When it comes to which horror movies to watch, those made in Russia are criminally underrated. Those seeking the latest horror movies of 2020 often overlook the array of Russian Horror Movies that have the ability to keep you awake at night. Russian experience of making spine-tingling and downright disturbing horrors goes back to the days of the Soviet Union. Since the collapse of the USSR and the introduction of new movie making technology, the genre of Russian horror movies has only excelled.
Due to the horror genre being largely dominated by directors from the United States, Japan, South Korea, and France, the Russian’s penchant for quality over quantity has unfortunately left them overshadowed even during various events such as Russian Film Week. However, it’s fair to say that Russian horror movies and their directors are some of the most prominent pioneers of realist cinema.
To shed some light on the phenomenal range of Russian horror movies, the team at Eastern Europe Insight has compiled a list of what we consider to be ten of the best horror movies of all time made in Russia. Some of the movies featured in this list are not horror movies in the conventional sense of the word, but in that sense that they have the ability to cause psychological impact due to their intensely dark nature. They are classed as Russian horror movies due to them being Russian language movies, the director or setting, however, may take place outside of Russia. Watch at your own risk.
5. The Cult King of Russian Horror Movies – Stalker, 1979
directed by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1979, Stalker was a Soviet sci-fi horror movie based on the 1972 novel called Roadside Picnic. It enjoyed a triumphant success following its release and became a cult classic around the world. The movie is a haunting masterpiece covering a melancholy pursuit of happiness in a post-apocalyptic world. It has recently been made the subject of a wonderful digital restoration.
The Stalker movie takes place in a country and time that is not made clear to the viewer. One of the main characters is a man with a mutant child whose role is as a guide leading people into a post-apocalyptic wasteland known simply as “The Zone”. The wasteland is well protected and the guides child tells stories of unspeakable horrors that take place within it. The story of the movie kicks off when the guide leads a writer and scientist into the heart of the wasteland in search of a place known simply as ”The Room” which is said to fulfill all of the desires of any who enter it.
The cult classic Stalker sees the movies main characters dodging the ever present threat of border guards as they journey on a rail cart into a realm of colour, miracles, and alien artefacts. The host of the first Steadicam sequence in Soviet movie history, it is arguably one of the most highly regarded horror / science fiction films ever made.
4. A Live in the Present Moment Story – The Bride, 2017
The Bride was released in 2017 and was marketed to international audiences as the scariest horror film of that year. Directed by Svyatoslav Podgayevsky, the Bride is a psychological thriller-horror film with heavy gothic themes. Although many international film critics were unimpressed, the film was a popular hit with the various audiences who saw it.
Like all good Russian horror movies, it is set in the rural areas of Russia and tells the story of a violent female spirit fuelled by murder. It revolves around a young, newly married Russian woman called Nastya who has recently tied the knot with a man called Ivan. Nastya is keen to meet Ivan’s parents and after some persuasion, they are soon on their way to an isolated and forgotten Russian village.
On arrival, Nastya rapidly becomes uncomfortable as the atmosphere in the village with Ivan’s family becomes sinister. The situation worsens when Ivan disappears completely. Nastya is then prepared for a ”traditional wedding ceremony” by Ivan’s family. In reality, this is an occult ritual aimed at bringing a long-dead woman back from the dead by sacrificing Nastya in exchange. The occult practise goes wrong, however, resulted in an enraged spirit of the dead woman who then goes on a murderous spree across the village.
3. Russian Horror Movies in the Arctic – How I Ended This Summer, 2010
directed in 2010 by Alexei Popogrebski, How I Ended This Summer is a Russian drama movie that has strong elements of horror to it. Upon its release, the movie was met with critical acclaim and received numerous movie awards and nominations.
How I Ended This Summer is set on a desolate island situated in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. The island’s only inhabitant is a battle-hardened meteorologist named Sergei who is running the polar station on the island. Sergei is soon joined a young graduate called Pavel. One day, Pavel receives a deeply traumatic message on the station radio that needs to be passed on to Sergei.
As Pavel tries to find the right moment to tell Sergei the news, their life on the island soon degenerates into a toxic atmosphere of lies, paranoia, and terror. Expect chases with polar bears, hair raising fights at the end of the world, and radioactive poisoning. This is a movie about the dangers of isolation and one that you will remember for a long time, particularly if you’re ever eating dried fish.
2. My Joy, 2010
My Joy was directed in 2010 by Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa. It was the first Ukrainian made film to have ever been entered for the Palme d’Or. My Joy was set in Smolensk, western Russia. Upon its release, it was met by equal outcry and praise. Many accused the film of being Russophobic whilst others lauded it as ”The Ukrainian version of Deliverance”.
Although Sergei Loznitsa is traditionally a documentary maker, My Joy was his first foray into fiction. In partnership with acclaimed Moldavian cinematographer Oleg Mutu, the film is a disturbed and downright haunting tale from the backroads of post-Soviet Russia as a Russian truck driver, moving far from family, heads into the heart of darkness.
“A maddening vision and one of the year’s must-see provocations.”– Michael Atkinson from the Village Voice.
The ploy of My Joy was heavily influenced by a decade of road trips Loznitsa has made through Russia and the former Soviet Union. It revolves around a Russian Truck driver named Georgy who is traversing the roads of provincial Russia in his attempt to deliver a truckload of goods. On the way, he encounters various characters from disturbed war veterans, child prostitutes, violent criminals, and more violent corrupt police officers.
This combination of characters lead Georgy, who soon becomes a changed man, off the road and into a village lost in time. In this place, where the past rules the present and the locals struggle to keep hold of their morals in an unforgiving world, there is seemingly no escape. The film’s brutal and hard to watch crescendo never fails to leave viewers in shock.
1. The King of Russian Horror Movies – Come and See, 1985
Whilst not strictly in the horror genre, Come and See was a movie so traumatizing and horrific that it has to fight almost a decade of censorship in the Soviet Union due to its extremely unnerving depiction of the Second World War in Belarus. A country that lost almost a quarter of its population during the conflict. After its release, the Soviet movie Come and See became a cult classic that was deemed the most important anti-war movie ever made. More infamous than famous, in order to achieve true realism of war, the director starved the actors and used live rounds in scenes.
Have you ever been asked to describe the most difficult thing about being your age? Well, the plot of Come and See revolves around a young Belarussian guerrilla named Flora. The movie follows two weeks of Flora’s life in WW2 Belarus as he is moving far from family and joining a band of Belarusian partisans. By the end of the movie, after experiencing the war crimes carried out Nazi troops, Flora is aged to look decades older than he is to demonstrate his childhood innocence has been brutally taken away from him. What’s left behind is a gaping void of nihilism combined with a mindset fueled solely by hatred for Fascists and devoted to their demise.
Come and See is a no holds barred insight into the real horror of WW2 in Eastern Europe. Created by people who lived and breathed it, it graphically displays the brutal atrocities committed by the Nazis against the Soviets. There are no reasons for celebrations in this film. From rape and shellshock to burnt bodies and massacres, Come and See is an alternative horror movie that will stick with you for a long time.
Whilst the majority of these Russian horror movies will not be found on Netflix or Amazon, many of them are available on Youtube. In particular, many of the cult classics like Come and See and Stalker have been given the digital remaster treatment. We hope you found this list useful and it has given you some good options for an insight into Russian horror. Watch them at your own risk.