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16 Spine-Chilling Horror Movies That Will Definitely Give You Nightmares For Days

Don't say I didn't warn you about the ladder scene.

I've always been a fan of foreign cinema and exploring new watches. But you know what will always sit at the top of the list for me? Asian horror films. Let me tell you why.

My world was turned upside down when I made the grave mistake of watching an Asian horror film at the ripe old age of around 13 (sarcasm intended). My curious self just couldn't resist, and before you know it, I spent the next few weeks of my life terrified that a ghost girl was going to crawl out of my TV.

Yep, my Asian horror journey started with Ringu. And whilst it scared the life out of me at the time, the film didn't put me off. Instead, over the years, I've gone searching for even more scares (and subjecting my friends to those same scares at sleepovers — still not sorry, guys).

Now, you could say I'm always on the lookout for the next great Asian horror movie and big thrill that'll put the fear of TVs into me again. Lately, I've been watching the South Korean apocalyptic TV series, Happiness (2021), and whilst it's not been that scary, it did inspire me to reflect on my Asian horror film journey.

So, I've pulled together a list of the movies I've found to be up there with the scariest. Whether it's the supernatural elements, outright wackiness, or ramped-up creep factor, here are my picks of the most terrifying Asian horror films you'll ever see:

1. Audition (1999)

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What's it about: Audition is based on Ryu Murakami's 1997 novel, and if you've read any of Murakami, you'll know the contents are never light work.

The film tells the story of Aoyama, a widower who wants to start dating again. With the help of his film-producer friend, Aoyama sets up auditions for a fake production, with the secret aim of finding his next wife. 

If you think deceiving women into dating him is the most messed up part, it doesn't even begin to cover what the film has in store. When Aoyama becomes intrigued by a withdrawn young woman, Asami, they begin a relationship, but not all is what it seems. Asami has her own dark past and sadistic tendencies that bubble to the surface.

Country: Japan

Watch for: A gripping psychological revenge fest that builds up to one of the most harrowing, eye-covering (if you know, you know) final sequences I've ever seen.

2. Train to Busan (2016)

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What's it about: Train to Busan is one of my all-time favorite horror movies to ever exist, like ever! 

The film follows a group of passengers who become trapped on a train when a rapidly spreading zombie virus breaks out. But guess what, there's an infected passenger on the train with them!

In this tense flick, the center story focuses on a man and his estranged daughter fighting for survival.

Country: South Korea

Watch for: Don’t be fooled into thinking this is just another gore-filled, flesh-munching zombie movie. With an ensemble cast led by Gong Yoo (ahem, the charming salesman at the start of Squid Game), each and every character has depth and is forced to make choices which makes this brutal tale one that truly sticks with you. It's claustrophobic, the zombie's ferocity and speed are outright terrifying, and it'll have you an emotional wreck before the end credits start to roll.

3. Ringu (1998)

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What's it about: Yes, my traumatized younger self is still out here recommending this to you.

Forget the American remake, Ringu is the genuine top-tier, ghost-climbing-out-of-the-tv chills. Based on the novel by Koji Suzuki, Ringu is a supernatural psychological horror film about a cursed videotape. 

In the film, a reporter is racing to investigate the strange occurrences, in which it seems that whoever watches the tape dies seven days after doing so. But time is of the essence given that she has watched the video herself, and so believing she has been cursed, enlists the help of her psychic ex-husband.

What unfolds is a dark mystery surrounding a young girl called Sadako.

Country: Japan

Watch for: A genuinely spooky, old-fashioned, ghost story complete with jolty and jarring filmmaking that makes you thankful videotapes aren't such a huge thing anymore.

4. Satan's Slaves (2017)

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What's it about: After their mother dies from a mysterious illness, a family is haunted by strange visions before coming to realize that their mother's ghost has returned from the grave. Why? Because she needs to collect her children to fulfill a demonic pact made years ago.

Country: Indonesia

Watch for: This is one for the supernatural-occult-possession horror fans. It's gloomy and filled with dread with really grisly black magic, satanic cults, and devil-worshipping sequences.  

5. Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)

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What's it about: My young teenage self also suffered at the hands of this one. There's a theme happening here!

Ju-On: The Grudge is another supernatural J-Horror film that was also remade by the West. But, as in many foreign-to-West remake cases (sorry to say it), there is just no comparing the original. 

