I’ll admit, I’m not as informed about foreign horror films as I should be. For all my talk about seeing the horror genre as a window into the anxieties and fears of a culture, I’m dreadfully ignorant of many foreign horror traditions.
I felt even worse about my lack of awareness for horror films because of the Olympics. All these unique countries coming together in the spirit of peaceful competition, all those athletes sharing their gifts with the world? It’s beautiful and moving. We learn so much about each other from this magnificent event and put aside our differences to exalt the best of us together.
I freaking love the Olympics!
Consequently, with the 2018 Winter Olympics taking over television and the internet, I thought this was a perfect time for me to do some research about foreign horror films across the globe. And I found a lot of cool stuff.
Granted, some countries had more accessible information on their foreign horror than others, and I didn’t have time to watch all these foreign horror movies, but I hope this survey proves to be a solid introduction to foreign horror.
This initial post will examine horror from Asian countries. In keeping with my Olympic theme, I followed some uniform rules for each of these posts (there will be 5 in total):
- Must be a feature-length film – Sorry to say, if I included short foreign horror films, I’d never finish.
- Must be produced in whole or in part by the country (not merely shot there or set there) – I wanted to look at actual productions from countries that don’t usually get attention for their horror films. It’s not enough that a movie might be set in Malaysia, for example. I wanted to see what the people of Malaysia do with the genre.
- Break out the countries by the IOC categorization – The International Olympic Committee splits the world up into 5 National Olympic Committee (NOC)–America (both North and South), Africa, Europe, Oceania, and Asia (encompassing the Middle East). Here are the countries categorized by the Asian National Olympic Committee:
|South Korea |
State of Palestine
United Arab Emirates
However, not every country on this list has horror as a part of their film industry, if they have one at all.
Without further adieu, here are the Asian countries that do produce horror films, along with notable examples of their movies. I hope you learn something about foreign horror and are perhaps moved to seek some of these out. I know I am! I’ve already made a list and everything.
Bahrain’s film industry is still finding its footing, but it has a lot of enthusiastic filmmakers willing to learn. To that end, Bahrain’s most notable horror films so far are horror comedy Dead Sands (2013), creepy child horror Let’s Go Home (2016), a Bahraini adaptation of The Purge, and what I think is a supernatural romance Paranorma (2011).
Bangladesh doesn’t have a huge film industry of its own, which means there aren’t many horror movies to choose from. Of the Bangladeshi films I found, most are low-budget horror-comedy movies, like Rokto Pipasha (2007), Daini Buri (2008), Bhooter Bhabishyat (2012), and Sedin Brishti Chilo (2014). Other films explore supernature themes with sinister spirits, like Kal Naginir Prem, Bishakto Nagin, Bishe Bhora Nagin (1999), and Sathi Hara Nagin (2011).
Bhutan is pretty unique because Bhutan’s small film industry is keen on producing mostly musicals that depict an idealized life and society. However, Bhutan has produced one horror film in partnership with Great Britain—the upcoming violent, vengeful ghost story The Temple.
Cambodians love movies, and they like three particular genres–period pieces, melodrama/romantic drama, and horror. They love slow-burning horror films with themes of are ghost or spirit hauntings, possession, folk mythology and revenge by supernatural means. The country produces gory movies as well as psychological horror, and despite the typically low budgets, horror is exceptionally successful in Cambodia.
Notable films include Cambodian classic The Snake King’s Wife (1970), remakes of foreign horror films like Ringu and One Missed Call, and more recent, critically acclaimed films like The Crocodile (2005), The Forest (2005), and The Haunted House (2005).
Horror isn’t a trendy movie genre in China, though it’s hard to say if Chinese people don’t like horror or if the Chinese government won’t give them the chance to like horror. China has stringent censorship and criteria for films, both foreign and domestic. Sex and violence are subject to strict and often arbitrary restrictions, while supernatural content is often blocked for fear of increasing superstition. But recently, Chinese horror has seen something of a gory comeback, with such films like The Door (2017) and The Haunted Graduation Photo (2017), which have somehow blended violence, sex and still incorporated government-approved virtues, somehow. Chinese horror also loves haunted house movies like The House that Never Dies (2014), based on the famously haunted Beijing mansion.
Unlike its big brother, Hong Kong has a flourishing film industry, due in no small part to a great deal of political and economic freedom it has enjoyed as a former British colony. As such, Hong Kong films have and are a force to be reckoned with, especially when it comes to foreign horror films.
