Kaiju Shakedown: 31 Asian Horror Movies
Talk about Asian horror and people usually think about J-horror’s dead wet girls with long black hair and bad attitudes, but scary movies have been flickering across Asia’s silver screens for decades. Here are 31 obscure, terrifying, and often just plain weird, cinematic nightmares, one for each day of the spookiest month of the year.
Lost Souls (Hong Kong, 1980)
Filmmaker T.F. Mous grabs your shoulders and screams in your face for 90 minutes in this all-you-can-eat buffet of human atrocities. A bunch of Mainland immigrants sneak into Hong Kong and immediately get abducted by human traffickers, then taken to a rape camp in the country where they are tortured, brutalized, and murdered. Shaw Brothers had no idea what they were getting into when they greenlit this one.
Heaven and Hell (Hong Kong, 1980)
Five years in the making, many consider this Chang Cheh’s worst movie, but those people are incapable of experiencing joy. Two angels are kicked out of heaven for loving too hard, then they’re reincarnated on earth and murdered by gangsters in a series of weird, ultra-stylized dance/fight numbers, and finally wind up in Hell. There they meet the Five Venoms crew, who decide to fight their way back to earth. Featuring major players like David Chiang and Alexander Fu Sheng, this is where kung fu meets a Chick religious tract with a scoop of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers on the side.
Bloody Parrot (Hong Kong, 1981)
Losing their grip on the box office, Shaw Brothers vowed to give kids what they wanted, combining sex and horror in this surreal wuxia shocker. Ostensibly about the legend of a bloody parrot, it’s really just an excuse to show lingering close-ups of gory autopsies, fights with naked women possessed by demons, and a “What the hell?” underground climax featuring a cannibal and a statue that shoots eye lasers.
Mystics in Bali (Indonesia, 1981)
This isn’t a fictional film, but rather a real-life warning to tourists: piss off an Indonesian witch and she’ll make your head come off, guts dangling from your neck, then send it out to fly awkwardly through the night, occasionally stopping to suck fetuses out of pregnant women. Cheap to the point of being downright disturbing, MiB is so full of DIY special effects that by the time women are vomiting mice and pig men are being hatched while optical effects of holy power crackle across the screen, your head will be flying off, too.
He Lives by Night (Hong Kong, 1982)
Hong Kong Director Leong Po-chih combines two good flavors that go great together: Canto-comedy and Italian giallo. Sylvia Chang plays a late night radio DJ whose latest caller really, really wants to kill her, kind of like Play Misty for Me only with more men wearing sparkle cosmetics. Scenes of disco fashion and giant prop comedy sit uneasily next to superbly orchestrated stalk ’n’ slash set pieces that feel like something out of Argento if he ever contemplated murdering someone with a 7-Up machine.
Lady Terminator (Indonesia, 1983)
After an eel swims up her wazoo, an American anthropologist becomes a kill-krazy Terminator in this gleefully trashy Eighties exploitation crowd-pleaser. The titular Lady Terminator dresses in black leather, enthusiastically machine-guns men in the crotch, and castrates them with her vagina eel. Keep telling yourself: there is no subtext…there is no subtext…there is no subtext…
Possessed II (Hong Kong, 1984)
Internet piracy wins this round. Dedicated online fans have painstakingly pieced together this obscure Hong Kong freakshow, pulling scenes together from multiple sources to present the best and most complete version of this film about a woman who gets possessed, causing her to pick up men in nightclubs, turn into a werewolf, and murder them with sex. Needless to say, the Hare Krishnas have to get involved to sort it all out.
The Drifting Classroom (Japan, 1987)
Kazuo Umezu’s manga series, about a sixth grade classroom that suddenly teleports to a bleak, futuristic hellscape where the kids all murder each other, gets the big screen treatment from Nobuhiko Obayashi (House). This time, the sixth graders are happy shiny students in an international school, their teacher is Troy Donahue, and the film plays like an After School Special…except for the killer bugs, inappropriate sexual overtones, and psychotic children.
