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20. Faithless Hell (aka Living Death, aka Possessed) (2009, Korea)
A girl investigates the disappearance of her younger sister, who may have been involved with a religious cult. This is a measured, sound, and proficient film that eschews genre cliches and crafts some very unique, intense horror sequences involving occultism and a crane bird spirit. (No ghosts here.) The entirety of the events take place within an apartment complex, with emphasis on the mysterious behavior of the residents. There is some ambiguity, but this is creepy stuff with a refreshing aftertaste. A first-class horror film.
19. Alone (2007, Thailand)
A woman is tormented by the spirit of her dead siamese twin. The storylines are interesting, the acting is quality, and soundtrack is strong. Character development is also well done; this is especially important as it slowly and efficiently escalates the conflicts. There are some jump scares, but these are easily overpowered by a number of well-executed horror scenes. The ending is thrilling and cashes in on the preceding character development.
18. Sick Nurses (2007, Thailand)
After killing one of their own, a group of organ-stealing nurses pay the consequences. The characters are hyperbolized to the point where they are intrinsically interesting to watch (not to mention the fact that all of them are gorgeous Thai girls in scantily clad nurse uniforms) and they also add an element of black humor. Even the ghost herself shatters genre cliches with her obvious sadism and enjoyment in reaping vengeance. The main attractions, however, are the death scenes that arrive during the latter half. These are imaginative with impressive quantities of blood and a lot of fun to watch. There are one or two scenes with poor CGI, but this is an inventive horror film with frenetic pacing and excellent camerawork and lighting. Don’t listen to the haters. This is a whole lotta fun.
17. Phobia 2 (aka 4Bia 2) (2009, Thailand)
This is an impressive anthology of horror films. In “Novice” (30 minutes), a juvenile is sent to a monetary by his mother, but offends the local spirits. This has some nice karmic undertones, pretty forest environments, and a satisfying, unique ending. In “Ward” (15 minutes), a guy stays overnight in a hospital room with another mysterious man. This is watchable but hampered by way too many annoying jump scares and a predictable ending. “Backpackers” (25 minutes) is a very good British-style zombie flick that is far better than most Asian theatrical films in this genre. In “Salvage” (20 minutes), a used car saleswoman desperately looks for her missing child within the dealership’s parking lot. This is a non-stop thrill ride with well-crafted suspense, a creative scenario, and a fantastic ending. “In the End” (25 minutes) is a hilarious horror/comedy about the ghostly phenomena that occurs on the set of a horror film. This is easily the most impressive horror/comedy from Thailand due to its clever scriptwriting and witty dialogue.
16. Hansel and Gretel (2007, Korea)
After a car accident, a man finds shelter in the secluded home of three children. The cinematography and set designs are outstanding with seemingly endless parades of eye candy. The season is set in late autumn/early winter (which conveys a chilly mood) and Christmas visuals (lighting, decorations, clothing, etc.) run rampant throughout. This film relies heavily on a single primary conflict/scenario, and it pulls it off nicely with a well-written script, well-developed characters, and a surprisingly touching storyline. Many of the themes here have been seen elsewhere, but the manner in which they are presented feels refreshingly different. This is an excellent fairy tale horror film.
15. Retribution (2006, Japan)
A detective investigates a series of murders by drowning, while at the same time questioning his own possible involvement. Like his previous film (Loft), Kiyoshi Kurosawa focuses on the concept of memory, but aims an additional spotlight on abandonment. This time, however, the consequences that lie behind the motive for the killings reach far beyond the primary characters. The horror sequences themselves are nicely done and incorporate a variety of techniques. The ghost is very unique in her Siren-like nature and the ending is very satisfying. The pacing is glacial but there’s a lot here to enjoy for lovers of slow-burning horror. Often criticized by those who don’t bother to actually think about anything while watching it.
14. Strange Circus (2005, Japan)
This one is sick, weird, and perverted, yet exceedingly interesting and well-written. Directed by Sion Sono, the primary focus here is on sexual/psychological perversion as a consequence of abuse. One major negative is that (after the first half hour) this film abandons the spectacular imagery and symbolism that is used early on (i.e. the bright carnival amidst the pitch black night, the deep reddish sets, etc.), thus making the middle section of the film a bit bland in places. Luckily, there are plenty of twists and psychological elements to pull the film past the finish line. (This is one of the few Japanese horror films that actually provides a detailed explanation near the end.) The viewer beware that there is a lot of explicit sex and a few gory moments to be had, but they are essential to develop the underlying themes. The acting is also excellent all around. If this movie was made in Spain or France, we’d hear about it all the time.
13. Spider Forest (2004, Korea)
After a car accident, a man attempts to recollect his shattered psyche. This very haunting film is incredibly well made with an intelligent, mind-bending script. All in all, there is a complex and engaging storyline, numerous psychological concepts introduced throughout, and good cinematography. Despite being too ambiguous for its own good (good luck figuring it out), the structure of the universe created within this film is very unique, creating a disturbing experience that will provoke multiple viewings. Fans of David Lynch need to see this, immediately.
12. Nightmare Detective 2 (2008, Japan)
Ryuhei Matsuda returns as the dream traveler, this time offering assistance to a high school girl whose nightmarish visions are connected to his past. Director Shinya Tsukamoto exhibits a phenomenal patience that completely eliminates jump scares as he opts instead to build tension during long-lasting suspense sequences. The script is jam-packed with ambiguity from start to finish; while this may leave some viewers frustrated, it greatly accentuates the serrated structure of actual dreams. This is less conventional than the original film (despite a few appearances by the onryo ghost) and the psychological undertones are stronger. A well shot movie with great acting (Matsuda gives the most convincing performance of his career), a dreamy score, and a hypnotic mood. One of the rare occasions where a sequel surpasses it’s predecessor. (read full review)
11. Ju On: The Grudge 2 (2003, Japan)
Of all the films made to explore the onryo ghost spirit mythos, this one is the best due to its thoughtful screenplay and creative twists. There are many interconnecting events and foreshadowing devices used to great effect. The stories of Nori and Kyoko are great, contributing some of the best ghost sequences of the decade. The stories of Megumi, Keisuke, and Chiharu are also very well done. All in all, this film (directed by Takashi Shimizu) hits on all cylinders with a deep layer of dread and a number of truly memorable moments.