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Halloween Special: Europe’s top horror films

It’s Halloween this weekend. So to mark the occasion, Huw D Jones looks at the most popular European horror movies of the last decade.

Despite a cinematic tradition which brought us Nosferatu, Dr Caligari and The Wicker Man, Europe is not so big on scary movies: horror flicks account for only 3% of the films produced in Europe, according to the analysis of data from IMDb and the European Audiovisual Observatory’s LUMIERE database. That’s a much lower proportion than the US, where horror accounts for 10% of film output, but is about the same level as the rest of the world.


Swedish vampire-romance Let The Right One In (2007) is one of the most popular European horrors of the last decade among audiences and critics alike.

Ireland produced the highest proportion of horror films in Europe (11% of total film output) in the period 2004-14, followed by the UK (8%), Norway (6%) and Spain (6%). Many Irish horrors – including Shrooms (Ireland/UK/Denmark 2006), Dorothy Mills (Ireland/France 2007) and Byzantium (Ireland/UK/US 2012) – were co-produced with international partners, perhaps drawn as much by the country’s generous tax-breaks as by its wild and remote landscapes, which offer the perfect setting for ghosts, vampires and leprechauns.

Cyprus, Greece and Croatia didn’t produced a single horror film between them in the last decade (perhaps, with the fallout of the banking crisis, things were scary enough in that part of Europe).

Horror is also a fairly minority taste at the European box office. Horror films accounted for only 4% of cinema admissions in Europe during the period 2004-14, ranging from 7% in Spain to 1% in Luxembourg. Most of these admissions were for US horror films – Euro-horrors held only a 1% share of the European box office, with Spain, Germany and the UK providing many of the most successful European titles.

Europe’s top horror films

So which horror films do Europeans like most?

In terms of cinema admissions across all films,World War Z (2013), in which Brad Pitt battles a global Zombie pandemic, is the top-performing horror title in Europe of the last decade, followed by Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows (2012) and Constantine (2005), starring Keanu Reeves – though these films perhaps owe their success more to the presence of A-list Hollywood-stars than their fear factor.

Top 10 Euro Horrors - EU admissions

Table 1. Top 10 European horror films by EU admissions 2004-14. (Sources: IMDb / LUMIERE)

Of the films produced in Europe (table 1), the German-led co-production Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010) – the sixth installment of the video game-inspired franchise – comes out top, followed by Britain’s The Woman in Black (2012), a US studio-backed feature starring Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe, and Spain’s [Rec] (2007), the highest non-English language feature on the list. Resident Evil: Retribution (2012), the sequel to Afterlife, is the fifth most popular European horror after the UK/Spain co-production 28 Weeks Later (2007), while [Rec]2 (2009) and [Rec]3 (2012) are placed tenth and 19th respectively – highlighting the importance of the franchise to the European horror market.

Britain and Spain share the prize for the most number of horrors titles in the European top 20 – with seven films a piece. However, with the exception of the [Rec] series, Spain’s top-performing horrors have tended to fare less well outside their domestic market – something which is also true of the UK’s Shaun of the Dead (2004), number six on the list.

Critics and audiences

Top 10 Euro Horrors - Metacritic

Table 2. Top 10 European horror films by Metacritic score 2004-14. (Source: IMDb)

From the critic’s perspective (table 2), Taxidermia (2006) – a surreal Hungarian comedy-horror about three generations of men, including a pervert that constantly seeks for new kinds of satisfaction, an obese speed eater and a passionate embalmer – has the highest score amongst European horrors on Metacritic, followed by the touchingly beautiful Swedish vampire-romance Let the Right One In (2008) and Peter Strickland’s tense physiological thriller Berberian Sound Studio (2012), in which an English sound engineer loses his mind whilst working on a Italian giallo film.

Top 10 Euro Horrors - IMDb

Table 3. Top 10 European horror films by IMDb User Rating (excludes films with less than 2,000 votes), 2004-14. (Source: IMDb)

Meanwhile, IMDb users place Let the Right One In (2008) top, followed by Shaun of the Dead (2004) and [Rec] (2013) (table 3). However, it seems that neither critics nor audiences are that keen on scary movies. Compared with other film genres, European horrors have the lowest average rating among IMDb users and the second lowest (after action movies) Metacritic score.

That may partly be because of the way certain films are classified. My own favourite European ‘horror’ – The Orphanage (2007) – is described as a “Drama/Mystery/Thriller” on IMDb – though I can assure you it scared the living daylights out of me when I watched it alone on DVD a few years back.

But if it’s real Euro-schlock horror your after, try the Dutch exploitation film The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (2011) – which has both the lowest Metacritic score and IMDb user-rating of any European horror. The film, named the worst movie of 2011 by veteran film critic Roger Ebert, was temporarily banned in the UK for its “revolting” content (and is still banned in New Zealand).

It is sure to give you nightmares!

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