Magic Cop (Hong Kong, 1990)
Mr. Vampire is great and all, but whoever had the idea of upgrading Lam Ching-ying’s Taoist Priest to the Hong Kong police force should win all the awards. Lam’s country cop comes to the big city to solve the mystery of the zombie drug dealers (who are getting reanimated after being stabbed in the brain with icicles). What follows is a pretty much nonstop magical duel between Lam and Japanese bad girl Michiko Nishiwaki, who has a psychic cat and unlimited undead bodyguards, including Frankie Chan (Full Contact) and super-kicker Billy Chow.
Intruder (Hong Kong, 1997)
Hong Kong/Mainland tensions get worked out via limb amputation in this fable that teaches us that being nice to strange prostitutes never pays off. A cab driver shows some interest in Wu Chien-lien (Where is she now?) and immediately regrets his decisions when it turns out she’s a Mainland criminal, hiding out in Hong Kong using a dead hooker’s ID card, and what she really needs is to tie him to a table and slowly saw off his arms. From Johnnie To’s Milkyway Image production company, this was torture porn before torture porn was cool.
Wild Zero (Japan, 1999)
Japan’s hardest-rocking band, Guitar Wolf, takes on zombies in Thailand, and at one point, an electric guitar turns into a sword and slices a UFO in half. That should be enough to let you know whether this one’s for you, or if you hate joy.
Marronnier (Japan, 2002)
Shot like a cheesy karaoke video, dripping with cartoonish gore, this film from director/writer/editor/puppeteer Hideyuki Kobayashi pulls out all the stops in this suicide charge of unhinged, outsider filmmaking about,…well, let the publicity materials describe it for you: “Her apprehensions mount until the deranged stalker finally seizes his prey, plunging Marino into a dream-world of living dolls and satin wedding-gowns, hacked body parts and bondage! Can she and her friends escape before being turned into Numai's blasphemous mannequins?” Dennis Harvey reviewed it in Variety calling it, “Barely coherent…hapless…bad…worse…” which mostly suggests that Dennis Harvey wouldn’t know a great movie if it turned him into a living dead doll.
The Uninvited (Korea, 2003)
Lost in the flood of nearly indistinguishable horror movies that Korea hemorrhaged in the early 2000s, this is one of the coldest, most anti-human ghost stories to ever creep onto the big screen. An interior decorator sees dead people, and so does his upstairs neighbor, but then the movie shrugs off that entire plotline and submerges viewers into a spookily quiet, glacially slow, cryptically oblique ghost story done Henry James style. Full of brooding atmosphere and alienating screen compositions, it’s a useful litmus test: some people will find it boring and slow, others will find it a heartbreaking work of staggering unquiet.
The Macabre Case of Prom Pi Ram (Thailand, 2003)
Part police procedural, part remake of The Accused, this flick recreates a true crime from 1977. When a mentally ill woman gets off a train at the wrong station, she finds herself in the remote village of Prom Pi Ram, which, in Thai, probably means something like “Welcome to Our Misogynist Hell on Earth Where No One Will Help You and Everyone Will Rape You and Then Murder You to Cover Up Their Crimes.” Half the movie takes place in the present as two flat-footed cops track down the culprits (spoiler alert: everyone did it), while the other half follows the young woman’s final, fatal night.
Late Bloomer (Japan, 2004)
This low-budget Japanese oddity needs to have more champions because it is one of the greatest films about disability ever made. Director Go Shibata worked for five years with Masakiyo Sumida, who has cerebral palsy, to make this movie about a speed metal fan with cerebral palsy (played by Sumida) who becomes a serial killer when he can’t take the patronizing way the world treats him anymore. If people won’t respect him, then Sumida is determined they will fear him.
P (Thailand, 2004)
Former child star Paul Spurrier (Max Headroom) lived in Thailand for years before making this movie that immediately caused the Thai government to bust a gasket. A young girl moves to Bangkok to make money as a bar girl, but unfortunately she sucks at her job. Then she has the idea of using some down-home black magic to make herself more appealing to men, and, as we’d expect, that doesn’t go very well. Spurrier and his young cast have created an ambitious, beautifully shot flick that manages to straddle the line between empowerment and exploitation.
