10. Sorum (2001)
Around 40 per cent of Koreans live in an apartment. Sometimes seen as a beacon of middle-class affluence, in Sorum it is the apartment block itself that is the source of its horror elements.
The film’s title, Sorum, means ‘goosebumps’ in Korean, and when paired with a certain verb means bloodcurdling, hair-raising, chilling and horrifying. This is a horror in a purely atmospheric sense, but what the film instead does is allow us to become so deeply entwined in the lives of the apartment inhabitants – as if it were us living in close quarters with them – that we feel a bond with their spiralling fortunes.
Taxi driver Yong-hyun moves into an old apartment building on the verge of demolition, learning the previous inhabitant had died in a fire there. His life then blends with the other inhabitants of the apartment block. The result is slow-burn horror mystery entwining us in the fortunes of characters tittering on the brink. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
20 Greatest K-Horrors Ever
9. The Host (2006)
It is difficult to think of a better mixing pot than the genius of director Bong Joon-ho, a commentary on US-Korean relations, and a giant creature mutated by chemicals dumped in the Han River that hunts people at will. While Bong blends several genres here, as a monster movie this make our horror list.
After formaldehyde finds its way into the Han River, a large amphibious creature grows and after consuming the river's fish, jumps onto land to go human hunting. Meanwhile we meet Park Gang-du, the slow-witted proprietor of a snack bar by the river which he runs with his father, Hee-bong. We meet the whole family of Hyun-seo, Gang-du's daughter, his national medalist archer sister Nam-joo and alcoholic college graduate brother Nam-il. When Hee-bong is grabbed by the creature and taken into the river, the family must escape the newly enforced government quarantine to save her. In classic Bong style, it combined humour with some full blooded horror elements to produce a perfect monster movie. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
8. Train to Busan (2016)
Rapid-hunt zombies terrorise desperate train passengers in this action-horror mash-up filled with social commentary. The combination of action and horror ensures that the film has a frenetic pace which produces an unforgettable assault on the senses.
The film itself is a wild ride enjoyable if you look no further than the madness unfurling before your eyes. However, it is also a deeply profound social commentary and moral thought experience on several differing levels. There are concepts of corporate greed and power, social responsibility, rapid industrialisation, responsibilities towards the elderly and the social pressures applied to South Korea’s youth are all unpacked in a smorgasbord of vital issues assessed as zombies try to eat them.
A broad range of characters board a train, all with differing motivations and stories, and the enclosed space provides the perfect battleground against the rabid zombies. A monumental box-office smash, it attracted 11 million cinemagoers in South Korea. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
7. The Devil's Stairway (1964)
Slick shots, superb cinematography and a busy score gives this thriller a layer of genuine horror. Despite the film largely going under the radar, and borrowing from similar works of the same time, most notability The Housemaid (1960), it still finds its own ways to make its point.
A chief surgeon has ambitions to run the hospital and when the director’s daughter shows a romantic interest in him, he sees an opportunity to secure his professional dream. However, he has been involved in a long-term relationship with a nurse and must decide what he is willing to do so he can make the hospital his own.
Perhaps the most horror-laden aspect of the film is its score, a creepy and dramatic soundtrack turned up to maximum. Certainly as the doctor's actions become darker and his greed grows, this score provides an amplified reminder of the horror of his actions. Overall, this psychological thriller-horror provides an eerie view of greed, guilt and lust. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
6. Thirst (2009)
In the wake of his blood-splattered Vengeance Trilogy and romantic comedy I'm a Cyborg, But That's Okay (2006), Director Park Chan-wook opted to blend those elements together in the funny, violent romance that is Thirst.
Sang-hyun (played by the always brilliant Song Kang-ho) is a Catholic priest who is involved in a failed medical experiment and needs a blood transfusion to survive. Matters take a turn towards the vampire though and when he meets Tae-ju, the wife of a childhood friend, he finds himself being tempted by his blood-lust and his sexual desire as he struggled to keep his moral framework together.
This is a lurch towards horror that was always going to suit the violence-loving Park. It is, as ever with Director Park, a stylish and clever outing. It is also, as ever with Song Kang-ho, anchored with a brilliant lead performance. Together they produce a surprising and enthralling addition to the vampire canon. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
5. Epitaph (2007)
The beauty of the horror genre can get lost in the pursuit of scares and gory. What the Jung Brothers achieve with Epitaph is a film that is visually brilliant, yet disturbing and full of threat also. It is both cerebral and visceral in nature, as the film has a depth of theme and commentary, while also allowing an emotional element which invests us further.