Ju-On tells the story of a 23-year-old social worker who is hired to take care of an older lady whose family had moved to a cursed house but ends up entangled in the life-threatening curse. The story seems to have come from popular folklore legends in Japan, whereby some believe that an onryō (a ghost) is able to return to the physical world in order to seek vengeance. Even just thinking about stuff like this gives me the chills!

Country: Japan

Watch for: The Grudge's gurgling noise is enough to stop anyone from sleeping for nights on end, but what I also love so much about this film is how gritty and low-budget it is, which just makes everything feel much more authentic and nail-biting. Ju-On truly builds up the tension and serves up the jump scares with some oomph.

6. The Wailing (2016)

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What's it about: A plague of mysterious, violent deaths stir up confusion and unease in a seemingly peaceful village. But, when police officer Jong-Goo comes to investigate, he becomes swept up in supernatural suspicion and desperation as he learns more about the town filled with hysteria and crazed symptoms, whilst also facing the disruptive exorcism helmed by a shaman.

Country: South Korea

Watch for: The Wailing's ambiguity is what I found the most terrifying, along with scenes of frenzied rituals, visceral gore, and a sense of bleakness rooted at its core. It's really a film filled with dread that refuses to answer a lot of your questions, and it doesn't need jump scares to send the fear straight to your gut.

7. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

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What's it about: Two sisters, Soo-mi and Soo-yeon, are raised by an abusive stepmother after they lose their birth mother. 

After Soo-mi is released from a mental institution, she returns home with her sister, only to be met with the ghosts that are haunting their house — apparently representative of the family's dark and painful history.

The film is seemingly inspired by the Janghwa Hongryeon jeon folktale.

Country: South Korea

Watch for: A Tale of Two Sisters is an unnerving story full of twists and turns that I found genuinely quite terrifying, and I think that comes from the psychological build-up and eerie storytelling it offers. From memory, it only has about two or three major jump-scares but, boy, when they appear, do they get you good. All in all, it's probably one of my favorite Asian horrors on this list!

8. House (1977)

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What's it about: House is an experimental comedy horror about a schoolgirl who travels to her ailing aunt's country home, where she and six of her friends come face to face with supernatural occurrings as they are all devoured by the home, one by one.

I first experienced House as part of my first-year university degree, and when I say that this film is batshit crazy, I mean it! Regardless of the comedy elements, there's something about House in all of its manic and bonkers sequences that absolutely unnerves me. 

Country: Japan

Watch for: The complete obscenity of it all, honestly, I've never seen a film quite like it or that comes close to the wacky ways of House. Watch if you like the sound of severed heads taking flight, evil cat spirit portraits, and household appliances coming to life. It is an utterly demented ghost story!

9. Dark Water (2002)

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What's it about: You may have heard of Dark Water because it's yet another J-horror that was later remade in America.

The Japanese original is a moody slow burner of a horror that follows newly-single mum, Yoshimi, who is battling a bitter divorce and struggling to keep custody of her young daughter, Ikuko. She moves into a rundown apartment to begin a fresh start, but it is plagued with humidity and prone to leaks. 

Strange things begin to happen and the mother-daughter duo starts seeing unnerving things, from ghostly visions of a little girl to someone else's hair appearing in their water, all the while with Ikuko's health deteriorating. 

Country: Japan

Watch for: An atmospheric and eerie tension-building horror that will make you want to avoid the third floor in any apartment block! It's full of subtle J-horror tropes, and the watery dark imagery keeps the bleak tone in check. Plus, as the slow bubbling terror is eventually replaced with more outright scares (my personal favorite nightmare: ghostly hands shooting up from the water), you'll start to understand that the payoff is all worth it. 

10. Pulse (2001)

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What's it about: In a once-bustling Tokyo, suicides are on the rise and people have stopped going to work. The streets are deserted as everyone is forced indoors to shield themselves from an invisible threat, but, in the height of loneliness, technology means people can stay connected. That is until dark souls try to invade the physical world through the internet.

Surprise: this film was also remade in America in 2006!

Country: Japan

Watch for: Devoid of any major jump-scares, Pulse works so well thanks to its creepy and cryptic moments, with nerve-wracking gritty ghost encounters complete with tense echoes of other spirits and pure suspense.