Ek Hasina Thi (India, 2004)
The highlights from every female action movie ever made are stitched together into this insane Frankenbeast of a film that comes screaming at you with blood under its nails and a mad, empty gleam in its eyes, courtesy of Bollywood starlet Urmilla Matondkar. It starts innocently enough as she meets the guy of her dreams, but then he asks her to store a suitcase for him which turns out to be stuffed with drugs. She goes to prison, at which point the movie becomes a woman-in-prison grindhouse flick, but then she escapes and by the time men are being eaten alive by rats, it’s become full-bore gothic horror.
Hellevator (2005, Japan)
This super low-budget, ultra-ambitious science fiction flick takes place in a single elevator, but its ambition carries it across the finish line. In the future, vast cities are traversed by massive, slow-moving elevators. Psychic schoolgirl Luchino is on her way to level 180, when the elevator makes an unplanned stop at level 99 to pick up two prisoners: a terrorist, and a cannibalistic serial rapist. When the two creeps break their chains, and the elevator plunges down the shaft, things turn dark and claustrophobic.
Nightmare Detective (2006, Japan)
Totally psychedelic, and totally psychotic, this should have been the big break into mainstream box office success overseas for director/actor/editor/writer Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo: the Iron Man). Instead, the Weinstein Company got their mitts on it and barely released the movie on DVD. Ryuhei Matsuda plays a shut-in whose ability to enter dreams has made him irritable and angry about this whole human existence thing, while pop star hitomi plays a young cop who needs his help to catch a self-mutilating psychic vampire. Simultaneously the most mainstream and most bizarre movie Tsukamoto has ever made, it deserves way more attention.
Exte (2007, Japan)
Chiaki Kuriyama (Go Go Yubari from Kill Bill) is a hairstylist who battles an evil haircut in this horror flick that might be the most underestimated movie in Sion Sono’s filmography. A satirical deconstruction of J-horror tropes, it’s one of Sono’s slickest and sickest flicks, featuring a hirsute corpse, a singing, hair-loving psychopath, illegal surgery, and killer hair extensions. Insert “bad hair day” joke here.
The Butcher (Korea, 2007)
In 2006, the Korean film industry fell apart, so first-time director Kim Jin-Won went totally off the industry map to make this grotty, found-footage horror flick about snuff film producers. Everyone is sick of found-footage horror by now, but this simple little fable (people go to countryside, people meet pig farmers, people get turned into human pork) is in such bad taste, so raw, and so out of left field that it actually seems believable that you might have just found it on an old tape you picked up in a thrift store.
Kala (Indonesia, 2007)
A narcoleptic reporter and a gay cop are trapped in a labyrinthine conspiracy to steal the First President’s Treasure in this alternate-history sci-fi horror flick that was a massive blockbuster in Indonesia. Joko Anwar’s follow-up, The Forbidden Door, is a more technically polished movie, but Kala, for all of its absurdities, is so much more over-the-top, managing to combine standard horror movie shocks, political outrage, death-metal pomp, and science fiction into one package that there really is nothing else like it out there.
M (Korea, 2007)
Psychedelic eye-melter about a man stalked by his high school sweetheart who may be real, or a ghost, or a memory, or there may be no difference between the three. After all, what’s a ghost but a memory you can see? What’s being haunted but having a dream while you’re awake? So confusing that it’s almost impossible to unravel what’s actually going on, Lee Myung-Se’s movie is like dreaming with your eyes open, and it pretty much sunk his career. He hasn’t made a movie since.
X-Cross (Japan, 2007)
Just when you thought you’d seen it all, here comes Kenta Fukasaku (son of Kinji Fukasaku of Battle Royale fame) to deliver a no-holds-barred guilty pleasure. An example of X-treme female bonding, two young women wander into a quaint village for their vacation and quickly discover that what the quaint locals want is to ritually murder them and saw off their legs. Separated, they stay in touch via cell phone, allowing the movie to rewind and show its best scenes from two points of view, and let’s not even mention the surprise entrance by a secondary villain halfway through the movie: a fresh-faced Lolita wielding a five-foot-long pair of scissors.
