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7 Gripping South African Horror Movies

South Africa is only starting to realise its capacity and capability when it comes to the horror genre. We're still coming to terms with the fact that unless we lean into found footage, horror comedy or avoid naming the "dwarf-like water sprite" we may never see a definitive horror based on the vertically-challenged tokoloshe.

Gripping South African Horrors

Based on the last 5 years, it's clear that our local film scene is experiencing an explosion of creativity with some of the best horror movies yet. Partly inspired by our nation's appetite for things that scare us, the long-running South African Horrorfest and the worldwide revival of horror thanks to filmmakers such as Ari Aster (Hereditary, Midsommar), Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us, Nope) and Robert Eggers (The Witch, The Lighthouse), it's clear that we're producing some of our finest work yet.

While our horror films are typically atmospheric, imaginative and visually-striking aided by full tilt performances, vivid visual effects and driving soundtracks, it appears that there's a struggle to find the right balance when it comes to character, pacing and storytelling. This isn't a unique obstacle for the genre, which generally tends to push style over substance but one that's probably easiest to solve in the pre-production phase. Rushing to production without having the time to dissect and refine scripts will inevitably lead to tangled tales from the crypt. So while we're still waiting for a South African horror to fire on all cylinders, here are seven of the best local horrors yet.

Glasshouse (2021)

While slow-moving at times, Glasshouse succeeds due to its intriguing underlying concept, haunting tone, and world-building. The sci-fi horror chamber drama defies expectations, steeped in rich themes and its own sense of culture, lending a real presence and self-reflective quality to the claustrophobic and gloomy environment.

While Glasshouse shares elements with many other films, it's a miracle when you consider its modest budget and first-time round inception, starring many promising acting talents and displaying a clear vision and great passion from its promising filmmakers. Full Movie Review

Pou (2022)

Pou is an ambitious horror film that rarely goes overboard, conjuring up spellbinding visuals and an eerie atmosphere to complement the story. It's a film of great beauty and restraint, with strong performances and seasoned knowledge of the genre. There are flashes of true brilliance where everything comes together flawlessly.

While it's clear that Minnaar is still finding his "voice", referencing a number of contemporary elevated horrors in the process, one can only hope that Pou serves as a taste of what's to come from its talented cast. Full Movie Review

Griekwastad (2019)

Based on a true story, the quiet town of Griekwastad erupts after a family murder casts suspicion on a lone survivor. Griekwastad adopts a similar grim and gritty atmosphere to LAPD beat crime drama End of Watch, using handheld cameras to blur reality and create an unsettling tension at times. Leaning into mystery crime drama, elements of horror and a driving industrial soundtrack elevate Griekwastad on the back of a strong cast headlined by Arnold Vosloo.

It's tonally inconsistent at times but still manages to draw you into its festering cat-and-mouse game. Talking Movies Review

Fried Barry (2020)

Fried Barry is a brave and edgy sci-fi horror thriller that can be celebrated for its independent spirit and ugly/beautiful aesthetic, but it doesn't do much to endear itself beyond being admirable for its true originality of vision and unfettered flair in technical execution. Kruger flexes his directorial ability with some death-defying feats, channeling his nightmarish creativity and music video origins.

Fried Barry should serve as a strong calling card for Ryan Kruger and a welcome platform for Gary Green. It's a wonderful and accomplished showcase of his artistic merit, cult appeal, and resourcefulness. Full Movie Review

Gaia (2021)

The fantasy horror drama Gaia starts out like a blend of Deliverance and Predator as rangers venture upstream on a routine mission only to encounter a cult of woodland survivalists. Gaia is an elegant, gritty and visually-striking film, cleverly twisting into something more sinister as an altruistic rescue becomes an induction.

Compelled by timely ecological themes, a poetic undertow and its cast's sharp performances, this atmospheric, surreal and thoughtful fantasy horror drama leans on its stylish visual effects, lacking depth when it comes to character and storytelling. Full Movie Review

Siembamba (2017)

Named after an old Afrikaans folklore song, Siembamba (aka The Lullaby) is a psychological horror thriller from respected veteran filmmaker Darryl Roodt, starring Reine Swart in a gutsy and haunting lead performance as a young mother struggling with postpartum depression.

This dark, ghastly, twisted and stylish horror has touches of Black Swan and Sinister, conjuring up an intense and nightmarish scenario for a doll-faced teenage girl battling with her mother, psychiatrist and her new role as a mother. Too disturbing to be screened in mainstream cinemas, the spiraling and focused intensity of its dark visions will leave you ragged.

The Soul Collector (2019)

The Soul Collector (aka 8) straddles the line between artful horror and pure popcorn escapism, building layers of textured, high-quality story material while remaining glossy and superficial. It's elegant, earnest, and effective as an intriguing ensemble horror mystery drama, but it's let down by a shaky script and loose characterisation.

It's a respectable production, well-versed in horror tropes, playing above its station, ambitious in its vision, and driven by pure passion. 8 is good enough to make you sit up and take notice, with a distinct vision and uncommon care, but it is limited by flaws. Full Movie Review

Other South African horror feature films you may not have heard of: Good Madam, Night Drive, Pinky Pinky: A Monster is Born, The Unfamiliar, I Am All Girls, Rage, Die Ontwaking, House on Willow Street, Triggered, Slumber Party Massacre, Rancid, Her Mask, Parable, The Tokoloshe, The Breed, Hellgate, Snake Island, Surviving Evil, Jannie totsiens, Dracula 3000 and Eternity. Please do drop us an email if we've missed a title.