11. Dumplings (2004)

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What's it about: Aunt Mei is known for making dumplings with miraculous rejuvenating abilities. So when Mrs. Li, a former actor discovers her husband is having an affair, she becomes desperate to make him pay attention to her again. Mrs. Li goes to Aunt Mei for help and to discover more about the secret ingredient in the dumplings, but things get more complicated when Mei must flee the country and the dumplings' power begins to fade away from Mrs. Li.

Country: Hong Kong

Watch for: Finding out the secret ingredient in Mei's dumplings alone was enough to put me off seeing or eating one for the rest of my life. The scares in this film come from the squeamish-ness it feeds off, the gruesome details that trickle throughout the plot, and the way it lets your imagination turn watching something pretty mundane (a woman eating a dumpling) into a sickening stomach-churning experience.

12. I Saw the Devil (2010)

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What's it about: National Intelligence Service agent Kim Soo-hyun sets out on a quest for revenge after his wife is brutally murdered by a psychopathic serial killer named Jang Kyung-chul.

Trust me when I say the sound of the plot doesn't do the film justice.

Country: South Korea

Watch for: I Saw the Devil is definitely not for the faint-hearted. This one scares me the most in the sense that it feels a lot more realistic than the rest of the movies on the list! It features a really disturbing plotline made all the more harrowing with immense violence (we're talking dismemberment and a whole lot of torture), plus it's really emotionally heavy and a tough journey to endure. This one stuck with me for a long time!

13. Noroi: The Curse (2005)

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What's it about: In this pseudo-documentary style horror, Kobayashi, a paranormal journalist goes missing after completing a documentary. But thanks to the found footage which we are led to believe was filmed by Kobayashi's camera operators, we soon come to understand how one investigation into strange noises can lead to unraveling the mystery of a demonic entity named Kagutaba.

Country: Japan

Watch for: The found-footage aesthetic lures you into the false pretense that what you are watching is real. This isn't a new trope, given that we see found-footage has been used many times in horror to generate a sense of realism and dread, but Noroi delivers it with such a rough-around-the-edge style that you can't help but get the creeps. 

What's also crazy about Noroi is that not only is it empty of jump-scares, but there are no quirky special effects, and the violence implied is mostly seen off-screen. So how then is it so scary? It's the atmospheric build-up of dread, the implied meaning behind what's on the screen, and that Kagutaba's mask is outright dreadfully hair-raising.

14. Shutter (2004)

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What's it about: After fleeing the scene of an accident, a young photographer and his girlfriend discover mysterious shadows in their developed photographs. Upon investigating the strange phenomenon, the couple and their friends find that they are being haunted. 

Country: Thailand

Watch for: Shutter is full of twists turns and some pretty scream-worthy jump scares throughout (don't say I didn't warn you about the ladder scene). Plus the shock reveal at the film's conclusion is an insanely chilling surprise that I did not see coming! Definitely worth a watch if you haven't seen it before.

15. Macabre (2009)

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What's it about: Macabre is an Indonesian slasher film in which two newlyweds, Adjie and Astrid, and three of their best friends, head on an interstate road trip in a last attempt to reconcile Adjie with his estranged sister. But, when the group runs into a strange girl who claims she has been robbed, they offer their help and end up at her isolated house. 

Country: Indonesia

Watch for: Hardcore thrills that echo themes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that somehow feel arguably more deranged. Macabre literally feels like it serves up blood in every scene; it's violent and wild, and it's definitely enough to keep me on the main roads at night!

16. The Eye (2002)

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What's it about: After being blind for most of her life, 20-year-old violinist Wong Kar Mun undergoes a corneal transplant to regain her vision. But soon the elation turns to fear as she begins experiencing ghostly encounters.

Mun turns to a psychologist for help who believes the new corneas are the problem, and as they travel to the donor's hometown to investigate, her symptoms only worsen.

(Sound familiar? Yes, this film was also remade by the West in 2008 and starred Jessica Alba.)

Country: Hong Kong | Singapore

Watch for: If the plot isn't enough to make you never want to open your eyes again, then rest assured that The Eye's cinematography and way of storytelling are still enough to ramp up the anxiety during a horror-movie night in. That elevator scene in particular...yikes!

What's the scariest Asian horror movie you've seen? Did it make the list? Share your recommendations in the comments!

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