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Top Ten: Asian Horror Movies

I’ve been a fan of horror movies my whole life, and for much of that time the best of the genre invariably came from the US and, to a lesser degree, the UK. The likes of George Romero, John Carpenter and Wes Craven defined the genre through much of the 70s and 80s. However, over the last decade Western horror seems to have lost its way, becoming mired in an endless cycle of torture porn or tedious remakes of old classics, with only the occasional standout moment of success.

It’s no accident, then, that a large portion of US horror movies are also remakes of films from a part of the world that seems to have cornered the market in accomplished, well-executed and downright scary entries into the genre. Hollywood is looking across the pacific toward Asia, and this is where all dedicated horror fans should be looking, too. Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong. This is where Horror’s new home is.

Often heavily influenced by the ‘J-Horror’ of Japan, with its vengeful, lank-haired, Onryō ghosts, Asian cinema produces horror movies the way they should be; creepy, brooding, psychological, extremely atmospheric and devoid of comfortable outcomes.

Here are Celluloid Zombie’s Top Ten from the continent that’s putting the horror back into horror movies.


10. Kairo (Pulse)

Kiyoshi Kurosawa – Japan -2001

A solemn, moribund study of isolation and loneliness in the technological age, Kairo sees spirits from the other side use the internet to manipulate the living into disconnection and suicide. Those that do not kill themselves simply fall so into hopelessness that they become nothing more than shadows on the wall. We are the ghosts in Kairo.

What Kairo obviously lacks in laughs it more than makes up for in depth and mood. There are some chilling moments but Kairo is more effective when simply crawling under your skin and dragging you into its apocalyptic world.

Hollywood Remake: Remade in 2005 as Pulse, with the original’s ponderous atmosphere replaced with more direct horror. Not a bad movie, but lacks Kairo’s sense of despair.


9. Noroi: The Curse

Kôji Shiraishi – Japan – 2005

One of the few ‘mockumentary’ style movies to come out of the Asian horror wave, Noroi is a movie that rewards patience and attention span. Mostly revolving around paranormal investigator Masafumi Kobayashi’s attempts to solve a series of unexplained events, a host of seemingly unrelated characters and occurrances are gradually drawn together to an unforgettable conclusion.

Noroi has a remarkably unsettling atmosphere throughout, which is all the more remarkable given that for much of the movie very little happens. However, as the truth behind Kobayashi’s investigation becomes clear, there are moments of bone-chilling horror and an ending which will stay with you for a very long time.

Hollywood Remake: No, and not very likely either. Too weird.


8. Alone

Banjong Pisanthanakun & Parkpoom Wongpoom – Thailand – 2007

Thai woman Pim lives in Korea with her boyfriend Wee. Pim was separated from her conjoined twin Ploy when they were teenagers and Ploy died as a result of the operation. When her mother falls ill, Pim and Wee return to Thailand and to Pim’s family home, where she finds herself haunted by her dead, vengeful, sister. Is it real, is it guilt or is there something else?

The second movie from writer/director team Pisanthanakun & Wongpoom is probably the most Western-influenced horror movie in this list, but don’t let that put you off. Crammed full of great shock moments, a particularly mean ghost and a neat twist in the tale, Alone is scary and a lot of fun.

Hollywood Remake: The rights have been bought so expect the US version soon.


7. Creepy Hide and Seek

Masafumi Yamada – Japan – 2009

After a series of bizarre disappearances involving students and colleagues, schoolteacher Ryoko discovers they had all been playing a ritualistic game called ‘creepy hide and seek’. The game involves all the same rules as normal hide and seek, except that what comes looking for you isn’t quite human.

Crap title, great movie. A little known gem, Creepy Hide and Seek has everything you could want from a good J-horror. The action is slow, deliberate and extremely atmospheric, helped in no small part by a very unsettling soundtrack and expert camerawork. At least it lives up to that title.

