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10. The Forbidden Door (2009, Indonesia)
A sculptor deals with his wife’s domination over their relationship while investigating a series of publicly written messages that seem to be directed at him personally. It’s very difficult to figure out where this movie is headed, and that unpredictability is one of the many positives here. The premise proves absorbing early on and doesn’t let go until the very end. The overall quality is professional, with a well-written script, good camerawork, and a powerhouse performance by the lead actor. As if that weren’t impressive enough, this goes on to contribute two absolutely amazing horror sequences that will burn themselves into the viewer’s brain. A fantastic, violent, and disturbing experience that should not be missed.
9. Marebito (2004, Japan)
This is a remarkably twisted and odd little film, directed by Takashi Shimizu, with strong philosophical and psychological concepts. Showcasing some very strange images involving blood, this movie does contribute an engaging storyline. A photographer (played by Shinya Tsukamoto) frees a beautiful woman chained to a rockface during his search for terror in the deep underground of Tokyo, only to later discover her abnormalities. Although highly recommended for its originality, the viewer is warned of high levels of ambiguity as well as impending imagery that is seriously freaky.
8. Abnormal Beauty (2004, China)
This dark film by the oft-criticized, underappreciated director Oxide Pang focuses heavily on the psychological condition of the lead character, a woman artist obsessed with capturing the moment of death via photography. A series of unnerving sequences are peppered throughout, and the final 30 minutes hit like a ton of bricks. The camera itself is used as a point of psychological exposition, with the positioning of the characters in relation to the camera being of pivotal significance. The characters who reside behind the camera (looking at others) are typically afflicted by detachment and fear of living, and it is very interesting to see the significance of having the camera turned against them. This is quite possibly the most underrated East Asian horror film of the decade.
7. Uzumaki (2000, Japan)
This unorthodox film is about a series of townspeople who are haunted by spiral patterns. The cinematography is well done, selectively using a green tinted hue. The direction and score are equally enjoyable. The lead actress is excellent, charismatic, and likeable. The death scenes are weirdly entertaining and otherworldly phenomena provide a refreshing experience. The pacing is deliberate and the cause of these bizarre events is somewhat ambiguous, but the atmosphere is thick and relentless. This is striking stuff that is essential viewing for anyone remotely interested in the horror genre.
6. Whispering Corridors 4: Voice (2005, Korea)
This installment is the strongest of the series. The rule system regarding the communication between the ghosts and humans is interesting, and is utilized well when everything comes together near the end of the film. There is limited (yet successful) use of special effects and the night time atmosphere is very good, using dark red lighting consistently. Everything about this movie screams quality, from the interesting storyline to the excellent acting to the effective, stylish horror elements. The scene that plays during the closing credits is something really special. This is a beautiful film that’s a posterchild for classy, first-class horror.
5. Diary (aka Mon seung) (2006, China)
Charlene Choi is a schizophrenic woman obsessed with another man (played by Shawn Yue) in this film by director Oxide Pang. The condition of schizophrenia is given ample attention and the script is exceedingly well-written and complex. The visuals are dark with limited (yet effective) use of CGI to communicate important events to the viewer. There are a lot of twists and turns within this originally structured storyline, but in the end they are all logical extensions when the film is studied and understood properly. The pacing is deliberately slow-burning to successfully develop the storyline, so patience is a virtue here. Choi gives a good, dark performance and carries the film from beginning to end. Probably my favorite Chinese horror film of all time.
4. Midnight Ballad for Ghost Theater (2006, Korea)
A girl visits a haunted movie theater and befriends a quirky family of dead amateur actors. There are some good Asian musicals floating around, but this one’s the best due to it’s fantastic musical interludes, moody architecture, high quality acting, unexpected plot turns, lovable characters, and soaring imagination. One unique element is the story’s utilization of a faux classic horror film about a bull-man, using traditional filmmaking methods and a live voiceover which leads to the film’s unique, satisfying finale. It’s impossible for a film to have more heart than this. Almost completely unknown, but absolutely phenomenal.
3. Noroi: The Curse (2005, Japan)
This is a documentary-style (first person perspective) film that follows a reporter who investigates a series of strange events and deaths that seem to be connected to one another. The elements concerning witchcraft are especially cool. Director Koji Shiraishi has crafted some absolutely terrifying scenes that give even the best horror movies a run for their money. Weird static interference, mysterious entities in the background, bizarre demonic possession supplemented with suicides, and an ending that will go down in history. Although similar to The Blair Witch Project in some respects, this film is more intelligent and has a greater variety of creepouts. The scariest movie I’ve seen in years, maybe ever.
2. Kairo (aka Pulse) (2001, Japan)
The city of Tokyo experiences an escalating number of suicides. The philosophical premise of this picture is nihilism expressed through loneliness. The superficial “connections” that one sustains with other people are conveyed as brittle, meaningless trivialities that shatter when confronted with the relentless isolation that exists on a much deeper level. There are no cheap scares in this picture, as it relies on disturbing, long-sustained images highlighted by awkward ghost movements. Classic scenes and imagery abound in this tour de force by director Kiyoshi Kurosawa.