Asian horror films have a reputation for being some of the scariest movies in cinema, especially to the western audience. Some people say this is because of the cultural differences, while others say its due to the rich history and folklore that comes from the eastern countries. Regardless of the reason, here are some of the most spine-chilling horror movies to ever come out of Asia.
Ringu was one of the films that kicked off the Japanese horror craze in the United States back in the early 2000s. There was even an American remake released a few years later.
The film is about 2 investigators trying to figure out the cause of a series of unexplained deaths of teenagers. They hear rumors about a haunted videotape that all the teens watched a week before their deaths. They find the supposed haunted tape and watch it but shortly after finishing it, they receive a creepy call saying they have 7 days to live.
Ringu is full of twists and turns that keeps you questioning what will happen next. There are some very suspenseful scenes that intrigue you while scaring the living hell out of you at the same time. Many Japanese movies during the early 2000s relied on psychological horror instead of physical horror. This means it didn’t throw a bunch of blood and gore at you but instead tried to get inside your head and find things that truly disturb you. If you are new to Asian horror films this is one of the best movies to jump into the genre. Just leave the lights on when you watch it.
Ju-on is another Japanese film that blew up in the early 2000s and inspired an American remake just like Ringu. Both movies are similar in ways but also very different in others. The movie is about a family who moves into a house that is haunted by the evil spirits of a woman and her son who were killed in the house years ago. The spirits start to torment the family and slowly but surely the pieces come together of what really is going on in the house.
Ju-on follows the Japanese psychological horror style much like Ringu but turns it up a notch. Instead of using extreme suspense to scare the audience, Ju-on relies on more disturbing imagery. There is still a good amount of suspense but not nearly as much as Ringu.
The disturbing imagery is not bloody or graphic like most people would think. In fact, Ju-on has very little blood and violence in it. The only reason why the movie is rated R is because of how disturbing the spirits are. The way they look, sound, and move is what really makes the audience squirm.
3. Suicide Club
Suicide Club is one of the strangest and controversial movies on this list. The plot is hard to follow and very confusing but it is still worth checking out if you are into far out horror movies.
Suicide Club starts out with a group of 50 plus school girls committing suicide by jumping in front of a train. Shortly after 2 more people commit suicide at a local hospital. After the police investigate both crime scenes, they find a roll of flesh at each one. The rolls of flesh are made up of some of the suicide victims and the police figure out there is a suicide club in Tokyo. They try to figure out how to stop this suicide club before anyone else takes their lives.
There is so much to this film that it would take pages to explain everything going on through the movie. Some people have watched this film over and over again (including myself) and still don’t quite know everything about it. The film is pretty graphic so if you are squeamish or don’t like the sight of blood, this one probably isn’t for you. That being said, if you are a pretty big horror fan and looking for something different Suicide Club might be up your ally.
4. Dark Water
Dark Water is a grim thriller/horror film that starts out as a drama but slowly morphs into an incredibly eerie movie. The film starts as a generic horror film but takes a very creative turn after the movie gets going.
The film is about a recently divorced mother moving into an old, creepy apartment with her young daughter. Once they get settled, they notice a leak in one of the bedrooms and start seeing apparitions of a little girl throughout the apartment complex. That’s where the generic themes stop. You then find out the water is apart of this ghost girl who is haunting the apartment complex. The mother then decides to figure out what happened to this girl and how she can prevent this spirit from haunting her family.
When watching Dark Water, you feel like the ghost of the little girl is trying to show the mother what caused her death and is looking for help. This makes the audience feel a small bit of compassion for the girl instead of thinking she is some abomination out to get this poor family. The way the movie uses water as a horror effect is very unique as well and is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Overall this is a great horror film that can’t be missed.
Shutter is an absolutely terrifying horror film from Thailand. This honestly might be one of the scariest movies on this list (my opinion of course). The movie is about a haunting like a lot of Asian horror films of the early 2000s but the way Shutter goes about makes it stand out from the rest.
The plot of Shutter follows a photographer, Tun, and his girlfriend Jane after they accidentally run into a woman with their car. Instead of calling for help, they decide to leave her there and not report the incident. Shortly after this, Tun notices strange ghost-like images in the background of his pictures and his friends began to die off. It turns out the girl they ran over had a relationship with Tun in the past and had some very dark secrets. As the film progresses you find out more about the girl and Tun’s past which uncovers some very frightening truths.
This movie has some extremely scary and disturbing imagery as well as unbelievable tension. The film is another example of Asian psychological horror done right. The movie only has a small amount of blood effects so even the squeamish can enjoy this film. Shutter is an absolute hidden gem in the horror genre and can even scare the most rugged horror fans.
You might have noticed that most of these movies take a psychological horror approach and limit the amount of blood and violence in each film. Asian horror is known for either taking it easy on the violence/gore or absolutely going all out in a very disturbing fashion. Audition is one of the films that go all out. It might not be the goriest or most violent film from the eastern hemisphere, but it is definitely one of the more well-done films that bring it to the table.