To that end, Hong Kong horror is pretty diverse, covering everything from traditional Chinese ghost stories to haunted houses to sinister supernatural forces to human depravity. Some of Hong Kong’s most celebrated horror films are Hammer-horror inspired kung-fu film Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974), The Boxer’s Omen (1983), Mr. Vampire (1985), A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), Ebola Syndrome (1996), Visible Secret (2001), joint production with Singapore film The Eye (2002), Dumplings (2004) (I still shudder just thinking of this movie), and Dream Home (2010).
India’s film industry is a beast. It ranks first globally regarding both film production and tickets sold. Bollywood has a global following and a variety of different “film cultures.” However, for all the movies India cranks out, and for all the people who love Bollywood, there aren’t a lot of strong horror movies. The general trend in India, when it comes to horror, is to have loads of supernatural fare, including ghost stories and vengeful spirits. Indian horror depends mostly on remakes of horror movies from other countries, like Raaz (2002) (What Lies Beneath), Bees Sal Baad (1962) (The Hounds of Baskerville), Kohraa (1964) (Rebecca), and Ragini MMS (2011) (Paranormal Activity). Other notable Indian horror films are Mahal (1949), Raat (1992), Manichitrathazhu (1993), Bhoot (2003), 1920 (2008), Phoonk (2008), 13B (2009), Haunted 3D (2011), Horror Story (2013), and Maya (2015).
Indonesia is a very conservative, Muslim country, so most horror films produced contain moral themes. At the same time, Indonesian horror films are very violent and gory with plenty of suggestive sex appeal. Such notable films include family of serial killers movie Macabre (2009), the haunting Kuntilanak (2006), schlocky black magic movie Mystics in Bali (1981), supernatural thriller The Forbidden Door (2009), morality play about the dangers of social media film Horror in Facebook (2010), and survival horror film The Ritual (2012).
I loved Iranian-British film Under the Shadow (2016), which captured the tense climate of Tehran post-revolution in a way that made me understand the entire conflict much more. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of Iranian horror. But there are some noteworthy Iranian horror films, like horror-mystery The Rings (1985), based-on-a-true-story slasher Fish & Cat (2013), and last year’s Zar. I would include the amazing A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), but that was technically an American production, even with Iranian director and writer Ana Lily Amirpour.
Due to the constant tension, upheaval, regime changes that have plagued Iraq throughout the 20th and 21st century, Iraq doesn’t have much of a stable film industry. However, that hasn’t stopped the country from producing one feature-length horror movie—The Curse of Mesopotamia (2015). Filmed in English, The Curse has an extremely anti-terror, anti-ISIS message, which is unsurprising given what the region has gone through in recent years. It may not be the best movie, but it seems like a good sign for any Iraqi horror movies that follow.
If you’re even a casual horror fan, then I probably don’t need to tell you about how prevalent and amazing Japanese horror is. Also known as J-Horror, Japanese horror films are straight up terrifying, focusing on psychological and supernatural horror, which means lots of slow-building tension, horrifying ghosts, and disturbing acts of evil. Many times, J-horror contains social messages and does an excellent job of reflecting the fears and anxieties of Japanese culture. American film studios remade several Japanese horror movies in the 2000s, but couldn’t seem to match the intensity of the Japanese originals. It was hard to narrow down the list of noteworthy films, but some classics are Kwaidan (1964), Audition (1999), The Ringu series (1998-2000), the Ju-On series (1998-2016), Dark Water (2002), and One Missed Call (2003).
Apparently, Kazakhstan is a big fan of J-horror and American horror, because the only completed and released Kazahk film I could find was called M-Agent (2014), and it seems very “inspired” by Ringu and I Know What You Did Last Summer. In this film, a group of friends accidentally kill a girl while partying one night, and her vengeful ghost haunts them through internet chat rooms.
The only movie approaching horror was a weird little Godzilla knock-off called Pulgasari (1985). It’s a dark-fantasy/action/monster movie directed by a kidnapped South Korean director (yiiiiiikes) and features all the North Korean propaganda you’d expect, though it might have a hidden subversive message.
Much like its Japanese cousin, South Korea has a thriving film industry and a legendary horror scene. Korean horror also focuses on elements of psychological horror, specifically on the suffering or anguish of characters, while also exploring societal anxieties through the use of ghosts or other supernatural creatures. And, like Japanese horror, Korean horror has been mined by American studios for remake material, with limited success. Notable Korean horror films include Momento Mori (1999), A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), The Red Shoes (2005), The Host (2006), Thirst (2009), I Saw the Devil (2010), Train to Busan (2016), and The Wailing (2016).
