If you’re interested in the horror genre, you have probably heard the buzz about Under the Shadow. The first feature by Babak Anvari, Under the Shadow is a Farsi-language horror film, set in 1980’s Tehran. After a missile lands on the roof of their building, a young girl (Avin Manshadi) is convinced that dangerous spirits called, djinn, are after the residents of the building. Can her mother (Narges Rashidi) do anything to stop the haunting, or is it all due to their isolation? With its intertwining of both, the politics of the time and spine-tingling fear, Under the Shadow is one of the most interesting horror films of the year, thus far. However, it is one of the few Persian language horror films. What other Persian language, Iranian horror films are there, and why is this particular genre so small?
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, the directorial debut of Ana Lily Amirpour, is the first Iranian language vampire western film. It deals with a young man named Arash, (Arash Marandi) who comes across a young vampire, who stalks the streets of Bad City. With striking cinematography and a genre-bending script, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is one of the films that you have to see to truly believe. Watch the trailer here.
Fish & Cat is a “based on a true story” slasher film about a group of students traveling to a small town for a kite flying event. Upon their arrival, they discover that camping near them are three cooks from a small restaurant, with a dark secret. Shot entirely in one take and incredibly tense, Fish & Cat is fascinating if you can find a copy. Watch the trailer here.
So where are all the Iranian horror films? The oldest film on this list, Fish & Cat, was still released in 2013 and only one film can be found from earlier; 1985’s The Rings, which has very little information online. It’s no secret that post revolution Iran has very strict censorship, however the film industry does still thrive, despite these restrictions and permit problems. Quite simply, the answer seems to be that there isn’t usually a market for Iranian horror films. Iran still has a lot of films released every year and those films tend to either not make the international festival market or simply not apply. So an Iranian horror film being released into the foreign world isn’t an anomaly, but in order for it to get word of mouth it usually takes something more.
To put it simply, Western audiences know about films such as Under the Shadow and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night because of the interesting diversity of the films themselves. One is a “Vampire Western,” the other is a period piece that blends commentary with inventive scares and a slow burn. Both films are done by first time filmmakers. Both have production companies outside of Iran (British company Wigwam Films for the former, American Spectrevision for the latter). And both have distributors that are outside Iran (Netflix and VICE Films respectively). These companies pick up the distribution rights because they are fantastic films and release them to a western audience who will appreciate them because there is a market for them. With the commercial and critical success of these films, it is hopeful that more Iranian filmmakers take risks with the horror genre and bring their different perspective to the western world.