Hollywood has definitely perfected the art of the superhero movie (just compare “Darna” to “Wonder Woman”), but when it comes to horror, Asian films are still king. Western horror movies focus on the shock factor and the special effects, but Asian films usually hit too close to home, by presenting horrific situations in everyday contexts.
If you’re tired of looking at pumpkins and witches on broomsticks for Halloween, here are 10 Asian horror films that will foster that scary Halloween mood without a single mention of “Trick or Treat!” You won’t dare to switch off your lights after watching these films, no matter how high your electricity bill is.
“Ring” is a 1998 Japanese horror film about a cursed video tape that kills everyone who watches it.
When “Ring” first hit Singapore in 1999, it was absolutely terrifying. Television sets were ubiquitous then, and the classic scene of Sadako climbing out of the television set to murder her victims meant that most audiences would be constantly be reminded of it when they went home. It went on to spawn several sequels, a television series, and an American remake, but few other horror films matched the intensity of the first.
For some reason, when “Ring” gained popularity, it started getting referred to as “Ringu” instead by English-speaking audiences, as that was how it was pronounced in Japanese. However, given that it’s the Japanese romanisation of an English word, it’s slightly odd that many have chosen to pronounce to pronounce it as “Ringu”.
2. Ring 2/Ringu 2
“Ring 2” is the 1999 sequel to “Ring”, and sees Sadako’s continued rampage as more people fall prey to her curse.
“Ring 2” wasn’t as good as the first, but it was still terrifying since it had a group of scientists trying to reconstruct Sadako’s body. You can see where this is going. Perhaps the most horrifying scene in the film is when one of the characters rewinds a tape of a normal girl turning to look at the camera, again and again and again — until the girl turns into Sadako and attacks.
Originally, there was another sequel to “Ring”, called “Rasen” – but it met with such poor reception that it was forgotten, and “Ring 2” became the more popular sequel instead.
“Ju-on” is a 2002 Japanese horror film about a house cursed by the ghosts of a family that died horrific deaths. “Ju-on” means “Grudge”.
“Ju-on” also went on to see several sequels and an American remake, but the first film was unforgettable. It gave us not one, but two ghosts — the pale white boy Toshio and his backwards crawling mother Kayako. It turned countless everyday scenes into horrifying situations, like bath tubs clogged with long hair and the mewing of a cat. But it was Toshio’s guttural groan that really made your hair stand, a cross between a growl and a painful cry.
4. Nang Nak
“Nang Nak” is a 1999 Thai horror film about a husband who returns to his wife and child after serving in the military, not knowing that they’re already dead.
Based on a famous Thai legend, “Nang Nak” is part romance, which makes the horror aspects of it all the more gruesome. The problem is that both husband and wife loved each other very much, adding a tragic element to the horror film. The creepiest part came when the ghost, Mae Nak, drops a comb and retrieves it by physically elongating her arm to unnatural proportions.
5. Take Me Home
“Take Me Home” is a 2016 Thai horror film about an amnesiac man who returns to his sister and family, only to find that not all is as it seems.
“Take Me Home” had excellent production values compared to other films in the genre, which made it stand out. However, what made it so eerie was the revelations of the true nature of the supernatural horror, and how everything the main character had seen was a twisted version of what had actually happened.
6. Train to Busan
“Train to Busan” is a 2016 Korean zombie horror film that was a smash hit last year.
Although zombies had been depicted as fast and agile in other films, “Train to Busan” took it to another level by also having them come in gigantic hordes that broke down walls and doors to get to their prey. It also had a powerful, emotional story at its core, that made the eventual sacrifices of some characters both painful and memorable.
7. The Eye
“The Eye” is a 2002 Singapore-Hong Kong horror film about an eye transplant recipient who discovers that her new set of eyes allows her to see ghosts.
The premise of “The Eye” was an uncomfortable one because it dealt with something that many people are afraid of — losing their sight. Most people are familiar with the concept of unseen ghosts co-existing with us, but “The Eye” takes it to another level by visually depicting both the human and supernatural world on film for us.
8. The Maid
“The Maid” is a 2005 Singaporean horror film about a Filipino domestic helper who learns about the Seventh Month in Singapore.
“The Maid” touches on a topic that’s familiar to many Singaporeans, and literally takes place in Singapore, with a Singaporean cast playing the family that hired the domestic helper. What makes it so scary isn’t so much the horror, but that its setting is Singapore, making us wonder if there are psychotic families living right under our noses.
“Afterimages” is a 2014 Singaporean anthology horror film that are tied together by a group of daredevils tempting fate.
While the delivery of the dialogue in “Afterimages” can be a little cringeworthy, especially the awkward slanging of the main characters, the fact that it had the opportunity to scare us four times with four different uniquely Singaporean stories was the clincher. It used very recognisable landmarks and locations, and some very claustrophobic settings to really get under our skin.
10. Sadako vs Kayako
“Sadako vs Kayako” is a 2016 Japanese horror film which pits the ghosts of the “Ring” and “Ju-on” franchises against each other.
Admittedly, “Sadako vs Kayako” is more camp than horror, and it finds itself butting up against its limited budget at times. However, it still manages to deliver on the scares, eventually its (boring) human characters to give us what we really want to see — Sadako battling Kayako and Toshio, with a horrible outcome for everyone involved.
What are you watching this Halloween?
I’m a Singapore television scriptwriter who’s written for Lion Mums, Crimewatch, Police & Thief, and Incredible Tales. I’m also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find me on social media as Optimarcus and on my site.
Send me an email if you want to get in touch!