20 Greatest K-Horrors ever
20. R-Point (2004)
K-Horror has long obsessed over maleficent supernatural forces, in particular the vengeful ghost, usually female, who has returned to settle the score. There is also an expansive library of war-horror outings, dating back to inspirations drawing on the Korean War in the 1950s.
It was inevitable that a film like R-Point was made then, that combines those supernatural elements with the real-life horror that is warfare. Yet, R-Point is a breath of fresh air by combining these aspects, especially in 2005 when the Whispering Corridors series had sparked a flood of vengeful female ghost films, not just in Korea but across Asia and globally.
Set in 1972 during the Vietnam War, a South Korean base there receives a radio transmission from a missing platoon that has been presumed dead. A lieutenant is then told he must lead a squad of eight soldiers to extract the missing soldiers from Romeo point (R-Point) in one week. Dread-filled and exquisitely shot, the horrors of war provide the backdrop as this group of soldiers march into a supernatural threat. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
19. Thousand Years Old Fox (1969)
Despite its Chinese origins, the kumiho, or gumiho, a nine-tailed fox with various furious motivations, is very much a classic Korean folktale. This fox lives a thousand years and can freely transform into various forms, most often a beautiful woman who goes on a murderous rampage.
This fable is given the full treatment in Shin Sang-ok's hammy supernatural horror, which combines classic themes with a very traditionally Korean one to deliver a vitally important piece of filmmaking.
Yeo-hwa has been banished from the Queen's kingdom. As she sets off into the wilderness with her baby, she is set upon by a band of ruthless bandits. After her baby is killed, Yeo-hwa desperately attempts to escape, but falls into a lake and seemingly dies. Instead, the spirit of a fox demon possesses her body and sets about exacting vengeance on the bandits and then a wide assortment of other victims for good measure. The result is a melodramatic horror where supernatural forces drive a savage revenge mission. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
18. The Piper (2015)
After a spate of fairytale horrors a decade prior in The Red Shoes (2005), Cinderella (2006), Hansel and Gretel (2007), first-time director Kim Gwang-tae returned to such origins for this atmospherically dark, yet still visually stunning version of the Brothers Grimm story.
Much like the original Hansel and Gretel tale, there is enough dark elements in the Pied Piper of Hamelin story to make a seamless transition to the horror genre. In the original, after a piper is hired to lure rats away from a town, the inhabitants renege on their deal so he does likewise by luring away their children. An identical format is assumed here, except much darker while assuming localised themes around the country after the Korean War and rural environments of the time.
One for lovers of cinema of the darker variety, it is a quintessentially Korean outing packing in smart visuals, strong performances and fairytale-inspired revenge. Not one for anyone with serious musophobia as the rats come gnawing though. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
17. Seoul Station (2016)
“If I’d had a place to go, I wouldn’t have lived inside Seoul Station,” pleads one of the many homeless characters caught up in the growing zombie apocalypse across the city. Soon after, there is an extended scene within some still empty luxury apartments, huge and decadent but not intended for any of the characters in this film.
Released just months after Train to Busan was building momentum into an international hit, Seoul Station shows how the zombie epidemic began. More than that, the homeless population of Seoul and their interactions around the train station form the discourse of how a rich society treats such citizens.
The narrative centres on Ki-woong trying to find his girlfriend Hye-sun with the help of her father Suk-gyu all while the zombie outbreak grips the city. The film provides high-action drama but in a sea of ravaging zombies the uninfected are the true monsters. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
16. Possessed (2009)
Possessed, also known as Living Death or Distrust Hell, is a horror which arrived in the wake of Korea’s most prolific period of horror output early the same decade. It does a fine job of picking up on some of the most prominent elements of that boom period and produce something deeply intriguing in its own right.
It provides a juxtaposition between the contemporary appeal of Christianity and the traditional allure of Shamanism, with a fanatical Christian mother living in an apartment block with a Shaman temple within.
