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7 Asian Horror Films for Your Halloween Movie Night

From Netflix to Hulu to more specialized services like FilmStruck and Shudder, streaming offers a diverse wonderland of films to fit any holiday needs.
Image: Katsuo Nakamura holds head in grief in a scene from the film \"Kwaidan.\"
Katsuo Nakamura holds head in grief in a scene from the film "Kwaidan."Toho / Michael Ochs Archives- Getty Images

If you’re trying to binge on horror before Halloween hits, don’t fret: there’s plenty to choose from. From Netflix to Hulu to more specialized services like FilmStruck and the horror-centric Shudder, streaming offers a diverse wonderland of films to fit any holiday needs. Even sticking to Asian horror films can lead to a rich and varied horror gorge.

Below you can find some of the scariest movies from the planet’s largest continent:

A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

The South Korean film renaissance was one of the great treats of the early 2000s. The nation’s exciting cinema had been all but killed in the ’70s, thanks to pesky government interference. It took till the turn of the century to rebuild, but when it did, there was an explosion of talented and hungry filmmakers, ready to put their unique spins on the thriller, the drama, the comedy and, yes, the horror movie.

Along with “The Host” (see below), one of the era’s many treats was Kim Jee-woon’s “A Tale of Two Sisters.” A twisty twist on the ghost movie, it follows a young girl, Im Soo-jung, returning home from a stay in a mental institution. Then things get weird. It appears the family home is haunted, but by whom? The big end reveal isn’t just a shock; it’s deeply upsetting, an emotional gut-punch. It’s a major film from a major talent — and, of course, the inevitable Hollywood remake, “The Uninvited,” was so minor you probably forgot it happened, and might be surprised it co-starred Elizabeth Banks and David Strathairn. (Streams on Shudder)

The Host (2006)

The first time you get a peek at the big creature in “The Host,” it’s a classic “did I just see that?” moment. It happens out of nowhere, for one. For another, what is it? Sort of reptilian yet kind of fishy, with a mouth of fangs that splits open four-ways like an origami fortune teller. It looks like no monster ever put on screen before. Likewise, “The Host” is like no creature feature ever made. That’s what South Korean director Bong Joon-ho does: He makes Hollywood-ish crowd-pleasers (see also: “Snowpiercer” and “Okja”), but he does them his way — and his way is highly eccentric: big yet character-driven, populist yet angry, even political, and able to switch between scares, big laughs, and deep emotion without breaking a sweat. The best compliment you can give “The Host” is, unlike some films on this list, Hollywood has never figured out how to badly remake it. (Streams on Netflix, Hulu and Shudder)

Pulse (2001)

In the late ’90s, the once mighty horror film was sorely in need of an adrenaline shot. It got it — and it wasn’t thanks to Hollywood. Dubbed “J-Horror,” Japan’s frightfests took the globe by storm, freaking out viewers with tales of angry spirits with convoluted plans, creepy girls with long black hair, and suspense set pieces that never seemed to end. They don’t all age well; today, even “Ringu” is like that band you can’t believe you liked as a teenager. (Ditto its American remake, “The Ring.”)

The ones that do hold up tend to be made by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, the movement’s finest technician and most versatile talent. (He’s also directed plenty of dramas, including the Oscar-nominated “Tokyo Sonata,” as well as last year’s creepy film “Creepy.”) With “Cure,” “Charisma,” and especially “Pulse,” Kurosawa made thinking person’s horror films, which is to say they’re as brainy as they are unnerving. “Pulse” may not sound smart; it is, after all, about ghosts haunting the Internet. (Its own U.S. redo, with Kristen Bell, was predictably moronic.) But Kurosawa knows how to terrify through sheer force of will. What’s more, his vision of a connected future in which everyone acts like a zombie who can’t tear themselves away from their screens sure came true something fierce. (Streams on Shudder)

Kwaidan (1962)

Japan has always been one of the key hotspots for horror, and no wonder: The nation takes its ghosts very, very seriously. The spirits that haunt their scary stories, from folk tales to movies, aren’t only there for frights; they represent the painful past that has never been fully addressed by the present. So it goes with the Japanese horrors of the ’50s and ’60s, which stand as some of the spookiest and saddest movies ever made.

Three from this storied period can be streamed on the cinephilic FilmStruck, all of them about horror as manifestations of deep psychological trauma. In “Onibaba,” women murder soldiers while wearing freaky masks that deform the wearer’s face. “Kuroneko” is a most gorgeous and poetic tale of vengeful ghouls. Then there’s the Mount Everest of Japanese ghost movies: “Kwaidan,” an anthology of four tales, each told with loving care. Director Masaki Kobayashi is lauded for anguished dramas like “Harakiri” and his epic trilogy “The Human Condition,” and he brings the same deep feeling and gift for arresting images to bear on stories of dead wives, vengeful yokais and entire armies that haunt from beyond the grave. (Streams on FilmStruck)

V/H/S 2 (2013)

No slight on the other three shorts in this found footage horror anthology number, but for these purposes we’ll need you to skip right to the third one. That’s when you get to the mini by Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans. The latter is the mastermind of the “Raid” movies — Indonesia’s most outlandish and tirelessly violent action extravaganzas. Evans’ take on the horror film does not disappoint. It shows a documentary crew that sneaks into the compound of an Indonesian cult, unaware that their alleged supernatural powers are all too real. It’s one bloody monster mash after another, every herky-jerk turn of the camera revealing a new hungry ghoul. (Streams on Netflix and Hulu)

The "Raaz" films (2002-2016)

Too often, Asian horror talk is dominated by the films from the East. But if a nation has a healthy film industry, you better believe they’re making horror movies. No shock, then, that Indian cinema — which still bests Hollywood in number of films made annually as well as homegrown popularity — has more than its fair share. Subscribe to the Heera channel on Amazon Prime, and you can gorge on a grab-bag of Hindi horror. If it’s an introduction you need, try the hugely popular “Raaz” series, which began in 2002 and is still going strong. Only the first, second and fourth entries are available to stream, which should be enough to get you into a series that begins as a knock-off of Robert Zemeckis’ “What Lies Beneath”: A woman (Bipasha Basu) is haunted by a ghost, which may have something to do with her questionable husband (Dino Morea). And since this is Bollywood, don’t think that you won’t get musical numbers mixed into the boo scares. (Streams on Amazon Prime through Heera)

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

Technically, cinema’s first Iranian feminist vampire Western romance is American, shot in Nowhere, California. Still, Persian is still the only language spoken, on the few occasions anyone bothers to speak at all. It sounds like simple Midnight Movie fare, following a chador-clad hipster (Sheila Vand) as she skulks (and sometimes skateboards) around a desolate Iranian village, looking for love and felling any man who tries to oppress her. But director Ana Lily Amirpour hasn’t made a simple genre grinder. Here and in her Keanu Reeves- and Jim Carrey-featuring follow-up “The Bad Batch,” Amirpour loves to mix high and lowbrow, making a mood piece that’s as happy hanging with its heroine as she grooves to ’80s synth pop as it is watching her take on The Man. (Streams on Amazon Prime, but you’ll have to pay $3.99)

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