Are you growing tired of the myriad of rehashed horror ideas released by Hollywood’s elite? Do staple American horror franchises no longer send shivers down your spine? Yeah, I get it. You probably feel like you’ve seen everything a dozen times over and it’s time for a change.
If you’ve yet to look to the East for your horror fix, then you’re missing out. Sure, we’ve grown accustomed to the long-haired ghosts of Asian fright flicks, but there is so much across the Pacific waiting to horrify you.
From monsters to the deadly things that go bump in the night, there is plenty on this list of the best Asian horror movies to hold you over until the next uninspired but “highly-anticipated” horror sequel comes to theaters.
15. Dumplings (2004)
Director: Fruit Chan Country: China (Hong Kong)
How disturbing can a movie about dumplings really be? The answer is “very,” thanks to director Fruit Chan and writer Lilian Lee. When a woman finds her life falling apart, she turns to an unlikely source – dumplings. It’s not pork or chicken in those little morsels, though, as Aunt Mei’s recipe calls for a human fetus.
I don’t want to give away too much of the movie’s more controversial elements, but I’ll just say Dumplings includes incest, cannibalism, and abortion clinics. This is one of those horror movies that will leave you disgusted and feeling uneasy, but it’s impossible to look away because it’s also surprisingly entertaining.
Things get incredibly weird and nauseating as one or two conversations go into detail on the texture of the dumpling’s main ingredient.
14. Suicide Club (2001)
Director: Sion Sono Country: Japan
It’s not uncommon for Japanese horror movies to deal with important or controversial subject matters. Suicide Club is among these, putting the focus on suicide and the idea and reasoning behind mass suicides. Sion Sono tackles these subjects within a gruesome horror movie that rightfully earns its cult following.
The film follows a series of suicides occurring around Tokyo and the search to uncover the reason for them. Though the events initially seem unconnected, there may be something sinister at the root of the rash of self-mutilations.
Sono takes a satirical approach but doesn’t stray away from the true horrors as random groups of teenagers start killing themselves in gruesome ways.
13. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
Director: Kim Jee-woon Country: South Korea
A good Japanese ghost story should never go overlooked. A great one, like A Tale of Two Sisters, should be placed at the top of your playlist. When Su-Mi (Im Soo-jung) returns home from a mental institution, she finds herself tormented by horrific nightmares. Are they the ghosts of her family’s dark past, returning as a warning for the fragile girl or something crafted from her twisted and broken mind?
Jee-woon successfully weaves a tale that highlights mental illness while delivering the frights necessary to become one of Asia’s best horror movies. The South Korean film is a memorable ghost story crafted through inspiration pulled from the infamous Janghwa Hongryeon jeon folktale.
As is typical with an Asian supernatural movie, the specters are terrifying and the scares effective.
12. I Saw the Devil (2010)
Director: Kim Jee-woon Country: South Korea
More of a horror thriller, I Saw the Devil has no problem keeping the audience tense and unsettled. Viewers follow National Intelligence Service agent Kim Soo-hyun (Byung-hun) on a mission for revenge when his fiance is dismembered and thrown in a nearby stream.
The opening alone is an unsettling display and quickly justifies the title, but director Jee-woon has plenty in store for the movie’s audience. Especially when Soo-hyun lets his thirst for revenge send him on a rampage.
There’s no shortage of blood sprayed about as both men show just how vicious they can be.
The movie is told through the eyes of a paranormal investigator that sets out to uncover the mystery behind a woman and her son. As people close to the pair start to die off and go missing, the expert finds himself battling a deadly supernatural force.
Noroi: The Curse is a gritty and relentless movie that can help to reignite the flame of found footage horror.
10. The Host (2006)
Director: Bong Joon-ho Country: South Korea
Before Bong Joon-Ho astounded audiences with the Oscar-winning Parasite, he set a tentacled horror loose on South Korea. While it was a bit silly, especially with the simple Park Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) headlining the cast, The Host remained faithful to monster movies.
The amphibious creature terrorizing South Korea’s Han River may not have earned the notoriety of other Asian movie monsters, but it really deserves to. Its speed, size, and host of deadly appendages helps elevate it to a frightening level, especially to those always fearing what waits within murky waters.
While Cloverfield often earns praise for being the quintessential monster movie of the new millennium, had The Host succeeded better in the American market, it likely would have surpassed the found-footage creature feature.
You’re in for a creepy good time with this Thai supernatural horror film. Of course, there’s an American remake, but you’ll want to stick to the original in order to understand just how spooky something as innocuous as a camera can be.
In the wake of a car accident that leaves a mysterious woman allegedly dead, Tun (Ananda Everingham) starts to see spectral images in pictures he takes. Believing them to be the ghost of the girl they hit, his girlfriend, Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee) searches for answers, but uncovers a past that was better left buried.
Shutter will have you feeling quite different about taking selfies.
8. Audition (1999)
Director: Takashi Miike Country: Japan
Oh, you already know about Audition. You absolutely do. You’ve heard of its most disturbing and grotesque scenes, but haven’t had the stomach to sit down with the full movie. Don’t just settle for hearing about the movie’s most shocking moments, however, as the real horror of Audition is woven into a dreadful tale of obsession and abuse.