College student Hee-jin returns home when her 14-year-old sister So-jin goes missing. The search is complicated by her mother, a staunch churchgoer, believing that prayer is the route to finding her, even refusing to work with police on the case. This is a claustrophobic 'apartment horror' which turns down the gore and amplifies the chills as the mystery grows. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
15. A Public Cemetery Under the Moon (1967)
A Public Cemetery Under the Moon, also known as A Public Cemetery of Wol-ha or simply Public Cemetery, treads on plenty of familiar ground for K-Horrors of the time and since, including the setting of Japanese occupation, the vengeful female ghost and the evil housemaid.
An impressively gore-filled horror outing for a film from this era, you can expect attempted baby stabbings, eye-gouging, torture scenes and acid splashed in the face.
Set in the 1930s during Japan’s occupation of Korea, businessman Han-soo falls under the spell of the malicious housemaid, who plots with a doctor to slowly poison his wife Wol-hyang to death to take over the household as the new wife.
A star-studded horror smash at the time, this is a melodramatic view of domestic decay and fidelity, with enough moments of gore to keep the modern horror fan content. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
14. Memento Mori (1999)
When Whispering Corridors was released in 1998, it signalled the start of the modern K-Horror film, providing a creepy and supernatural take on Korea’s demanding education system. While horror sequels offer focus on the concept of more – more deaths, more blood, more gore – Memento Mori instead offers a more polished incarnation of its source material.
High school students Shi-eun and Hyo-shin find that their taboo relationship pushes them to the fringes of school life. Fellow student Soh Min-ah then becomes invested in the fortunes of this contentious coupling when she finds a diary kept between the two girls. The diary offers insights into the relationship, but also triggers a darker passage of events in the school.
This supernatural psychological horror is bought to life artfully by a host of superb performances across the entire cast. It is a subtle and festering film. It remains restrained for most of the runtime, building towards a final act with a sharper edge than its set-up. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
13. Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018)
You could be forgiven for an immediate eye-roll at the prospect of another ‘found footage’ horror film, over 20 years since the sub-genre started its now well-storied contribution to horror. For a new film to work, there must be enough originality, enough fresh ground to provide an addition to the genre, rather than another copy. On this, Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum surprising succeeds.
It is not actually a ‘found footage’ film in the literal sense. This is more a ‘live-streamed’ version of a horror, playing into the social media and streaming obsessed nature of Korea’s young people. A horror for a generation where YouTube stars are some of the world’s most famous celebrities.
After two teenagers disappear within the long-abandoned Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital, the owner of YouTube channel “Horror Times”, decides to explore the building with a group of interested volunteers. South Korea is a deeply wired society. There are even boot camps to cure social media obsessed youth of their online additions. It is this modern premise which drives the film’s narrative forward, resulting in more scares than streams. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
12. Hansel & Gretal (2007)
Old fairy tales pulled no punches in their dark tones. Children of the past got an early education in horror. What makes Yim Pil-sung's mysterious horror reimagining all the more remarkable is it subverts both the original material and our film genre expectations to lead us to more startling and intriguing ends.
The film manages to keep the brightly coloured twee fairy book look throughout while simultaneously slowly cranking the nightmarish terror. This creates a disorientating effect, one that unsettles as much as the growing mystery and looming doom.
Eun-soo is involved in a car crash and staggers into the forest and finds a property called the “House of Happy Children”. They take him in and while they seem to be fattening him up like the fairytale, the film transitions from being a straight horror and into focusing on a mysterious backstory, producing a more surprising traverse into the woods. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
11. A Bloodthirsty Killer (1965)
Face-licking, cat-transforming weirdness, this B-movie-like horror is brimming with body count and genuine nightmarish tones.
A man happens upon a painting of his long deceased ex-wife, but soon he and his family find themselves reacquainted with her bloodthirsty ghost.
A Bloodthirsty Killer, often also called A Devilish Homicide or A Devilish Murder, is largely a greatest hits collection of 60s Korean horror tropes. It combines Korean folklore with social concerns of the times, most prominently the erosion of the traditional family unit. There are also themes of vengeance and the most classic of Korean horror devices – the vengeful female ghost.
Where it departs from many of its 60s horror cohorts is it more modern horror approach of rapidly piling up the body count, utilising a wide range of differing death methods. Fast-paced in its gory-count, it manages to establish itself as a fine example of 60s Korean horror. READ OUR FULL REVIEW