Quelle Horreur! Scariest French Horror Movies

Quick, name your favorite French horror movie! If you had to think that one over, you aren’t alone. But the country that brought us Jean-Paul Sartre has another kind of horror besides the usual tales of creaky old houses and axe-wielding maniacs. Here’s a list of ten great French movies that disturb and shock, but not always with a straightforward menace.

1. Brotherhood of the Wolf
With its slow-motion martial arts scenes and long, talky scenes of costume-drama intrigue in an 18th century setting, this movie is really multiple genres tossed into one blender, horror being only one of many ingredients. But the real model here is the classic horror movie Jaws, with the heroes similarly in pursuit of a rampaging, elusive monster and the suspenseful and gory scenes filmed with a great deal of panache.

2. Diabolique
Two women conspire to rid themselves of a man who is the abusive husband of one and the lover of the other. Director Henri-Georges Clouzot made a number of suspense thrillers and the story of this murder scheme unfolds like a film noir until their plan goes awry when the body disappears. At that point, the movie takes on a spooky dimension. But what makes the movie renowned as a horror classic is a surprise shock at the end—such scary jolts are common today, but shocked audiences in 1955.

3. Eyes Without a Face
The reigning champion French horror movie, this story has a mad doctor performing skin grafts with abducted women and dumping the bodies at night—all done out of love for his daughter, the creepy, sad girl whose face is hidden behind a mask. The surreal fable-like quality of the flick adds to the viewer’s unease.

4. High Tension
High Tension‘s merits are its meticulously-created set pieces and dream-like atmosphere, the result of striking visuals and careful sound design. The movie, and it’s twist, is a fever-induced nightmare, filled with irrational happenings and dream logic—and is way creepier than any straightforward slasher.

5. Inside
If part of the point behind horror is to feel out of control at the mercy of a scary story from which to emerge unscathed after the lights come on, then Inside scores points by making you feel that the usual rules don’t apply here, including one astonishing scene that will leave you saying, “That. Did. Not. Just. Happen.” The movie delivers all the scares and gore that modern horror fans are looking for, and actress Béatrice Dalle makes one of the great villains of recent times.

6. Irreversible
In recent years, French cinema has delved deeply into the ugliest side of human nature, carrying on a deeply-rooted fascination with the extreme from the country that gave you de Sade— and Irreversible is the masterpiece of this exploration. Gaspar Noé presents the events in reverse order, meaning that numerous viewers failed to make it through to the ending, as the movie contains not one but two scenes of almost unbearably sickening behavior Irreversible documents how violence and cruelty change lives and alter them forever. As the title indicates, perhaps some damage can’t be undone.

7. Martyrs
Although some disagree about the ultimate meaning behind the ending, Martyrs is still, whatever the takeaway, a monument of bleakness. Two young women invade the home of a family looking for the ones responsible for the past abduction and torture of one of them and the events that follow are a cringe-inducing endurance test. Unlike a lot of other recent movies often called “torture porn” by critics, however, Martyrs, offers more for the viewer besides the usual damage being inflicted on the human body and the accompanying screams.

8. The Living Dead Girl
The Living Dead Girl‘s strength lies in the relationship between the two lead characters, a revived dead girl with a thirst for flesh and blood and her friend who tries her best to help with mixed results. Numerous movies have since mined the predicament of just how far to go to protect a loved one who has become a danger, but this version is particularly sincere and effective. The emotionally powerful finale lingers with the viewer—as any good horror movie should.

9. The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears
Ostensibly the story of a man attempting to figure out what happened to his missing wife, this wild freak-out of a movie boils everything down to style and effect. A wacky psychedelic art film-horror movie mash-up, clearly not for everyone, but a truly postmodern “horror” film with a sly sense of humor and most assuredly something new out of something old.

10. They Came Back
The recently dead have come back, but they aren’t trying to eat you, they’re dressed in nice, clean shirts and dresses and just want to go for long walks and get back to work at their old jobs. Or is that all they are up to? Closer in spirit to Invasion of the Body Snatchers than Night of the Living Dead, creates an unsettling feeling of mystery by working at a glacial pace, not unlike the slow moving returnees themselves.

THE RETURNED returns Halloween at 10/9c on SundanceTV. Catch up with THE RETURNED Season 1 now.

And now we bring the horror stateside—read on for top 8 reasons to stay off the New York City subways.