Thursday, September 30, 2010

Top 10 Favorite Asian Horror Films

Well, holy hot damn, y'all. Color me gore-soaked! It is September 30th, the last day of Asian horror month here at Cinema Somnambulist. 30 days are NOT ENOUGH to cover all of the splendors of the eastern world, let me tell you. The best thing about this month was getting to all those unseen titles that I have been putting off for one reason or another. The other best thing is the weirdness is settling in. I have just been just a little off since the first week of The INVASIAN. I feel strange and that is very good. For some reason, I’ve been having more vivid dreams this month as well as some totally insane nightmares. I have no choice but to blame my cinematic diet this month (or those York Peppermint Pieces).

So yeah, ANYWAY, I was inspired by Aaron's (of The Death Rattle) rad post of his top 5 Asian horror films to make my own list. Copy cat! I'm going to go for 10 because it is impossible for me to narrow it down to just 5 titles.

#10 The Stewardess

This comedy horror film about a lecherous moron who cheats on his flight attendant girlfriend with another (hotter) flight attendant who turns out to be a murderous psychopath is a dang riot. The film has a little gore but the scenes are so cheap, that it feels almost blood free. What’s more important is the quirky vibe this one has. Its broad slapstick will appeal to just about anyone and it’s political incorrectness will please anyone who is even remotely aware of the racial tensions between China and Japan. Add in a gang of moronic Triads, a lot of slow motion, and comedic actor Sam Lee (of Biozombie), and you’ve got yourself a party. The Stewardess is oh so wrong and it’s all oh so right.

Full review here.

#09 The Red Shoes

In a genre flooded with generic bullshit and tired, formulaic plots, a film comes along that stays well within the acceptable plot constraints of what Asian horror came to be known for in the millennium –long haired ghosts with greenish skin and impossibe body contortions – but what it does with those same elements feels very different. What makes The Red Shoes special is that it takes the cursed item bit that Ringu, One Missed Call, Ju-on, and countless other films have done and runs it through an overdrive pedal and a Marshall stack. Everything about The Red Shoes is amped the fuck up. When you think you’ve seen it all, turn this movie up really loud one night and see if you see what I’m talking about. While it ain't exactly original, I have to give props to The Red Shoes for trying too hard and succeeding.

#08 Pulse AKA Kairo

I’ll never forget getting my cheapo copy of Kairo on VCD from eBay and watching it alone one night. I looked down and my pants were gone. They had been scared off of me and haven’t returned since. And that was my last pair of pants. Some people have told me they don’t think this movie is scary or they don’t get it. If this movie doesn’t get to you, even just a little bit, I don’t know what to tell you. What I love about Kairo is that it has one of the most important things that continues to scare me to this day: the thing that should not be. A character turns around and sees something impossible. It doesn’t jump at the screen and it doesn’t require a blast of nu-metal or some hyper editing to get your attention. The thing that should not be is there and it is not in a hurry to get you. It slowly makes its way across the room because it knows that it’s too late. You’re done for.

#07 The Heroic Trio

The Heroic Trio seems like more of an action flick but trust me, the horror elements are there. I have no idea where director Johnny To was going with this one but I’m glad he went there (wherever that is). Three lovely heroes played by Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung, and Anita Mui are trying to stop a supernatural force from sacrificing babies (one of which will grow up to be the next emperor). This movie is just so bizarre and so unlike anything I’d ever seen before that it forced my mind to open up to all the freaky deaky that is Hong Kong cinema. Also, The Heoric Trio is so melodramatic that its syrupiness has its own atomic number (I don’t think I know what atomic numbers are.) and it has many, many plot threads going on at once. The breakneck pace guarantees a second or third viewing to catch all of the insanity. Highly, highly recommended.

#06 One Missed Call

Leave it to Takashi Miike (Japan’s gift to the world of extreme cinema) to make one of the best films of the “cursed item” genre. This time, it’s a phone call that you DO NOT want to receive. One Missed Call is a very interesting flick. It shows us an ultra modern world where everything seems safe and normal but lurking just around the corner are ghosts, especially angry ghosts, who still inhabit that world. Oh and these ghosts will fucking kill you. Themes of child abuse, neglect, and an ending that will definitely leave you scratching your head (even if it is twisted around backwards) are all contained in this excellent film that gets better with every viewing.

#05 Suicide Club AKA Suicide Circle

The only thing keeping this film so low on the list is its ending. What can I say? Suicide Club has a confounding and artsy ending that defies expectations (which is good) and doesn’t really deliver what the rest of the film has been building up to (which is less good). Enough whining! What you need to know about this movie is that when I watched it, I felt as though Asian horror had suddenly changed forever. It felt like horror movies were important again. Some folks tried to tell me that Battle Royale gave them the same feeling but for my money, this delirious bloodbath got under my flayed skin and stayed there.

