Korean horror went through a renaissance in the late ’90s and early ’00s. Since then, the nation has produced some of the most unsettling, creepy, and visually unique horror films in the world. So, when you need something extra scary this Halloween, head to your streaming service of choice and check out these terrifying South Korean horror movies.
Creepy, atmospheric, and downright spooky, The Wailing is a visually stunning South Korean supernatural horror thriller. But, it’s the unusual story steeped in folklore yet grounded in modern-day realities that really sets this film apart from other K-horror films.
The Wailing is set in a mountain village where a weird “infection” starts spreading and people are mysteriously dying. When a policeman’s daughter shows signs of the same infection, the family sees a shaman to deal with the issue. But can the shaman’s old-world mysticism heal the girl before it takes hold of her?
The Wailing is available to stream on Netflix.
A Tale of Two Sisters
You want scared s**tless, then A Tale of Two Sisters is where it’s at. One of the earlier Korean horror movies to get the attention of an international audience, the film is stylishly directed and excellently executed.
If you’re a fan of Asian horror — particularly some of the more well-known Japanese horror movies around — then you’ll love A Tale of Two Sisters. It tells the story of two sisters who return home from a mental institution to their father and cruel and unbalanced step-mother. The sisters’ recovery is hindered when a ghost interferes in their lives.
A Tale of Two Sisters is loosely based on a South Korean folktale and was remade as the 2009 American Emily Browning film The Uninvited.
A Tale of Two Sisters is available to stream on Shudder.
Director, Park Chan-wook is a titan of South Korean filmmaking. His movies transcend borders with their intense themes grounded in reality and punctuated with moments of dark comedy.
Oldboy tells the story of Oh Dae-Su who is imprisoned for reasons he doesn’t know. When he’s suddenly released after 15 years, he has five days to find his captor and discover some unsettling secrets. The movie is brutal and bloody but also stunningly shot and the story takes some interesting turns you won’t expect.
Oldboy is available to stream on Netflix.
I Saw the Devil
When a highly-trained detective’s wife is dismembered and murdered, the distraught husband goes on the hunt to find, and torment, the man responsible. While I Saw the Devil shares the same director as A Tale of Two Sisters, the two films have little in common beyond the fine attention to detail and some really creative storytelling. Where A Tale of Two Sisters relies on an eerie, more supernatural creepiness, I Saw the Devil is deeply rooted in realism.
As any good Korean horror thriller does, some moments are tough to watch. But where the film really succeeds is in the way it blurs the lines for the hero — does he go too far? Or does his pursuit of evil take him beyond revenge? And in the end, was it even worth it?
I Saw the Devil is available to stream on Hulu.
Train to Busan
Train to Busan was one of South Korea’s biggest movies of 2016. It tells the story of an overworked and inattentive father going through a divorce. When his daughter decides she wants to stay with her mother in Busan, the father and daughter take the ordinary two-hour train journey south. But they soon find themselves fighting for their lives as a zombie outbreak takes over.
You can choose to take the movie at face value — a dumb, fun zombie film with some gore and thrills — and it still holds up. Scratch the surface and, much like Romero’s classic zombie films, you’ll find Train to Busan has a lot of depth to it.
Fun fact: Train to Busan star, Gong Yoo played the lead role in the critically-acclaimed Korean drama Goblin. In one scene, he goes to a cinema to watch a movie, and the film he watches: Train to Busan.
The Host (Netflix)
From Snowpiercer director Bong Joon-ho, The Host isn’t straight-up horror, but it is a lot of fun. The monster thriller has all the hallmarks of a good kaiju film, but with enough self-awareness of both the genre and the tendency for Korean films and TV to get a bit overdramatic that it comes dangerously close to being a comedy.
Park Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) is a slovenly, dim-witted dad who would do anything for his daughter, Hyun-seo (Go Ah-sung). But when a monster that was laying dormant emerges from Seoul’s Han River, it goes on a rampage, killing many and capturing others, including Hyun-seo. But can the family of losers get their s**t together to save Park Gang-du’s daughter?
The Host is available to stream on Netflix.
North Korea’s 1985 monster movie Pulgasari isn’t exactly a scare-fest in and of itself. What is creepy about this painfully bad and dated film is the story behind its creation.
In the late ‘70s, North Korean intelligence kidnapped South Korean film director Shin Sang-ok and his actress wife, Choi Eun-hee for the purpose of making propaganda films for the government. The couple eventually escaped the hermit kingdom, but not before creating this kaiju gem.
Pulgasari is loosely based on the legend of a monster that eats iron and destroys evil and is believed to be a metaphor for what happens when capitalism runs amok. Some believe that the director tried to put a hidden message in the film about then-leader Kim Il-sung betraying the country’s revolution for his own gain.
As copyright laws prior to 2001 were non-existent in North Korea, Pulgasari is available to watch on YouTube for free.