Horror movies have changed and morphed throughout history in America, moving from classical monsters to creatures created out of the atomic age to real-life horrors and slasher killers. In the ’90s, Hollywood picked up on a new trend when they discovered the horror films coming out of Asia. Whether it was the Japanese or Korean horror movies, America started remaking them left and right.
However, as the case seems to always be, Hollywood rarely seemed to get the feel and atmosphere right when remaking Asian horror. While most Americans know about the scary, stringy-haired demonic children, there is much more to Asian horror than that. Here is a look at the best Asian horror movies of all-time.
Updated April 29, 2020, by Shawn S. Lealos: There are always gems to find when looking at international cinema, and Asian horror is no exception. Many of the United States’ best horror movies have a strong connection to those made overseas, and the depth of the genre is staggering. There is everything a horror fan could want, with ghost stories, bloody thrillers, and psychological mind twisters. With so many great movies to discover, we found five more Asian horror movies that are guaranteed to haunt your dreams.
15 DARK WATER (2002)
Forget about the 2005 American remake with Jennifer Connelly in the lead. To see a genuinely terrifying Asian horror movie, look to the 2002 original film by Hideo Nakata. Based on short stories by Koji Suzuki, Dark Water follows a divorced mom who has to move into an old, rundown apartment with her daughter. There is a water-based spirit here who haunts her and forces her to do anything possible to protect her child.
14 PULSE (2001)
Pulse, known in Japan as Kairo, is a new take on the ideas presented in The Grudge. Instead of kids watching a videotape and finding a vengeful spirit hunting them down, this one offers evil spirits that travel throughout the Internet. The film hints at the dangers of the Internet and technology as suicides start to increase as the spirits begin to make their way into the world through the World Wide Web. Unlike many horror movies involving evil spirits, Pulse plays out as a slow burn that is a terrifying look at society losing control.
13 THE WAILING (2016)
The Wailing is a movie that might be tough to watch in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Released in 2016, The Wailing tells the story about a man who arrives from Japan with a disease that spreads through the village he enters. It then leads to hysteria and death as the film follows a police officer who succumbs to the infection to find out what this all means. The film won several Asian film awards, a massive critical success.
12 THE EYE 3 (2005)
While released in America as The Eye 3, the Asian title was The Eye 10 and is only a sequel to the first two movies in name alone. It, in some ways, surpasses the original and is superior to the sequel. Directed by the Pang Brothers, this is equal parts, Quentin Tarantino and Wes Craven.
A group of Asian teens decided to play a game involving black magic, where they find different ways to see ghosts. However, what they didn’t expect was that the methods work, and they soon find themselves hunted by the vengeful ghosts. The movie is a series of vignettes, each descending further into madness.
11 I SAW THE DEVIL (2010)
I Saw The Devil is a different type of horror movie, a thriller with dark undertones and a lot of violence. The story follows a National Intelligence Service agent named Kim Soo-hyun (Byung-hun) as he sets out to seek vengeance on the people who killed and mutilated his fiance. What starts as a man looking for revenge turns into a rampage of violence with blood spraying everywhere. The film screened at Sundance and got a limited U.S. release in 2011, where it won several critics awards for Best Foreign Language Film.
10 A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (2003)
Remade by Hollywood as The Uninvited, the 2002 South Korean horror movie A Tale of Two Sisters is superior in every way. The movie starts off with a young girl released from a mental institution and returning to her home with her father and younger sister. The reunion with her stepmother is less joyful.
When she starts to see the ghost of her dead mother, Su-mi begins to wonder if there was more to her mom’s death than originally thought and her eyes turn to her stepmother. To reveal more would be heading toward spoiler territory, but A Tale of Two Sisters is a twisted Asian horror movie and one of the best of its kind.
9 RINGU (1998)
Ringu is the one that started it all when it comes to Hollywood remakes. Remade as The Ring, the Hollywood version was not only one of the most successful Asian horror remakes but very scary on its own. The original Asian horror movie was itself an adaptation of a novel that had already been adapted into a Japanese television film.
The movie, released in 1998 by director Hideo Nakata, features a news reporter who investigates the mystery of a videotape that allegedly kills anyone who watches it seven days later. It was a huge success and there have now been 12 films in the franchise about the vengeful ghost known as Sadako.
8 SHUTTER (2004)
Released in 2004, Shutter is an Asian horror movie from Thailand that focused on strange images found in developed photographs. After an auto accident causes them to run over a young woman on the road, Jane and Tun flee the scene. However, after this Tun begins to notice white shadows with faces in photos he develops.
