When most people think of horror movies, classic Hollywood offerings like The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street come to mind – but there’s an entirely different world of horror that stems from Japan and South Korea.
These genre-bending movies are actually almost genres unto themselves. They tend to be far more slow-building and contemplative than the straight-up scares and blood and guts provided by Western horror, focusing more on the anguish of their characters and creating a distance between the characters’ perspectives and the audience.
Movies like Ringu, Audition, Ju-On: The Grudge and Train to Busan are just some of the great horror movies to come from the Far East – and while those particular movies aren’t currently on Netflix, some great examples are. We’re going to take you through a handful of the best ones in this article.
While you’re here, why not check out our piece on the best Christmas horror movies to watch on Netflix?
1. Svaha: The Sixth Finger (2019)
Svaha: The Sixth Finger is a brilliant horror thriller with an element of mystery. A product of South Korea, it’s directed by Jang Jae-hyun and stars Lee Jung-jae, Park Jung-min and Lee Jae-in.
It’s all about Pastor Park – a man whose job it is to expose suspicious religious groups and cults – as he gets hired to look into the a group known as “Deer Mountain”. At the same time, a police captain named Hwang happens to be investigating a murder case in which the main suspect is a prominent member of said group.
This is a fascinating and thoughtful movie with a number of religious themes (stemming from both the worlds of Buddhism and Christianity). While it can be hard to follow without full concentration, it’s accomplished, unsettling and slow building with a worthwhile payoff at the end.
2. Battle Royale (2000)
Battle Royale is a true classic of Japanese cinema. Directed by Kinji Fukasaku, it’s based on the 1999 novel of the same name by Koushun Takami, and it stars Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda and Tarō Yamamoto. While it’s predominantly an action thriller, it boasts more than enough gore and terror to also make the cut as a horror movie.
It’s about a group of junior high school students who find themselves forced into fighting to the death by a totalitarian Japanese government in an annual Battle Royale, having been gassed and taken to a remote island.
Battle Royale is a shocking movie that caused a lot of controversy (and a whole videogame sub-genre in recent years), which resulted in it being banned or excluded from distribution in several countries. However, it’s also utterly brilliant, acting as a violent allegory for adolescence, intensifying the melodrama of being a teenager to life or death levels. In a nutshell, this is a movie everyone should see before they die… even if you might never want to watch it again.
3. #Alive (2020)
#Alive is a South Korean zombie flick directed by Cho Il-hyung and starring Yoo Ah-in, Park Shin-hye and Lee Hyun-wook. The movie is based on the 2019 script Alone by Matt Naylor (which actually became another movie in its own right).
It’s all about a video game live streamer’s struggle for survival during a zombie apocalypse, which was caused by the rapid spread of a mysterious infection, as he is forced to stay alone at his apartment in Seoul.
The best thing about #Alive is that with its fresh ideas, it proves the zombie genre isn’t dead (pun intended). In terms of the horror it presents, it’s brilliantly acted and legitimately unsettling in its conveyance of loneliness and fear. At times, it’s even somewhat humorous. It’s essentially got everything a zombie movie fan could wish for.
4. The Forest of Love (2019)
The Forest of Love is a Japanese crime movie with elements of both horrors and thrillers. The movie was inspired by the real-life murders, torture and extortions committed by convicted serial killer Futoshi Matsunaga in Kyushu, Japan from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s – and it’s safe to say that horror movies based on real-life events are always that little bit scarier.
This is an exquisitely made movie that revels in excess – it’s absolutely mesmerizing. It boasts some seriously frenzied scenes and some seriously awesome imagery.
That being said, it’s also incredibly dark and sinister, extremely gory, utterly violent and brutal, and packs an emotional punch. You may need to strap yourself in to watch this one!
5. The 8th Night (2021)
The 8th Night is a South Korean mystery movie with characteristics that are reminiscent of both horror and thriller. It was directed by Kim Tae-hyoung and stars Lee Sung-min, Park Hae-joon and Kim Yoo-jung.
It’s about a monk and exorcist (that’s the same person, incidentally, not two different ones) who struggles to prevent the resurrection of the two mysterious beings that tormented humans and were locked up in a pair of caskets for 2,500 years – and he does so with prayer beads in one hand and an axe in the other, which is pretty badass in anyone’s book.
This movie is thoughtful and wonderfully written – and while it doesn’t have the typical jump scares you crave with horror , its perpetual creepiness will more than satisfy ardent horror fans.