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Korean horror films, like their American counterparts, come in varying shapes, sizes, and degrees of scary. If you’re in the mood for revenge horror, there are many. Spooky ghost flicks? There are even more. And there are plenty of monster features. Korean horror films have a long rich cinematic history, but one of the most well-known movies in this genre was released last year: Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite.
Parasite won the 2020 Academy Award for Best Picture and got many Americans and other countries more interested in Korean cinema, especially the horror and thriller genres. It’s time that you expand your horror lens and I have a few suggestions on where to start. For this list, I chose films of many types of horror, so you should at least find one that satisfies your craving for mayhem and madness. Prepare to be mortified, or at least quite scared.
Bong Joon-ho directed Parasite, a movie that follows two families from different social classes: the poor Kim family and the rich Park clan. Parasite revolves around the Kim family manipulating their way into the Park family’s life and home. However, the Kims soon discover that they’re not the only ones trying to get a little taste of the good life. Parasite’s cast includes Choi Woo-shik, Kang-Ho Song, Lee Jeong-eun, and Cho Yeo-jeong.
Parasite is one of those films with layers to analyze and unpack. It has depth upon depth and different dimensions of horror. The main villain in Parasite is society and the class system but shown through themes of classism, greed, ambition, and murder. Parasite infects your brain and doesn’t let you forget it.
Stream it on Hulu here.
Train To Busan (2016)
Yeon Sang-ho directed Train to Busan. It starts with a neglectful father (Gong Yoo) trying to make things up to his daughter (Kim Soo-Ahn) by taking her on a train to Busan for her birthday so that she can see her mother. Things quickly escalate when a zombie boards the train. The passengers soon learn that a zombie outbreak has hit everywhere and Busan is the only safe zone at the moment.
Train to Busan doesn’t go easy on viewers as it’s action-packed right from the start. The stakes are high and it never allows you a moment to relax. You’re on edge all the way to the very last frame. Train to Busan also makes sure that you care about these likely doomed characters, so some of their eventual deaths become even more tragic. Train to Busan’s cast includes Ma Dong-seok, Jung Yu-mi, Choi Woo-shik, and Sohee. The sequel to Train to Busan: Peninsula is expected to hit Netflix in 2021.
Stream It On Tubi here.
A Tale Of Two Sisters (2004)
Kim Jee-woon directed A Tale of Two Sisters, a psychological horror film that will leave you doubting reality. Su-mi (Im Soo-jung) arrives back home after spending some time in a mental hospital. She quickly picks up where things left off with her sister Su-yeon (Moon Geun-young), but her stepmother Eun-joo (Yum Jung-ah) seems to be a source of stress in their lives.
A Tale of Two Sisters is like a good Victorian ghost story where you don’t quite know if the ghosts are real or just mental ghosts, or both. In this film, you never quite know what’s real or imagined. Yum Jung-ah gives a fantastic performance as she feels like the ultimate evil step-mother. She makes Cinderella’s wicked stepmom look like a weakling. In 2009, America produced a remake of it with The Uninvited starring Elizabeth Banks. You can skip the remake, but the original A Tale of Two Sisters is definitely worth your time.
Stream it on Shudder here.
The Wailing (2016)
Na Hong-Jin directs The Wailing. It follows Jong-goo (Kwak Do-won), a police officer who starts to investigate the mysterious murders around his village. They all seem to tie into a Japanese stranger (Jun Kunimura).
Prepare to have your day ruined with The Wailing. It has demons, ghosts, zombie-like creatures, and legends. Basically, it has everything to give you nightmares and make you seek immediate emotional help. This film has lots of great twists, scares, and The Wailing will genuinely frighten you. It’s definitely a horror film worth watching.
Stream it on Tubi here.
The Host (2006)
Bong Joon-ho directed this Korean monster movie about a creature that emerges in the Han River from chemical waste being dumped in by careless Americans. Gang-Doo (Kang-Ho Song)’s daughter Hyun-Seo (Go Ah-sung) is abducted by the monster. He and his family go on a quest to rescue her and stop this abnormal sea creature.
Like many of Bong Joon-ho’s other movies, The Host effortlessly blends horror with comedy. One minute you’ll be laughing at Gang-Doo and the next screaming in terror. In The Host, the sea creature isn’t the true monster, it’s the American government or possibly even governments in general. Once again, Bong Joon-ho cleverly makes commentary about society while using a monstrous disturbance to do it.
Stream it on Tubi here.
I Saw The Devil (2010)
I Saw The Devil is a revenge thriller directed by Kim Jee-woon. Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun)’s fiancé is brutally murdered by serial killer Kyung-Chul (Choi Min-sik), so naturally, Soo-hyun goes on a quest to find out who killed his fiancé, and once he finds him, he goes on a mission to torture him.
I Saw The Devil is gruesome and hard to watch at times (especially if you get a little queasy when watching scenes with a lot of blood and body parts being removed), but it’s one of the best horror movie thrillers I’ve ever seen. It’s a complex story about revenge, true evil, brutality, and the line between humanity and monsters. I Saw the Devil never lets you relax and just watch the film. You’re utterly shaken all the way through, and I kind of really enjoyed that type of film anxiety.
Stream it on Tubi here.
Possessed/Living Death (2009)
Lee Yong-ju directed Possessed, sometimes also titled Living Death. It follows Hee-Jin (Nam Sang-mi) as she returns home after her 14-year old sister So-jin (Shim Eun-Kyung) disappears. As she digs deeper into So-jin’s vanishing, her neighbors soon start to die.
Possessed is a ghost story and demonic possession tale that shows the demon more as the victim than the humans. You almost feel bad for the demon, because the people using it don’t get shown in the best light. This film also tries to bring religion into the conversation by questioning worshipping practices.
Stream it on Amazon Prime here.
Bedevilled is about two women, Bok-nam (Seo Young hee) and Hae-won (Hwang Geum-hee). Hae-won returns to their quiet little village to escape the problems she’s having in Seoul. Hae-won witnesses the abuse that Bok-nam experiences on a daily basis, but offers no help. Eventually, the villagers go too far and Bok-nam goes crazy, and goes on a killing spree. Bedeviled is directed by Jang Cheol-soo.
Bedevilled is a revenge thriller, similar to I Spit On Your Grave and the movie Straw Dogs, so it has a lot of violent scenes towards Bok-nam, which ensures that you’re rooting for her to get her revenge. By the end of Bedeviled, you’re 100 percent on Bok-nam’s side and cheering for these villagers to die.
Stream it on Tubi here.
I only listed a few films, but many streaming services have a ton of Korean horror films available to stream. Tubi especially has a wide selection of horror movies and all for free. I really enjoyed every film that I listed, but if you can only watch a couple (besides Parasite), I highly recommend I Saw the Devil, if you can stomach it, and The Wailing.