by a band of early Christians. Intent on sailing to The Holy Land to participate in the Crusades, they instead drift into a horrifying New World (hint hint). The concept of hell is the thematic core of Valhalla Rising, pointing out that one person’s paradise is another’s abyss. It’s often as mind-bending as a fever dream and definitely requires concentration. Those who can commit to the challenging style of storytelling will be blown away by the film’s conclusion.

Did I omit your favorite Scandinavian horror movie? Let me know in the comments section!

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  • Alice
    17 May 2016 at 11:55 am - Reply

    I’ve been contemplating about watching The Monitor, after reading this short review I will watch it for sure

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