(Had to do a screenshot. This movie has the worst poster/DVD art ever.)

#04 Mr. Vampire

I can’t believe I’m doing this. Somehow, Spooky Encounters starring the amazing Sammo Hung got knocked off this list by Mr. Vampire. I felt like I had to choose one kung-fu horror flick so I went with this one. If I made this list tomorrow, I’d probably do the opposite. There’s just something magical about Mr. Vampire. It makes me laugh really hard every time I watch it and there’s a lot to love about this splendorous film. Despite some its cheap make-up and cheesy effects, this kung-fu horror comedy flick is a classic thanks to its bevy of amazing stunts, big laughs, and a final showdown of epic proportions. Mr. Vampire is followed by an army of dry sequels and unworthy imitators. I can't really recommend any of the ones I've seen.

#03 Tomie: Replay

There are a whole bunch of Tomie movies. In fact, I just heard that the ninth in the series is being filmed right now. Tomie: Replay is not the best one. However, it is my favorite one. If you’ve never seen a Tomie film, don’t start with this one. I just really love the hospital setting and the sheer insanity of this flick. While Takashi Shimizu’s Tomie: Re-birth is the best of the series, Tomie: Replay wins my heart because it feels like a bad dream from start to finish. If you’re looking for something with a freaky mood, an unpredictable storyline, and horrific imagery, then check this out.

More about this here.

#02 Ichi the Killer

Ichi the Killer is one of the sickest films ever made but under the gore and the weirdness, there is a great deal of thought and imagination behind it all. Take a typical yakuza film plot and throw in hypnotism (I can’t stress how important this ingredient is), psychosexual trauma, sadomasochism, and enough blood to flood a small city, and you’ve got this film. The first time I saw Takashi Miike’s splatter classic, I was sick with the flu. Some friends stopped by and one of them was repulsed by what I was watching. He asked me to please turn the movie off. Through my feverish haze, I smiled at him and said, “No.” My friends left soon after that and I was left alone in my happy stupor. For gorehounds, Ichi the Killer is totally essential because it’s funny, disgusting, deeply sad, and smart.

#01 House AKA Hausu

I was in a rut. I wasn’t in one of those moods where I felt like I’d seen everything good there was to see (I’m not that stupid). No, I felt like all the movies I wanted to see were just beyond my grasp. It was either shell out $20 or more for bootlegs or just forget it. Then I was checking IFC’s schedule as I usually did every week to see if there was anything I wanted to record. And there it was: House. Not that friggin’ limping doctor show! House from 1977, a movie I had been reading about for years but had never been able to track down. And IF-fuckin’-C was just playing it out of the blue. I freaked out. I set my DVD recorder to record this fine flick and then told anyone who would listen to be sure NOT to miss this movie.

A few days later, the alarm went off and jumped out of bed to finalize the DVD-R of House. Sure enough, it was there. Work that day was agony. All I wanted to do was go home and watch the movie. When I finally did get home that afternoon, my wife and I sat down to watch what has become my favorite Asian horror film of all time. I lost track of how many times I had to push my eyes back into my dang head during this trippy, dreamy, riotous, and inexplicably wonderful masterpiece of weirdness. The Criterion DVD comes out this October. Buy it. Buy it. Buy it. Buy it.

More about this here.

Honorable Mentions and Runner-Ups

A Tale of Two Sisters
A Chinese Ghost Story
Eko Eko Azarak: Wizard of Darkness
Witch Board Bunshinsaba
Mermaid in a Manhole
Sick Nurses
Dark Water
Lao Mao AKA The Cat


  1. Great list, many of these I have yet to see. I love One Missed Call and Kairo. Tomie: Replay is my favorite of the series. And A Tale of Two Sisters would be at the top of my list.

  2. Awesome list, dude! Congrats on finishing up the Invasian, and I have to say that I enjoyed it very much (especially MY posts!) and found it to be quite informative. Thank you for covering some of the more obscure films that you did, because I probably wouldn't have heard of them otherwise. And yes, MR. VAMPIRE rocks the house.

  3. Hausu is one of my faves as well, such a great looking/atmospheric film. Ichi i'd class as a crime movie Audition would have to be 1st for me.

    Ive had 3 periods in my life Ive loved asian films. Around 12 with Bruce Lee kung fu movies, my late teens with John Woo actioners then asian horror in my 20's thanks to Audition.