Hollywood Remake: Not yet, but this is exactly the kind of movie that American filmmakers like to assume they can do just as well. Expect one soon.


6. Audition

Takashi Miike – Japan – 2000

When middle-aged widower Aoyama decides to look for a new partner, he holds fake auditions for a movie role to meet women. He is immediately taken with the young, seemingly shy Asami and begins a relationship with her. However, he soon discovers that cute little Asami has some really strange hobbies. And she wants to share.

The movie that made everyone sit up and take notice of unique filmmaker Takashi Miike, Audition is the kind of story that could put you off dating forever. Featuring a truly terrifying performance from Eihi Shiina, Audition is a horror movie with an emphasis on the horror.

Hollywood Remake: No. And with its mixture of torture, abuse and vomit-eating, there’s not likely to be one anytime soon.


5. A Tale of Two Sisters

Jee-woon Kim – South Korea – 2003

Jee-woon Kim’s highly acclaimed story of two sisters enduring an unstable, abusive step-mother and seemingly indifferent father is an intelligent, layered, unsettling film which reveals its secrets slowly and keeps you guessing right up until the end.

Quite possibly one of the most beautifully shot horror movies in recent memory, A Tale of Two Sisters marked out its director as a talent to watch and he hasn’t disappointed since. This one has a brand of horror for everyone, ranging from the supernatural, through the psychological, to the purely physical. Jung-ah Yum, as the step-mother, is at once appalling and sympathetic. No mean feat.

Hollywood Remake: Remade in 2009 as The Uninvited, which gave us a lot more teenage flesh and a lot less atmosphere.


4. The Eye

Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang – Hong Kong – 2002

Blind violinist Wong Kar Mun has a successful cornea transplant and begins seeing ghosts wherever she goes, some friendly and some otherwise. Together with her doctor, she determines to find out the identity of her eye donor.

The Eye starts off as an effectively spooky ghost story, but deepens into something more heartbreaking as the mystery behind Wong Kar Mun’s new eyes is uncovered. The ghostly encounters make the hair stand up on the back of the neck, and just when you think the story is resolved, The Eye throws in a surprise ending.

Hollywood Remake: Remade in 2008 as The Eye. Jessica Alba, while easy on the eye (did you see what I did there), just doesn’t have Angelica Lee’s sympathetic appeal.


3. Ju-on (The Grudge)

Takashi Shimizu – Japan – 2003

The third in Shimizu’s Ju-on series, but the first to get an international theatrical release, The Grudge centres on a cursed house and the characters who come into contact with it over varying timelines, usually to their extreme detriment.

Complex, layered and disturbing, The Grudge is also very, very creepy. This one will definitely make you feel less safe under your covers, which is traditionally where you are supposed to feel safe. Neat trick. The movie spawned further sequels, and while Shimizu’s Ju-on: The Grudge 2 was also very good, this remains the finest of the series.

Hollywood Remake: Yes, by the exact same director and starring Buffy, no less. Shimizu also directed the American sequel. Not awful, but neither matched his homeland efforts.


2. Shutter

Banjong Pisanthanakun & Parkpoom Wongpoom – Thailand – 2004

Photographer Tun and his girlfriend, Jane, hit a girl with their car as they are driving home from a party. Tun insists that they flee rather than aid the girl, much to Jane’s consternation. From that point on, they are subjected to a series of spooky occurrances from which secrets begin to emerge.

The debut feature from Alone’s collaborative writer/director team. Shutter is a sleek and well-oiled machine of a movie. While it doesn’t exactly break new ground, it takes the elements that had made Asian horror so successful before it and weaves a well-paced, twisting tale around a series of consistently spooky scenes. Great ending, too.

Hollywood remake: Remade in 2008 with the same title but far from the same result.


1. Ring

Hideo Nakata – Japan – 1998

Journalist Reiko’s niece dies, one week after viewing a mysterious video tape. Reiko views the tape and is warned, by a phone call, that she now has only one week to live. After her son watches the tape, Reiko and her ex-husband, Ryuji, try to discover the secret behind the cursed video.

