When I was younger, I read a book called Bony-Legs, a Russian folktale about a child-eating witch who lived in a hut that stood on chicken legs. The illustrations were enchanting and haunting, and kept me reading till the end. Foreign horror offers great storylines for US and Western audiences; and a lot of the stories are suitable for all ages, even the children’s books!
Below are some of my favorite foreign horror stories for readers, both young and old.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind
Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born in the slums of 18th-century Paris where he is abandoned and then later taken in by an orphanage where he remains until his funding is cut. He is given to a local tanner as an apprentice where he endures grueling and dangerous labor as his strong sense of smell develops. Baldini, a perfumer, takes him in for his remarkable skills and soon Grenouille learns he doesn’t have a smell of his own while the rest of the world does. He decides he will extract other peoples fragrance and make a cologne for himself. He becomes a cold blooded murderer, hunting teenage girls who happen to possess the best scent in the world.
Perfume is a book you pretty much have to smell to understand; that is, you have to imagine every scent that is so viscously described in order to fully grasp Grenouille’s delicate nose. Each aroma, whether good or bad, is narrated in a way to elicit the cold, melancholy persona of one who has no empathy, only instinct.
Bony-Legs by Joanna Cole (Russian)
An old witch lives in a hut standing on chicken legs. She cooks and eats little children, and one day, she goes after little Sasha. The witch captures her and traps her inside her hut; and a creaking gate, a sad cat, and a skinny dog become an unlikely rescue crew. This story is inspired by Slavic folklore about an ogress called Baba Yaga who lives in the woods, traveling by her walking hut and hunting for little children to eat.
The illustrations are probably the most intriguing part about this book due to their whimsical but creepy tone and amazing attention to detail. Each page is carefully illustrated to frighten readers by bringing objects to life. For example, even when the evil ogress isn’t displayed on the next page, objects will stand on beastly legs or natural elements like trees will creep around little Sasha, to remind the reader that the woods are always lurking. A great read for all ages, Bony-Legs is a classic Russian folktale with a chilling plot and intriguing illustrations.
Even More Short & Shivery: Forty-five Spine-Tingling Tales by Robert D. San Souci
Part of a series called Short & Shivery, Even More Short & Shivery: Thirty Spine Tingling Tales has enough stories to keep you pretty entertained… in the spookiest way possible. With stories about the dancing dead, blood drawing ghosts and talking skulls, this collection of scary stories is suitable for all ages and perfect for reading at night. There are a total of 30 stories from around the world, each with creepy illustrations and surprising endings that stay with you.
I remember reading this series as a kid and I would sometimes finish an entire book in two days. The stories were that good and the illustrations peeked my interest. One of the best things about these scary tales is that it really is a great read for both kids and adults because even though some were downright gruesome, most are not THAT scary and pretty middle grade appropriate. After all, some of the most popular horror classics were written for kids and don’t involve all that messy gore.
“The Green Ribbon” by Alvin Schwartz
A girl named Jenny always wears a green ribbon around her neck, and her admirer Alfred always wonders why. He continues to pursue her and even ends up marrying her. She tells him that one day she’ll reveal the story about the green ribbon, but not now. When Jenny gets sick in old age , she finally decides to take it off and reveal the awful truth. In A Dark, Dark Room features this story and a great collection of others, suitable for all ages.
The story dates back to the French Revolution and was retitled later by Alexander Dumas as The Woman With the Velvet Necklace, eventually changing the necklace into a ribbon for the next retelling. Many of my friends who read this story like to tell me that they remain scarred forever and it’s understandable. After all, who wouldn’t be terrified if the person they thought they knew all along was an undead zombie?! Sorry for the spoiler alert if you’re one of the few that has not read it yet. Don’t worry though, there are more great stories for you to discover in Schwartz’s collection In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories.
The Haar by David Sodergren (Scottish)
An eerie fog looms over the Scottish fishing town of Witchaven soon after an overseas developer threatens to demolish the town in the name of progress. Some people redeem themselves after the fog, while others go insane; evil soon begins to take form. Horror, comedy, romance and bit of folklore, this story has it all, and you will most certainly love the grandma who should probably have a novel dedicated to just her in the next series.
This book is as thrilling as it is scary and takes daring turns to keep you on the edge of your seat. The seaside Scottish town of Witchaven sets the scene for a haunted fishing town that will soon be overrun by creatures. The residents individual lives are just as intriguing as the coastal town itself and will have you wishing there was a part 2.
A wealthy man with an ugly blue beard desires to marry again, for the 8th time. No one knows what happened to his previous 7 wives and as he aims to adds another to his collection, the naive young wife falls prey to his riches. He gives her a set of keys to his castle while he goes away on a trip but warns her to not use one specific key. Curious, his wife decides to betray his warnings and use the key to open the one room she was warned against entering.
When I read “Blue Beard” as a child, I mistook the folklore for the story of King Henry Vlll! It could have been due to the similarities in features and in how they treated their wives, yet both stories scarred me nonetheless! One thing I never forgot was the blood stained key in “Blue Beard”. The young wife tried all she could to wipe it clean after it fell in the blood-soaked chamber full of murdered corpses of his ex wives. The key had the ability to reveal evidence of where it had been, inspiring Blue Beard to attempt murder again. You can find this story and many others in Perrault’s Fairy Tales.
Do you have a favorite foreign horror story that you wish to share? Let us know in the comments below!