Audition is about a widowed man named Shigeharu Aoyama who is struggling to get over the death of his wife. After his son suggests finding a new partner Shigeharu decides to hold a fast casting audition in hopes of finding a new partner. He meets a beautiful young girl named Asami Yamazaki after she decides to take up the audition offer. Little does Shigeharu know that Asami is a deranged psychopath capable of horrendous acts of violence, which she performs out on Shigeharu during the “audition.”
As stated before, this film is not for the faint of heart. It has some very disturbing scenes that I would rather not describe here. Audition is directed by the cult film legend Takashi Miike and if you are familiar with his work, then you know he can be a bit graphic. If you can get past that though, Audition has a unique story and amazing acting. The physical horror elements and fantastic creative camera shots set the bar for these types of horror films.
If you ask any hardcore Japanese horror fan to list the best J horror movies of all time, Kwaidan will almost always be on their list. This classic 1964 horror masterpiece follows 4 unique horror stories all based on old Japanese folk tales. Kwaidan roughly translates to ghost stories so spirits and lost souls have a lot to do with each particular story.
The first story told in Kwaidan is called The Black Hair. It is about a poor swordsman who divorces his wife for a rich woman in hopes of wealth and social status. The second short film is titled The Woman of the Snow. This follows a woodcutter named Minokichi who witnesses his friend Mosaku killed by a ghost when they decide to stay in a fisherman’s hut to get out of a snowstorm.
The third part of Kawaidan is titled Hoichi the Earless. This story is about a blind musician who unknowingly finds himself playing music for the dead. The fourth and final act is called In a Cup of Tea. This is about a man who sees a face of a man in his cup of tea. The man in the tea then haunts him and traps him in another cup of tea.
This film is very highly praised by both fans and critics. It even got an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film in 1966 after its release in the United States in 1965. Kawaidan pioneered many cinema effects that are still used today in all genres of film. If you want to go back and see a true classic Asian horror movie, Kawaidan should be at the top of your list.
8. The Wailing
One of the newest films on this list, The Wailing is a 2016 South Korean film that mixes zombie, plague, and mystery films into one great horror movie. It has acquired somewhat of a cult following after its release and is cherished by the few people who have seen it.
The Wailing tells the story of a police officer named Jong-Goo who is investigating a series of bizarre deaths believed to be caused by a virus in a small rural village. The virus supposedly turns people into blood-lusting killers. He finds out that a mysterious man recently been seen close to the village who is thought to be the one spreading the virus. After his daughter shows symptoms of this savage virus, Jong-Goo becomes determined to find the cause of the sickness and stop it. He hunts for the strange man spreading the virus but finds out there is more to this plague than meets the eye.
Fans of movies like 28 Days Later and Dawn of the Dead will love The Wailing. It has elements of zombie movies but doesn’t feel generic like most films zombie movies made nowadays. It is unique enough to stand out from most while giving off a small murder mystery vibe as well. Another perfect example of an Asian Horror movie hidden gym.
9. The Host
How could we have an Asian horror movie list without adding a B rated monster movie? The Host is known as a Kaiju film, which translates to a “strange creature” film. The movie shares many similarities to the granddaddy of all Kaiju movies, Godzilla, but has a triple-A budget so the special effects are highly upgraded.
The Host is about a monster who comes up from the depths of the Han River that runs through Seoul South Korea and wreaks havoc to the town. The monster eventually kidnaps a young girl and drags her off with him. After the family of the missing girl finds out she is still alive, they decide to form a plan to go find her.
While this might not be the most original plot for a movie, it is still worth a watch if you are in the mood for a monster movie. What is so unique about the film is how big the budget and production was for this film. Usually, monster movies are really cheesy and have a very low budget. The Host blows this stereotype out of the water with its giant 11-million-dollar budget. Yes, The Host still has its cheesy moments but that’s what gives Kaiju films their charm. If you feel like mixing it up a bit, check out The Host.
10. The Tale of Two Sisters
The Tale of Two Sisters caused a lot of buzz when it was first released back in 2003 but has since fallen into obscurity among mainstream moviegoers. This is a shame because this film deserves to be remembered just as much as Ringu or Ju-on.
This amazing film follows 2 young sisters who return home after their stay in a mental institution. While they were gone, their widowed father has since remarried a very cruel woman who does not take kindly with her new stepdaughters. Shortly after moving back into their home the sister start to see horrifying images of ghosts and other disturbing imagery. The sisters believe this is brought on by their stepmother who they believe is trying to harm through these supernatural events.
Believe it or not, The Tale of Two Sisters is the highest-grossing Korean film in American history. It won over 20 movie awards and was praised by nearly everyone who saw it. The United States decided to remake this Asian horror treasure (like almost every movie on this list) titled The Uninvited. Do yourself a favor and skip The Uninvited and find yourself a copy of A Tale of Two Sisters. You won’t regret it.