The Granddaddy of all J-Horror and a hugely influential movie, Ring is heavy on atmosphere from the outset. Rather than subject the viewer to a series of shocks (although there are one or two) Ring slowly builds itself up to a single, extremely scary, moment.

Hollywood Remake: Remade in 2002 as The Ring. Overcooks what the original leaves simmering. You only get one chance to see this for the first time so choose wisely. Go Japanese.




Top Ten: Female Movie Villains

Characters in movies are invariably placed into one of two categories, good guy or bad guy. But let’s not forget that some of cinema’s greatest villains weren’t guys at all. Let’s be honest, anyone who has lived more than a few days is well aware that women are just as capable of great evil as men. Sorry, ladies, but I am about to present my case.

Make no mistake, my friends, there is no such thing as ‘the fairer sex’. Forget Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter or Gordon Gekko. They are rank amateurs compared to this collection of XX chromosome hooligans.

Welcome to my Top Ten Female Movie Villains. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. And guys, next time your special lady friend gives you a hard time for leaving the toilet seat up, read this list, lower the seat, and count your blessings. Then lower the seat cover too, just to be on the safe side.


Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates)

Misery – 1990

Every writer likes to think they have devoted fans out in the world, but there are limits. Annie Wilkes is definitely one of those limits. Where most fans like to show their dedication by attending conventions or collecting memorabilia, Annie prefers kidnapping, hobbling and coercing full creative control over her idol’s output. She’s like the editor from Hell. My advice is make a copy of your manuscript. And try to remember which way around the china penguin was facing. If Annie Wilkes is your number one fan, you are in all kinds of number two.

Redeeming qualities: She sometimes leaves the house. And she’ll do a good job of fixing up the injuries she inflicts on you. She used to be a nurse, you know.


Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina)


It’s always the quiet ones, right? Asami may seem like a sweet, shy and reserved young woman, but she actually has a few jealousy issues. Serious jealousy issues, in fact. A couple of counselling sessions aren’t going to fix this one. When Asami asks you to love only her, she means only her. No kids, friends, family, dead wives or pet dogs allowed. Break the rules and she will have no choice but to cheerfully, lovingly, saw off your feet and hands. And then stick needles in your eyes. She means it all affectionately, though, so do try and be a little understanding.

Redeeming qualities: She’ll find a nice, warm sack to keep you in and she’ll feed you regularly. You may not like what’s on the menu, though. Gag.


Bridget Gregory (Linda Fiorentino)

The Last Seduction1994

Avoid this woman at all costs. If Bridget Gregory shows an interest in you, run for the hills because it will only end in tears. Yours, to be precise. What Bridget lacks in compassion, she more than makes up for in brains. If they handed out Noble Peace Prizes for schemes and machinations, Bridget would win hands down. She’s like Wile E. Coyote, only more successful and with nicer legs. In all fairness, Bridget isn’t completely heartless. If you’re lucky, or just useful, she won’t kill you. She’ll just have you framed for rape and murder and then sod off with all the cash. Ouch.

Redeeming qualities: Jeez. Well, she’s witty and she has money. And your relationship will be mercifully brief.


Dolores Benedict (Kathleen Turner)

The Man with Two Brains1983

Dolores likes men. Especially wealthy men with weak hearts. She collects them (and their cash) like baseball cards, and brilliant brain surgeon Dr. Hfuhruhurr is just the next in line. Rampant infidelity and the withholding of matrimonial sex are the tools of her trade, but when she finds herself having to compete with the disembodied brain of sweet natured Anne Uumellmahaye, Dolores has to up her game a little. Dolores Benedict is the right woman with the wrong brain. Dr. Hfuhruhurr has a solution. Into the mud, scum queen!