When it turns out the girl was not a stranger but was instead a former girlfriend of Tun, people close to him start to die and it appears that the vengeful ghost of the girl has returned seeking revenge. A Hollywood remake came in 2008 starring Joshua Jackson and Rachael Taylor.
7 JU-ON: THE GRUDGE (2002)
In 2004, Hollywood released The Grudge with Sarah Michelle Gellar leading the cast to mixed reviews. It was popular enough to receive two sequels but couldn’t compare to the horror of the original Japanese version, titled Ju-on: The Grudge. Released in 2002, the movie was actually the third in the series but the first to get a theatrical release.
The movie follows the legend that when a person dies in a jealous rage, a curse remains left behind. The curse then repeats itself over and over in the future at the location the original deaths occur. It was a monster success and there have been nine Japanese movies in the series and a new American version is coming in 2020.
6 THE EYE (2002)
The Hollywood remakes of Asian horror movies hit its breaking point in 2008 when Jessica Alba starred in The Eye, a movie critically panned (22% rotten) with a Razzie nomination for Alba and a box office take of barely $31 million domestically. That remains even more discouraging since the original 2002 Asian horror movie by the Pang brothers was a huge success and wildly popular.
The Eye follows a woman who had been blind since she was two getting a cornea transplant, receiving the gift of sight once again. However, the bad thing is that she can now see figures that foretell death and destruction. There were two sequels in The Eye 2 and the incredibly entertaining third movie in the series, titled The Eye 10.
5 AUDITION (1999)
Takashi Miike is one of Japan’s greatest genre filmmakers with iconic classics like Ichi the Killer and Dead or Alive in his back catalog. In 1999, Miike turned his attention to Asian horror and created a movie that was scary based solely on the actual plausibility of the situation. It was also a tragedy with a victim who in no way deserved what happened to him.
A middle-aged widower has secluded himself since his wife died but his son convinces him to get back into dating again. He ends up meeting a woman named Asami and grows attracted to her. However, he is very shy and introverted so he sets up a fake casting call to meet her and then asks her out. His lies come back to haunt him when the girl turns out to be mentally unstable and takes him captive.
4 UGETSU (1953)
There is nothing wrong with looking into the classics when discovering foreign-language films. In the realm of Asian horror movies, the 1953 Japanese film Ugetsu is as good as it gets. Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, Ugetsu is a ghost story set in the Azuchi–Momoyama period Japan.
A peasant farmer sets out during the Civil War to find his fortune, leaving them behind to protect them from the pirates that he might face along the way. The movie shows how greed and looking for fortune above enjoying the love already there leads to darkness when he comes across a ghost that teaches him a lesson — too late.
3 TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)
For anyone who thinks that there is nothing fresh in the zombie genre, check out the Asian horror movie Train to Busan. The film was released in South Korea in 2016 and tells the story of a workaholic father and his daughter who wants to visit her mother in Busan for her birthday.
He agrees to it but when they arrive at the train station, the zombie outbreak occurs and they end up fighting for their lives on the train to Busan. There is plenty of zombie horror but there is also fantastic character building and social commentary to make this one of the best zombie horror movies in years.
2 THE HOST (2006)
Sometimes, horror movie fans just need giant monsters. Everyone knows about the Japanese icon Godzilla but in 2006, Bong Joon-ho brought a new giant monster to the world of cinema with his 2006 South Korean monster film The Host. Not to be confused with the young adult Hollywood movie of the same name, this Asian horror movie pitted a monster against a group of survivors off the Han River.
Unlike many giant monster movies, The Host mostly focused on the relationship of a dysfunctional family that tried to stick together for survival. The movie was a monster success, the highest-grossing South Korean film at the time of its release while winning Best Film at the 2007 Asian Film Awards.
1 THIRST (2009)
Park Chan-wook is one of the most successful South Korean filmmakers and his masterpiece has to be Old Boy as well as the other two movies in The Vengeance Trilogy — Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance. However, between those movies and his English language debut with Stoker (2013), he directed an Asian horror movie called Thirst.
As expected with someone like Chan-wook, this was a subverted example of a vampire movie. The movie followed a Catholic priest who fell in love with his friend’s wife and then ended up turning into a vampire after a failed medical experiment. It is different, unique and very different from anything Hollywood attempts in the horror genre.
NEXT: 5 Horror Movies Taurus Will Love (& 5 They Will Hate)