I wasn’t expecting to find much at all for Kuwait’s film scene, let alone any horror film industry. While Kuwait does have its own film industry, it doesn’t seem keen on horror movies. The only one I could find mentioned is a murder mystery-slasher called Cut: Unforgettable Night (2017).
Again, here too is a country with a pretty well-known film scene (with several internationally acclaimed films) but not much of a horror scene until quite recently. I couldn’t find a lot on these horror films, but I was able to find mention of a film called Kyzyl Koinokchon (2010), demonic horror movie LoA (2012) and found-footage horror film Po Tu Storonu (aka Beyond) (2013).
Okay, let me just say that I was not expecting Laos to be a dark horse for emerging horror! The rise of Lao horror is almost entirely due to director Mattie Do, who directed films Chanthaly (2012) and Dearest Sister (2016). Both of these films have achieved international attention and acclaim for their ghostly stories of vulnerable women caught in rigid social roles. Dearest Sister has garnered attention here in the US, and, like, how did I miss this? Unlike the films of some neighbors, this Laotian director seems keen on making horror movies that are well-crafted and carry a social and cultural message unique to Laos.
Malaysia has a pretty thriving film industry, and thanks to advances in production quality and filmmaking technique, as well as a renewed embrace of local folklore, Malaysian horror has become quite popular. Malaysian horror seems to encompass a lot of subgenres, including vengeful vampire film Fragrant Night Vampire (2004); controversial, evil ritual, based-on-a-true-story Dukan (2007); zombie horror-comedy Zombi Kampung Pisang (2008); and Islamic demon movie and top grossing 2016 Malaysian film Munafik (2016).
Unfortunately, the Maldives doesn’t have the most robust film industry, which means they don’t have much to offer in the way of foreign horror. However, I was able to find one Maldivian horror movie—possessed, evil house film 4426 (2016).
Thanks to decades of political turmoil, Nepal’s film industry is not very developed. But that hasn’t stopped them from taking advantage of the last few decades and turning out their own films. As far as horror films go, Nepal has a few, including Kagbeni (2008), which was inspired by W.W. Jacob’s classic short story The Monkey’s Paw; supernatural thriller Ek Din Ek Raat (2011), suspenseful thriller-horror film Zhigrana (2015); and Sunkesari (2018), a film about the haunted history of an Australian palace built in Nepal in the late 19th century.
Pakistan has recently expanded its homegrown film industry, experiencing a revival of sorts in the last decade. Still, the new growth hasn’t translated into very many horror movies. However, Pakistan has recently released a horror film title Pari (2017), about a family that moves into a haunted house.
Back in the mid 20th century, Singapore enjoyed a bustling film industry. In later decades, however, the film industry saw decline and productions steadily decreased. However, the last few years have seen a surge of new talent, and with it, more horror movies. Notable examples include military survival horror flick 23:59 (2011), a joint production with Hong Kong The Eye (2002) (remade with Jessica Alba in 2008), supernatural thriller The Maid (2005).
Sri Lanka has a small film industry with only a few horror movies produced. Notable examples include mostly romantic horror movies, like Que Sera (2014), Spandana (2015), Zoom (2016), and what I think might be a zombie movie called Bandhanaya (2017).
While Syria seems to have a steady film industry, it doesn’t seem interested in horror movies in any way, shape, or form. I could find mention of only one film, A Journey of Suffering (1972).
Thailand has a very old film industry that spans multiple genres. As such, horror is a robust genre in Thailand, especially supernatural psychological horror, which often utilizes folk legends, local superstitions, and traditional ghost stories as material. Famous examples of Thai horror are Shutter (2004), 13: Game of Death (2006), Long Weekend (2013), and The Eyes Diary (2014).
United Arab Emirates
The UAE hasn’t put out many horror movies at all, and not very good ones at that. They somehow landed legendary horror director Tobe Hooper for the first UAE horror film Djinn, but it wasn’t very good. Last year saw the release of psychological thriller-mystery A Tale of Shadows. Going off of reviews, A Tale of Shadows is better than Djinn, but not nearly as good as it should be. Hopefully, the UAE will continue to make and get better at horror movies and contribute some much-needed diversity into foreign horror.
Vietnam has an active film scene that has been shaped by its tumultuous history, particularly its colonial past and numerous wars and armed conflicts. Notable examples include ghostly and witchy film Hollow (2014), the haunting Quả tim máu (2014), and vengeful ghost story The Housemaid (2016).