There is now a well-deserved interest in Korean cinema due to the release and success of Parasite and, most recently, Squid Game. In addition to making excellent thrillers, South Korea also seems to be particularly good at producing horror films. Many preconceptions about popular American horror films are at odds with the style of horror found in Korean cinema.
Instead of focusing on rapid cuts and jump scares, these movies explore the darkest recesses of the human brain, where sinister ideas sprout like toxic mushrooms. The following list will showcase the top horror movies produced in South Korea, including everything from ghost stories to vengeance thrillers.
Updated on May 18, 2023, by Jessie Nguyen:
Horror has always been a popular genre since viewers find the stressful and terrifying situations the characters are in to be a high to obtain. However, despite having a number of excellent films, Korean horror movies haven’t been particularly widely known by moviegoers. To change that, there are some best Korean horror movies for fans of the genre to entertain.
15 ‘Death Bell’ (2008)
The plot of Death Bell centers on the mass murder of 20 students in an elite class due to an obsession with accomplishment and a bribe paid to the teacher to secure a spot in the class. When a mysterious voice asks the students to complete a given exercise or else they will die one by one over the speaker, the death begins.
Death Bell creates a suffocating, dark atmosphere that haunts the viewer by using a variety of brutal techniques for murder as its excellent use of music. Despite containing all the essential components of a horror movie, the film also warns against South Korea’s fixation on academic success, where university exam failure is one of the leading causes of suicide. Moreover, the lead actress, Nam Gyu Ri, made an amazing acting debut with her performance, which gave her further opportunities in the profession.
14 The ‘Whispering Corridors’ Franchise (1998 – 2021)
Whispering Corridors was one of the most well-liked horror movies of the ’90s. Due to the first movie’s success in 1998, it received five additional parts, the most recent of which was released in 2021. As a result, it became one of the most popular South Korean girls’ school horror franchises.
Despite having several installments and taking place at all-girls high schools, the franchise never repeats its story or cast of characters, and each one stands solidly on its own. Additionally, the filmmakers explore and denounce the grave situation that South Korean students are in due to academic obsession and peer pressure, which was realistically and relatably depicted.
Watch on Kanopy
13 ‘The Evil Twin’ (2007)
The Evil Twin is about two girls falling into the water, but unfortunately, only So Yeon (Park Shin Hye) is saved, but she spends the next ten years in a coma. When she awakens, one by one those responsible for her sister’s death mysteriously vanishes, raising suspicion about her.
Park Shin Hye’s acting, in which she played two characters convincingly, must be the film’s high point. Additionally, the film’s excellent use of music, camera positions, and lighting is appropriate for the time period it is set in to help enhance the intense atmosphere and the suspense of the village residents as death approaches.
12 ‘Acacia’ (2003)
Acacia is a horror film directed by Park Ki-Hyung. The film is about a happy couple living in a city suburb who are unable to have children. Consequently, they visit the orphanage and adopt Jin-Seong (Mun Oh-Bin). However, after giving birth to their first child, the feeling for Jin-Seong progressively wanes, causing him to leave, and the unsettling occurrences begin, which all start with the acacia tree Jin-Seong used to play with.
The film’s soundtrack and stunning cinematography both enhance the tension-filled mood created by the story. In addition, the primary cast’s acting is outstanding, particularly Mun Oh-Bin, who gives a convincing and spooky performance as a child actor.
Watch on Kanopy
11 ‘Killer Toon’ (2013)
Kim Yong Gyun, who also directed The Red Shoes, is the first Korean director to make a movie with a webcomic concept named Killer Toon. The film centers on the well-known manga artist Ji-Yun (Lee Si-young), whose life was abruptly turned upside down by the mysterious suicide of her editor-in-chief. Soon after, a string of terrible killings happened, and how they were carried out was exactly as Ji-Yun had described, raising some serious questions.
Killer Toon has a built-in thinking process and a plot that brilliantly intertwines reality and fiction, which can significantly confuse viewers if they aren’t paying enough attention. Additionally, the film doesn’t contain many jump scares, but the exceptional utilization of cartoon techniques and effects heightens the brutality and frightfulness of each graphic scene.
Watch on Tubi
10 ‘The Red Shoes’ (2005)
The Red Shoes is a South Korean horror movie influenced by Hans Christian Andersen‘s 1845 tale of the same name. The film follows Sun-Jae (Kim Hye-Su), a young woman who had recently split up with her husband, who accidentally picks up a pair of cursed red shoes at the train station and spreads bad luck to everyone around her.
The movie’s success in fusing the two subgenres of supernatural horror and criminal investigation will keep viewers on edge the entire time. Moreover, the film’s use of color and music is a standout feature; they heighten the intensity of the scenes that call for it and cause spectators to suffocate alongside the characters. Lastly, the performance of the cast is also excellent.
9 ‘Cinderella’ (2006)
Despite the name, Bong Man-Dae’s Cinderella is not a South Korean rendition of a well-known fairy tale. The film revolves around Hyun Soo’s (Shin Se Kyung) family, who runs a small, inexpensive plastic surgery practice. As a result, Hyun Soo’s friends came to her house to change her appearance since they trusted her. After that, several mysterious events happen that seem related to her childhood.
