To get right to the point, I discovered why Asian horror is – at least in my opinion – the best in the world during my very first experience of an Asian horror film. I went to see A Tale of Two Sisters at the cinema with a couple of friends. It was one of those sought-after cinema experiences where there is barely anyone else in the screen and no one is eating smelly/noisy food…
I soon settled down into my seat and waited. And I was scared. I mean this film was creepy, unsettling and had the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. I kept imagining a creature crawling through the darkness of the cinema screen and appearing beside my chair. Seeing this film really did open my mind to the wonder of Asian horror, and set me down a road of discovery.
My next experience was watching Ringu. I found that now iconic scene — when Sadako crawls out of the TV set — so terrifying that my friend and I clung to each other in silent, abject horror. I don’t think we could even breathe.
The effects in this scene make Sadako’s transition from video tape to the real world completely effortless. You really have to commend the filmmakers in achieving such a desired effect. The American remake relied on using fuzzy, jumpy images, which are nowhere near as effective. Strike one to the Japanese version for sure. We were so relieved when the film finished. That is until my telephone rang…
Innovation, not repetition
I find that Asian horror rarely relies on gore alone to shock its audiences, which I’m also a huge fan of. Most of the films they produce rely on incredibly creative, freaky characters, sometimes in impossible and unexpected positions (under the refrigerator in A Tale of Two Sisters, under the duvet in The Grudge or sitting on your shoulders in Shutter). All of which cause you (well, at least me) to keep the lights on at bedtime and sing to yourself in the shower to feel safer.
They are also pretty versatile when it comes to choosing the methods to scare the pants off you with. For example, in Battle Royale, schoolkids are taken to an island and told that in order to survive, they have to kill their classmates. You watch in horror as basic animal instincts take over these young, fragile minds and you genuinely question what you would do in such a situation.
The psychological turmoil and bloodshed are played out with real style and depth. The American equivalent, The Hunger Games, decided to shy away from the real darkness of the situation, in order to chase the “family dollar” at the box office.
Audition also sticks in your mind, mostly because of the piano wire scene. But it also gets you to really consider the baseness of the human condition. A man abuses his power by setting up a fake audition for a film, in order to meet a potential new wife. He chooses Asami who, as it turns out, is not a very nice girl. It makes you think about how well we ever really know anyone, and how as a race we seem to be capable of committing horrendous acts without really batting an eyelid.
Over the years Asian horror has grown in strength, popularity and versatility. Even such films as EXTE (hair extensions that attack the women who wear them) may be laughed off as a ridiculous premise, but the films covers the extremely real topic of black market human organ racketeering. You are even made to feel sympathy for some of the characters who are who they are due to their appalling treatment by those who should have cared for them, such as Su-Yeon in A Tale of Two Sisters and Natre in Shutter.
Asian horror deserves the utmost kudos for scaring the crap out of horror fans with really scary, unique and devastating characters, all while teaching us about the intricacies of the human condition. Long may it continue!
By Catherine Dunn (@toodamncat)
Want to join one of the fastest-growing horror communities in the UK for FREE? Now you can. Click here to become a member of The London Horror Society