Akanbo Shojo (Japan, 2008)
Director Yudai Yamaguchi is best known for his nutty comedies like Cromartie High School, but here he perfectly recreates a horror film from 1983. Dusted with kitsch, every soft-focus composition, every Mitteleuropean milkmaid’s outfit, every line of insane dialogue, every bizarre plot twist feels like a very strange fashion magazine spread from another decade. The only things modern about this movie are the sudden eruptions of spurting, Fulci-esque gore that break out whenever Tamami, an evil baby, makes an entrance. With its rotten tongue firmly planted in your cheek, this flick sends up the genre with its creaking doors, flaming candelabra, moving shadows and mysterious noises while it delivers goopy genre thrills. A trip back to the Eighties in a funktastic time machine that’s powered by freakazoid blood, this is a modern day art object disguised as a slasher flick.
When the Full Moon Rises (Malaysia, 2008)
In an effort to make Malaysia’s lost film history live again, director Mamat Khalid has fired lightning into his own black-and-white, faux-classic film. Set in 1956, on the eve of Malaysia’s independence, this is a Guy Maddin movie if Guy Maddin was Muslim and worked with a film history full of communist cells and hypnotized sleeper agents. At first you don’t know what to think: is this a send-up of noir conventions? Is it a satire? Is it just plain weird? But then the laughs start coming and they don’t stop as the main character is drawn deeper into the mists of mystery and his macho image becomes downright bizarre. You don’t need a degree in film history to understand what’s funny about a terrified man who has fallen in love, against his will, with a sexy were-tiger.
Possessed (Korea, 2009)
This movie pits traditional Korean folk religion against modern evangelical Christianity and the results are, quite literally, drowning in puke. When a woman’s teenage sister goes missing she finds that her ultra-evangelical mom and the lazy cops have one thing in common: they are totally unhelpful. She starts to look into things herself and quickly wishes she hadn’t. A bit derivative, there’s still more than enough originality and demonic birds to make horror fans happy.
Bedeviled (Korea, 2010)
Beaches from hell, this is a harrowing tale of female friendship that starts when a cold-as-ice career woman heads back to her granddaddy’s hometown to chill out for a while and finds it much as she remembers: an untamed hellhole of an island populated by a handful of ruddy-faced men and old women bleached orange by the sun, a misogynistic anti-Eden where the women work in the fields from dawn to dusk and compete for a place in their abusive menfolk’s beds. The career woman’s childhood BFF has been eagerly awaiting her arrival, less to bond than to get help escaping, and at this point, one thing becomes clear: no one is getting out of here alive. If you don’t finish this flick shaking with rage, there’s something wrong with you.
Confessions (Japan, 2010)
Polished, sleek, and deeply evil, Confessions open with the story already in high gear as high-school teacher Yuko announces to her class that she’s retiring because two students murdered her young daughter. Oh, and that milk they’re all drinking for snack time? She’s injected it with HIV+ blood. From there on, it’s all-out war between teacher and students in a battle of wills that sees kids have nervous breakdowns, and teachers devolve into vengeance-dispensing maniacs. Cold, calculated, and with a black, black, black view of human nature, this one’s not over until the final line yanks the rug out from any viewers still looking for a happy ending.
Asura (Japan, 2012)
A lush animated feature about a child cannibal in famine-wracked feudal Japan whose taste for human flesh has turned him into a demon, this flick is the anti-Miyazaki movie. Painted in something that looks like watercolors on film, it’s as beautiful to look at as its story is wrenching to watch. Bleak, harrowing, and not what you’d expect from a typical animated film, it’s based on a banned manga by George “King of Trauma” Akiyama, and opens with a scene in which a mother tries to murder and eat her own baby.
Sapi (Philippines, 2013)
Less a traditional narrative and more a cinematic tone poem, this story of two local TV crews fighting over who can come home with more ratings-friendly footage of a possessed woman sounds like the most boring “Ethics in Journalism” class ever audited, but Brillante Mendoza (Kinatay) conjures up an apocalyptic mood with storms constantly boiling in a bruise-colored sky, dogs getting run over in the street, ten-foot-long snakes appearing in the middle of modern-day television stations, and a climax involving one of cinema’s greatest WTF shots of all time.