While the United States seems to be churning out nothing but remakes and sequels in the horror genre, Asia is making great strides. Japan and Korea especially have provided some of the best films in the genre over the last decade or so. If, like me, you’re sick of the brainless gore fests playing at American multiplexes, here are ten films that will restore your faith in horror movies.
A common thread in a lot of Asian horror films is combining ghosts with technology. One example is Pulse. In the film, a group of young Tokyo residents experiences strange occurrences after a friend of theirs commits suicide. One of them starts seeing ghostly images of the friend’s face on the wall. Then there’s the connection to an Internet cam that claims to allow people to communicate with the dead. You may be scared of your computer after this one! Give Pulse time. It’s slow, but worth the build-up.
9. The Host
Most horror films that are creature features are really cheesy. The Host from Korea is an exception. The story is a good one. I’ll let Internet Movie Database give you a good summary.
The film revolves around Park Hee-bong, a man in his late 60s. He runs a small snack bar on the banks of the Han River and lives with his two sons, one daughter, and one granddaughter. The Parks seem to lead a quite ordinary and peaceful life, but maybe they are a bit poorer than the average Seoulite. Hee-bong’s elder son Gang-du is an immature and incompetent man in his 40s, whose wife left home long ago. Nam-il is the youngest son, an unemployed grumbler, and daughter Nam-joo is an archery medalist and member of the national team. One day, an unidentified monster suddenly appears from the depths of the Han River and spreads panic and death, and Gang-du’s daughter Hyun-seo is carried off by the monster and disappears. All of the family members are in a great agony because they lost someone very dear to them. But when they find out she is still alive, they resolve to save her.
It’s a creature feature with a real human story to it. That gives it a real heart not often found in this horror sub-genre. Fair warning, when you do see the creature, it’s pretty creepy! I consider this the best creature feature since the original Godzilla.
8. Three… Extremes
Like anthology movies? Asia has you covered! Three… Extremes showcases three different stories by three different indie horror directors. The three directors are: Fruit Chan, Takashi Miike, Chan-wook Park. My favorite of the three is Box, the film by Miike. That’s not a big surprise since another of his films will be appearing on my list. Sit back and enjoy this horror anthology! It’s a great way to get a taste for Asian horror, especially if you’re new to the genre.
Nothing I can write will prepare you for the experience of Oldboy. I’ll let Internet Movie Database give you the plot summary.
An average man is kidnapped and imprisoned in a shabby cell for 15 years without explanation. He then is released, equipped with money, a cellphone and expensive clothes. As he strives to explain his imprisonment and get his revenge, Oh Dae-Su soon finds out that his kidnapper has a greater plan for him and is set onto a path of pain and suffering in an attempt to uncover the motive of his mysterious tormentor.
I’ll leave you with that information. The plot twist at the end…well… let’s just say it will stay with you for a long time.
6. The Eye
China has created its share of horror films as well. One of the best is The Eye. In it, a young woman who has been blind since the age of two gets a corneal transplant so she can see again. All seems well until she starts seeing ghosts, not many of them friendly. She goes to a psychologist who at first doesn’t believe her. But as he gets to know her and becomes closer to her he starts to think she might not be crazy after all. The two of them try to figure out who the donor was. Of course those records are sealed, but with a little persuasion they find out who the donor was.
The transplant recipient then starts to see what the donor saw. Turns out the donor had a psychic ability to see death and disaster. These leads to an ending that is both tense, sad, and heartfelt. The movie is incredibly well-acted, especially by the actress playing the transplant recipient. She conveys a real sense of vulnerability that doesn’t seem faked at all. Her terror when she starts seeing the ghosts feels incredibly genuine.
The Eye is another great horror export from Asia, where the best horror films seem to be coming from these days. This movie is slow but builds genuine tension right until the end. The end of it may well bring a lump in your throat and tears to your eyes. Check it out!
Scare factor: The Eye will make you a little more leery of who your organ donor is.
5. Dark Water
If you live in an apartment this one is sure to have you thinking about moving elsewhere. The plot? Internet Movie Database explains,
After winning a custody battle for her daughter, Yoshimi tries to make a new start. The apartment she moves into seems perfect at first. Soon though, strange things begin happening. Huge water stains appear on the ceiling and drip constantly, more liquid oozing into the rooms every day. She calls the landlord in but he refuses to do anything about it. A child’s red bag shows up in odd places and soon the child herself starts appearing. Yoshimi then discovers the origin of the ghost…
Dark Water was remade a few years ago starring Jennifer Connelly. It wasn’t bad, but the original was just better overall.
Our next foray into Asian horror comes from Thailand. In Alone, the surviving half of a set of conjoined twins moves from Thailand to Korea to escape the guilt of her situation. In flashbacks we see that the surviving sister had a difficult relationship with the deceased one. When the living twin goes to visit her dying mother, the spirit of the dead twin comes back to haunt her. It’s sad, creepy, and effectively moody.
3. A Tale of Two Sisters
Korea brought us Oldboy, The Host, and this film. A Tale of Two Sisters is effectively part horror and party family melodrama. Two sisters have just been released from a mental institution. They return to the home of their father and evil stepmother. The sisters have to deal with their unbalanced relatives as well as a ghost. The family is haunted by the tragedies of many deaths in the family. A Tale of Two Sisters works well as a haunted house story as well.
Remember Takashi Miike who directed one of the films in Three… Extremes? This is the other film of his I told you was coming on the list. I included Audition in last week’s piece as well. Here’s what I said about it in case you missed it.
Something about Audition just stayed with me. It’s about a widower who is urged by his son to start dating again. A friend of his, who happens to be a film producer, suggests he hold a fake audition for women to try out for the role of his wife. Well, the girl who he likes the best turns out to have a lot of skeletons in her closet and… I really shouldn’t say much more. It would ruin the surprise ending! The film is a little slow, but it really builds to the last 15-20 minutes. The payoff is more than worth it!
This film really got under my skin. If you see it you’ll understand why!
I’m guessing more people are familiar with The Ring than Ringu. That makes me really sad. The original Japanese film is 100 times better than the American remake! By now you know the story. In the movie, people who watch a cursed video tape die seven days after watching it. Like Pulse, it incorporates ghosts with technology in a very effective way. When in doubt, don’t watch random videotapes! Run away! The cinematography, the story, the dialogue… everything works wonderfully here. I don’t recommend watching any of the films on this list alone, especially this one! And word to the wise: unplug or turn off your phone before and after you watch it for a bit. Watch the film and you will understand!
Well, that’s my list! Thoughts? Weigh-in in the comment section!