The movie is unafraid to criticize South Korea’s overuse of plastic surgery and all of its negative effects by cleverly using sharp camera angles and haunting lighting and colors. Despite a few story holes, the movie succeeds in its genre thanks to its original and creative approach. The cast’s incredible acting is also a highlight.
8 ‘The Medium’ (2021)
The Medium is a Thai & South Korean mockumentary supernatural horror film that follows a documentary team who goes to Thailand’s Isan region to interview Nim (Sawanee Utoomma), a medium and shaman who says she is possessed by the soul of the local goddess Ba Yan. However, whoever possesses Nim might not be the goddess they claim.
The Medium is not recommended for those who are easily scared, and it pays homage to modern horror classics like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. The film is an excellent illustration of spine-tingling horror with a strong concentration on expressing terror, superb lead performances, a disciplined sense of pacing, and an eerie atmosphere that will undoubtedly have audiences on the edge of their seats.
Watch on Prime Video
7 ‘Thirst’ (2009)
Based loosely on Émile Zola‘s Thérèse Raquin, published in 1867, Thirst follows Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho), a priest employed by a hospital, who selflessly donates his body to a covert operation to create a vaccine to combat a fatal illness. However, the priest finally becomes infected by the virus, but thanks to an unintentional infusion of vampire blood, he miraculously survives.
Thirst manages to be a unique examination of vampires that floats above an ocean of its predecessors while being heartbreaking, humorous, erotic, scary, and even lovely at moments. Moreover, through the use of humor that seems out of place, director Park Chan-wook is able to avoid many of the tropes associated with this subgenre.
6 ‘The Call’ (2020)
The Call debuted in 2020 and is based on the 2011 Hollywood film The Caller. The movie centers on a young woman who receives a call from a strange woman alleging that she is being tortured upon arriving at her abandoned childhood house. It is learned that the phone call was made from the same home, only 20 years earlier.
The storyline combines fantasy, horror, and drama, making for a compelling and enjoyable viewing experience. The mood of The Call is one of sheer psychological dread, even if there are no jump scares or other typical horror movie clichés. Additionally, the cast’s equally outstanding performance is another highlight.
Watch on Netflix
5 ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’ (2003)
A Tale of Two Sisters, a South Korean psychological horror-drama movie, was inspired by a folktale from the Joseon Dynasty. The film follows a recently discharged patient from a mental institution with her sister, only to encounter her stepmother and the spirits who haunt the house, which all have ties to the family’s troubled past.
The best words to characterize A Tale of Two Sisters are dark, somber, and depressing, thus, Hollywood decided to recreate it under the name The Uninvited, starring Emily Browning and Arielle Kebbel. In addition, the movie is rather upsetting because of its use of color and music, which is a little different from the majority of horror films that we typically encounter. The surprise ending may also impress many viewers.
Watch on Kanopy
4 ‘Bedevilled’ (2010)
Bedevilled follows a woman from Seoul who brought her daughter back to the remote island where she was born due to severe discrimination. Unfortunately, Yeon Hee, Bok Nam’s (Seo Yeong-hie) daughter, was ruthlessly murdered.
The film is quite nihilistic, and depressing, and deals with some uncomfortable subjects. That being said, it stands head and shoulders above its contemporaries as a horror film and offers unrelenting gore and violence in addition to an exciting experience that will thrill any fan of the genre. Moreover, while some films feature gratuitous and pointless violence, Bedevilled explains its gruesome scenes by making them the outcome of an emotionally painful and convincing plot.
Watch on Hiyah
3 ‘The Closet’ (2020)
The Closet follows a father (Ha Jung-woo) who tries to rebuild his life with his daughter in a new home after losing his wife. However, after his kid goes missing and odd noises come from the closet, things become weird.
The most intriguing aspect of first-time filmmaker Kim Kwang-bin‘s movie is not its plot but rather how he creates this horror voyage with conventional fright effects that nonetheless feel fresh and powerful. It’s uncommon to find a horror film that manages to be both legitimately frightful and heartbreaking, but The Closet does so with confidence.
2 ‘Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum’ (2018)
Based on the same-named mental health facility in actual life, Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum follows the cast of a horror web series that visits an abandoned asylum for a live broadcast. As it makes its way further inside the terrifying old structure, it quickly runs into much more than it had anticipated.
Despite using the same effective route that The Blair Witch Project has taken place since 1999, Gonjiam still works well with its wonderful blending of fact and fiction. Additionally, Gonjiam is almost entirely free of blood or gore; instead, it gets its shivers through amazingly eerie settings and believable performances from a cast that is virtually undiscovered.
Watch on Roku
1 ‘The Host’ (2006)
From Parasite’s director, Bong Joon-ho, The Host begins when a little girl is abducted from her father by an unknown enormous beast that emerges from the Han River to wreak havoc on Seoul. Thus, the entire family goes out to find the terrifying monster and return the young girl to their house.
The Host provides an insightful peek into South Korea’s soul and is another standout effort in Bong’s filmmaking because of its many skillfully designed layers of social critique. The movie is also a monster movie that aficionados of the genre will like, and it is a strong contender in this genre, demonstrating how South Korea is capable of growing its industry.
Watch on HBO Max
NEXT: The Best Korean Movies on Netflix Right Now