There are some heavy themes found within Miike’s adaptation of the 1997 novel of the same name, and whether or not they speak to you may amplify how Adaptation affects you. The tragic life of the devilish Asamy Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina) almost makes you feel bad for her – until you remember her disgustingly horrific acts.
Even if you have to look away during the movie’s more disgusting scenes, Audition is a must-see for horror fans. Especially if you’re about to get back into the dating world.
7. Dark Water (2002)
Director: Hideo Nakata Country: Japan
Oh, you saw the 2005 remake starring Jennifer Connelly and Tim Roth and don’t think you need to watch the original Japanese adaptation of Koji Suzuki’s short story collection? I really would advise you to put some time into Hideo Nakata’s 2002 film. You won’t regret it, unless, of course, you hate Asian horror movies that may actually scare you.
When a divorced mother is forced to move into a rundown apartment, she and her daughter are dragged into a very wet supernatural horror. As hard as Yoshimi Matsubara (Hitomi Kuroki) tries to protect her daughter from the waterlogged spirit, the more she realizes the sacrifices that may need to be made.
Dark Water is a tale of love and loss sprinkled with everything needed to become one of the best Asian horror movies.
6. The Wailing (2016)
Director: Na Hong-jim Country: South Korea
In 2016, South Korean director Na Hong-jim transported audiences to the rural village of Gokseong. This wasn’t some pleasure trip, however, as a strange man from Japan has arrived with a strange disease in tow. As the illness spreads throughout the village, it brings with it hysteria, violence, and death.
The Wailing isn’t simply a great horror movie, it’s an award-winning effort that follows a police officer as he immerses himself in the infection to uncover its origin. Watching the South Korean village crumble upon itself is both entertaining and frightening and well-deserving of the more than 60 award nominations it earned.
Don’t expect jumpscares galore as you dive into this supernatural thriller, which relies heavily on a slow burn to keep viewers at the edge of their seat.
5. The Eye (2002)
Director: Pang Brothers Country: Singapore
Be careful whose organs you accept. It’s a strange message, but it’s sure to be your mantra after watching 2002’s The Eye. The Pang brothers and co-writer Jojo Hui crafted what amounts to a classic ghost story, complete with everything we love about supernatural flicks.
When violinist Mun receives an eye cornea transplant to cure her 18-year blindness, she finds that the gift of sight comes with a catch. Her newfound vision gives her the ability to see deaths before they happen, which could be useful if it didn’t come with the occasional horrifying ghostly visitor.
The Eye is a haunting movie that relies more on pacing and freaky ghosts to terrorize the audience.
4. One Cut of the Dead (2017)
Director: Shin’ichiro Ueda Country: Japan
Sometimes, the best horror movies are the ones that don’t take themselves too seriously. When Shin’ichiro Ueda released One Cut of the Dead, it’s unlikely he would have expected his zombie comedy would go on to become an award-winning film. Yet here he is, many quarts of fake blood and a $30.5 million box office later.
We’ve seen so many different zombie movies over the years, but this one is beyond delightful. Director Takayuki Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu) just wants to film a low-budget zombie movie, but his actors prove to be difficult. Before they can even make progress, the crew finds themselves in the middle of a real zombie apocalypse.
It’s a funny and chaotic take on zombie movies, exactly what was needed to breathe some life into a tired genre.
3. Train to Busan (2016)
Director: Yeon Sang-ho Country: South Korea
Train to Busan isn’t your run-of-the-mill zombie movie. It’s so much better. Whether it’s the claustrophobic location of a train or the animal-like viciousness of the zombies, there’s something about Yeon Sang-ho’s zombie flick that elevates it above so many others.
The movie has a lot of heart and you’re going to love many of the characters you meet. That, of course, is mistake #1 in a zombie movie as you know nobody is off limits. Train to Busan absolutely pulls no punches when it comes to tearing your heart out and then immediately devouring it with an insatiable lust for blood.
You know you’re watching a great zombie movie when you’re fighting back tears one moment and feeling an adrenaline rush of fear the next. It’s also on Netflix if you haven’t caught it yet.
2. Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
Director: Takashi Shimizu Country: Japan
Even if you’re the most difficult person to scare, when you hear that freakish guttural death rattle, you’ll feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It’s simply unsettling, there’s no better way to describe it.
In Ju-On: The Grudge, when there is a brutal murder, a curse is set upon the location it took place. The curse manifests as horrifying pale-faced spirits that pop up at the most inopportune moments. LIke when you’re trying to cower under your comforter.
Even if Ju-On was a bad movie – which it absolutely is not – that death rattle and the long-haired specter of Kayako has rooted themselves as icons of the horror genre.
1. Ringu (1998)
Director: Hideo Nakata Country: Japan
If you’re one to shake your fist at the remake trend, then you may want to shake it at Hideo Nakata. Ringu is essentially responsible for many of the Western horror remakes to release in the past umpteen years – and there’s a really good reason why. Simply put, it’s a timeless horror classic that utilized our love for technology against us.
Even if you’ve seen the American version, you absolutely must sit down with Ringu. It simply does the concept of a vengeful ghost spreading its revenge via VHS tape much better. And much scarier. There’s something about that iconic scene that makes Ringu’s version of it so much better, and it’s probably that it’s a grittier movie that doesn’t have that Hollywood gloss to it.
While The Blair Witch Project was revitalizing horror in the United States, Ringu was doing it in Japan.