Redeeming qualities: Dolores can pretend she has redeeming qualities, and she’s a great receptacle for the ideal brain, if you can find one.


Margaret White (Piper Laurie)


And you thought your mum was bad. Mrs White is quite possibly the worst mother in the entire world. The kind of fundamentalist Christian who gives fundamentalst Christians a bad name, Margaret isn’t happy unless she’s preaching fire and brimstone to some hapless audience. Unfortunately, the hapless audience is usually her long-suffering daughter Carrie. No matter what misfortunes life throws Carrie’s way, and there are a fair few of them, mommie will always be there to tell her it’s her own fault and she had it coming. Heart warming.

Redeeming qualities: Tough one, this. Not even God could come up with one. She’s not impervious to flying knives. That’ll do.


Mystique (Rebecca Romijn Stamos)


Raven Darkhölme is very angry. Being born a blue-skinned shape shifter into a world that doesn’t readily embrace blue-skinned shape shifters has left her with a sizeable chip on her shoulder. And a new name. Mystique is a mutant, proud of it and will kick your ass if you’re not one. And boy, can she kick ass. As far as she’s concerned, humans are there to be slapped around a bit, and then imitated to further the cause. The fact that Mystique can appear as anyone, yet chooses to walk around blue and naked, tells you all you need to know.

Redeeming qualities: Good sense of humour, great at parties, and you won’t have to wait around for hours while she decides what to wear.


Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck)

Double Indemnity1944

Phyllis has two great loves in life, getting what she wants and getting someone else to get her what she wants. Okay, make that three great loves, the third being a decent insurance policy. Here’s someone who actually understands the fine print. Cold, calculating and completely prepared to use her body to advance her schemes, Phyllis is the poster girl for femme fatales everywhere. In her mind a dead husband is far more valuable than a live one, and if some poor sap is willing to do the deed for her, so much the better. Little minx.

Redeeming qualities: Well, she’ll help you out with those pesky insurance claims, and you could probably hide things under that fringe.


Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest1975

They say true evil is banal and commonplace, and Nurse Ratched is the perfect example. Her unwavering dedication to her patients would be endearing if she wasn’t so dedicated to the idea that punishment and treatment are the same thing. She is the living embodiment of the conviction that it is all for your own good. When you pass through the doors into the Nurse Ratched’s ward you are a subject in her kingdom, and you’d best do as you’re told. Cold, embittered, cruel and in the words of Randle P. McMurphy, ‘something of a c**t’.

Redeeming qualities: As long as you behave, constantly and without question, Nurse Ratched won’t give you too much trouble. She even smiles from time to time.


Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya)

From Russia with Love1963

Russian agent Rosa Klebb likes French champagne, Swiss chocolates, other women, torturing people and evil agencies with long acronyms. She dislikes smarmy British agents and being told off by the boss. Moving from SMERSH to SPECTRE, perhaps because the latter has an extra letter in its acronym, Klebb is super-villain Blofeld’s No. 3. It would be easy to admire Rosa simply for being one of the few women impervious to James Bond’s tedious charms, but since this cold fish is impervious to anyone’s charms, it doesn’t really mean much. Brutal.

Redeeming qualities: Not many. She does have a very cool pair of shoes, though. Just don’t get too close to them. Not that you’d want to, let’s be honest.


Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton)

The Wizard of Oz1939

She’s lean, green and very mean. The Wicked Witch of the West makes Voldemort look like a British actor in make-up. More than a little pissed when her sister is killed by a falling house (it happens), she vows revenge on the insipid Dorothy and her irksome dog. Although those ruby slippers she’s been hankering for probably have more to do with it. Armed with a chin that could chisel brick and a blood-curdling cackle, the Wicked Witch of the West is evil incarnate. She just needs to invest in some waterproof clothing. And she could probably do with a shorter name.

Redeeming qualities: None whatsoever, unless you’re a fan of flying monkeys. You’re not, are you?