The narrative structure is a fragmented one, relying on flashback, but in a suitable and coherent enough fashion that the film does not get lost in its own storytelling. There are a trio of tales, a doctor who falls in love with a dead woman, a little girl who is the only survivor of a car accident, and two doctors who become involved with a series of murders taking place near them.
This is a feature which churns through the memorable shots, combining colours of white and red that bore into our vision throughout. The result is a gorgeous and intelligent film that provides an opulent and sharp horror with true depth. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
4. Suddenly in the Dark (1981)
Cinematic output during the 70s and 80s was partly curtailed in South Korea by a military dictatorship during the 70s and long-running draconian film censorship. This makes Suddenly in the Dark, also known as Suddenly at Midnight or Suddenly in Dark Night, all the more remarkable as an early 80s film that is both genuinely scary and superbly made.
Kang Yu-jin is a wealthy professor who meets Mi-ok, a young woman who is the daughter of a shaman priestess who recently died in a house fire. Yu-jin appoints Mi-ok as his new housemaid and brings her home to his wife Seon-hee who is instantly suspicious about the beautiful young woman who has mysteriously arrived and infiltrated her household. However, it twists the malicious housemaid format and brilliantly portrays the paranoia and jealousy of a wife descending into madness.
This is a psychedelic and hallucinatory outing, but it manages to paint obsession and paranoia in clear colours, aided by its visually-stunning cinematography. FULL OUR FULL REVIEW
3. A Tale of Two Sisters (2001)
A Tale of Two Sisters is a psychologically-driven chill-fest that continues to twist and turn until its final frame. It builds the shuddersome atmosphere and cultivates the nerve-jangling through this film's duration. This more minimalistic approaches pays its dividend as we unpack the dynamics and effects of grief, fear and tragedy.
In a mental institution, teenager Su-mi is being treated for psychosis before she is released home to her family's secluded rural estate with her father and younger sister Su-yeon. Here we meet stepmother, Eun-joo, who exchanges frosty words with the sisters. Su-mi is beset by nightmares and after discovering bruises on her sister's arms angrily confronts Eun-joo about the abuse. From here the story descends into the reliving of painful memories and growing tension between the sisters and their stepmother.
The folktale has had several Korean film adaptations, but in A Tale of Two Sisters the story is at its most lucid and shocking. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
2. The Housemaid (1960)
The film which changed a nation’s cinema forever, Kim Ki-young's masterpiece on morality and lust is a filmmaking tour de force of festering threat. Part domestic-thriller, part-melodrama, but undeniably a horror through its central confrontations and themes. In many senses the film was the starter gun of K-Horror, with the 60s going on to produce a range of superb scare fests.
Composer Dong-sik Kim and his wife Mrs. Kim live with their two children. Due to her pregnancy, Mrs. Kim becomes too exhausted from working on a sewing machine so Mr. Kim decides to hire a housemaid, Myung-sook. The new housemaid behaves oddly from the outset, catching rats with her hands, spying on the composer, and trying to seduce him. For Mr. Kim, he must avoid this toxic temptation, while Mrs. Kim bears witness to the potential destruction of her family.
Korean cinema is famed for its revenge films and as a constant theme which returns to its screens, with the frenzied revenge of the housemaid laying the foundations here. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
1. The Wailing (2016)
A hapless cop black comedy, turned child-possession exorism drama, ending as a 'who is the demon?' mystery horror, The Wailing is a brilliantly original two hours and 36 minutes that is not easily forgotten.
Directed by Na Hong-jin, it tells the story of hapless rural police officer Jong-goo who is investigating a series of murders in the wake of a mysterious disease which starts to spread among villagers, who enflame in rashes and burst into murderous hysteria, then stupor and finally death. Jong-goo directs his investigations towards a Japanese stranger who recently arrived to live in a secluded house in the forest and his involvement becomes increasingly personal as his daughter Hyo-jin becomes ill and her symptoms match those of the deceased.
In The Wailing, Director Na has crafted a terror of prolonged measures within a highly developed story that surprises throughout. The early sniggers of the film’s lighter-hearted opening seem a distance memory by the time The Wailing is through with you. READ OUR FULL REVIEW