The success and popularity of modern K-Horror is no accident. There’s a stylish uniqueness, filmic intelligence, violent intensity and genuine chilling-ness that come with the genre. So if you’re in the mood for a fright night, can’t decide which scary movie to watch and feel a bit confused by top 10 lists and star ratings, why not use our introductory guide to pick a K-horror that suits your taste?
A Tale of Two Sisters (장화, 홍련), Kim Ji-woon, 2003
In brief: After spending time in a mental institute, Su-mi returns to her quiet little sister Su-Yeon, evasive father and scary stepmother at their creepy lakeside home. Playing the role of the protective older sibling, she does her best to battle her stepmother’s evil nature and the constant family tension, yet finds herself confronted with nightmares, hauntings and unexplained glimpses of the past.
Type of horror: Psychological, mysterious, dramatic, hormonal, ghostly.
Perfect for: Puzzle solvers, cinematography buffs, twisted-fairytale fans.
The Host (괴물), Bong Joon-Ho, 2006
In brief: The Park family’s simple humdrum life is turned upside down when a terrifying monster materialises from the Han River to reap havoc and destruction across Seoul. When the youngest family member schoolgirl Hyun-seo is stolen away, they begin their campaign for retribution.
Type of horror: Creature feature, terrifying, comical, satirical, action-packed.
Perfect for: Thrill seekers, CGI enthusiasts, those who love well-developed characters.
Death Bell (고사), Yoon Hong-Seung, 2008
n brief: A keen high school class’ exam fears are amplified beyond belief when students disappear one-by-one, to meet their grisly end to a mysterious killer. The remaining pupils wait in dread as an anonymous voice on the PA commands them to correctly solve cryptic exam questions in order to stay alive.
Type of horror: Gory, thrilling, graphic, murderous, torturous.
Perfect for: Fans of the “gorno” sub-genre, problem solvers, anyone studying for their exams.
Hansel and Gretel (헨젤과 그레텔), Yim Pil-Sung, 2007
In brief: Likeable guy-next-door Eun-soo crashes his car on a dark country road, and awakens to the eerie presence of a cloaked girl who leads him through a spooky forest to her family home “The House of Happy Children”. The bright colours, children’s smiles and uncanny “happy family” façade don’t last long, and Eun-soo soon finds himself trapped in a mystifying, illusionary world.
Type of horror: Supernatural, fantastical, surreal, unnerving, claustrophobic.
Perfect for: Appreciators of fairytale imagery, intricate mise-en-scene and complex storylines.
Memento Mori (여고괴담 두번째 이야기), Kim Tae-Yong, Min Kyu-Dong, 1999
In brief: A diary found by school girl Min-ah reveals the innermost secrets of fellow adolescents’ Hyo-shin and Shi-eun’s lesbian relationship, evoking more than just ghosts of the past. Min-ah is soon at the centre of strange goings on in the school, but is too compelled to leave the diary alone.
Type of horror: Ghostly, hormonal, sexual, chastising, supernatural.
Perfect for: Fans of romance, ‘Coming of age’ and LGBT films.
Thirst (박쥐), Park Chan-wook, 2009
In brief: Things take a turn for the worse for devout priest Sang-hyun when he selflessly volunteers for a medical experiment, but contracts a fatal virus. A blood transfusion revives him, but also morphs him into a blood-thirsty and flesh-hungry vampire with desires and needs that he never imagined he would be capable of having.
Type of horror: Vampire, thrilling, dark, black-comedic, disturbing.
Perfect for: Those with a penchant for the macabre and controversial, seeking a fresh take on the “vampire” formula.
The Red Shoes (분홍신), Kim Yong-gyun, 2005
In brief: After leaving her cheating husband and moving into a new apartment with her daughter, Sun-jae happens upon a pair of pink high-heeled shoes on a subway platform, and brings them home with her. Along with their striking aesthetic and irresistible allure, these “red shoes” bring inevitably cursed, grim and bloody consequences.
Type of horror: Chilling, ghostly, supernatural, gory, corporeal.
Perfect for: Style aficionados, imagery enthusiasts, shoe-shopping addicts.
I Saw the Devil (악마를 보았다), Kim Ji-woon, 2010
In brief: When special agent Soo-hyeon Kim’s fiancée is found to have been brutally murdered by sick psycho Kyung-Chul, he makes it his personal mission to turn the killer’s life into a living hell. As Kyung-Chul pursues his devilish ways, Soo-hyeon retaliates with torturous punishments, revealing a twisted evil within him.
Type of horror: Psychopathic, murderous, violent, vengeful, thrilling.
Perfect for: Action junkies, fans of the serial killer motif, those drawn to extremely violent movies.
Cinderella (신데렐라), Bong Man-dae, 2006
In brief: Plastic surgeon Yoon-hee is a talking point amongst her teenage daughter Hyeon-su’s image-obsessed friends. As the girls face ghostly apparitions, blood-stained incidences and blurred identities, it all points towards something lurking in the basement.
Type of horror: Corporeal, surgical, shocking, haunting, psychological.
Perfect for: Anyone interested in commentary on plastic surgery, the mother / daughter relationship theme or the “onryo” style.
Cello (첼로), Lee Woo-cheol, 2005
In brief: Music teacher Mi-ju is haunted by the terrible death of her best friend while dealing with work and family pressures. Ghostly occurrences envelop her house and family with the arrival of an eerie housekeeper, her daughter’s newly founded obsession with the cello, and fatal outcomes.
Type of horror: Chilling, unnerving, haunting, psychological, devastating.
Perfect for: Ghost story fanatics, music lovers, freaking yourself out on your birthday.
Although this short guide ends here, countless other ingenious Korean horror films have enchanted and terrified critics and audiences alike with their creativity, originality, rawness and wit. There are definite recurring themes: fairytales, vengeance, families, school girls, flashbacks, a guilty past, plot twists and copious amounts of blood being some of the most obvious. However K-Horror continues to diversify, develop and delight. With the hype surrounding this year’s omnibus movie Horror Stories (무서운 이야기), we can’t wait for our next scare… if we can bring ourselves out from behind the duvet, that is! Dare to scare, and let us know which K-horrors we should be brave enough not to miss…