Korean cinema has been on an upward trajectory lately, for instance with Parasite’s win at the Oscars. Horror happens to be one of Korean cinema’s strongest genres; there are numerous Korean horror films that appeal to a broad range of tastes and easily beat Hollywood’s offerings.
To help you separate wheat from chaff, we’ve put together this list of The 13 Best Korean Horror Movies.
In this list of top Korean horror movies, we’ve curated selections that represent a variety of sub-genres. Action horror, psychological horror, monster horror, zombie horror, found footage, and more are all fair game. Even if you don’t enjoy jump scares, there’s something for you.
We also geared this list towards films that allow you to learn more about Korean culture and society—in line with Cinema Escapist’s stance on exploring the social and political context of movies. Furthermore, we’ve included streaming links for those movies that are available on common streaming platforms like Netflix or Amazon Prime (regional availability varies).
Let’s take a look at the best horror films Korea has to offer!
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13. Hide and Seek
Korean title: 숨바꼭질 | Released: 2013 | Horror Sub-Genre: Mystery, Thriller | Starring: Son Hyun-joo, Moon Jung-hee, Jeon Mi-seon
We begin our list of top Korean horror movies with Hide and Seek. This horror mystery was a surprise hit that topped South Korea’s box office upon its opening, despite not having high profile stars.
Hide and Seek centers on a father named Seong-soo who lives a comfortable life with a picture-perfect family. One day, Seong-su learns that his estranged older brother has gone missing. He goes to his brother’s apartment, and discovers strange symbols carved into the door; he also meets a woman named Joo-hee who claims to know his brother and fearfully claims that someone is spying on her.
A creepy, suspenseful series of revelations and chase sequences ensues. Hide and Seek keeps you on the seat of your pants throughout its entire runtime, and has a distinctively understated tone that tastefully subverts many of the horror genre’s tired cliches.
12. Death Bell
Korean title: 고死: 피의 중간고사 | Released: 2008 | Horror Sub-Genre: Thriller | Starring: Lee Beom-soo, Yoon Jung-hee, Nam Gyu-ri
Death Bell depicts one of the most nerve-wracking parts of Korean life: test-taking. In this horror thriller, a group of elite high school students are prepping for their college exams. However, students start disappearing and dying in gruesome manners. A mysterious voice over the loudspeaker tells the remaining students that leaving the school portends death; the only way they might survive is by answering test questions they’re given. It’s like Saw, but hagwon-style.
Besides slick visuals and an entertainingly high-tension plot, Death Bell’s exam-centered premise seems like a stark reflection of the South Korean psyche. In reality, South Korea’s college entrance exam can seem like a life or death affair, enough for the government to shut down air traffic when it’s administered once per year so aircraft noise doesn’t distract students. Intense academic pressure leads many South Korean students to consider taking their own lives as well.
11. Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum
Korean title: 곤지암 | Released: 2018 | Horror Sub-Genre: Found Footage | Starring: Park Ji-hyun, Mun Ye-won
Our next top Korean horror movie is a found footage flick: Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum. This movie has a pretty apt title; it centers on a group of YouTubers who decide to explore an abandoned psychiatric hospital. As you might expect: creepy supernatural occurrences start happening, and the YouTubers find themselves scared stiff as the situation deteriorates.
If you’re into found footage, supernatural creepiness, and jump scares, Gonjiam contains all those elements. The film is also based on a real location: the Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital in Gwangju, which CNN named as one the 10 freakiest places in the world. Gonjiam will keep you on your toes, even if you’ve watched many other found footage movies.
Korean title: 알 포인트 | Released: 2004 | Horror Sub-Genre: War, Action, Psychological | Starring: Kam Woo-sung, Son Byong-ho
Many in the English-speaking world don’t know that South Korea participated in the Vietnam War alongside America. As a result, similar to the US, South Korea also makes Vietnam War movies. R-Point is one of these movies.
In R-Point, a group of South Korean soldiers near Nha Trang receive a distress call from a missing platoon that everyone thought was dead. A squad of nine soldiers sets off to rescue the platoon, but encounter a tombstone that leads to a series of mysterious and creepy events.
Those who don’t normally watch horror movies but enjoy war movies might appreciate R-Point’s cross-genre appeal. Die-hard horror movie fans may similarly enjoy R-Point’s novelty: Vietnam War horror films aren’t super common, especially Korean ones. The premise isn’t R-Point’s only selling point though: it has an intelligently written story, well-shot visuals, and offers a valuable non-American perspective on a conflict whose traumas still afflict South Korea to this day.
By the way—if you want more Korean war movies, check out our list of the top 15.
Korean title: 김복남 살인사건의 전말 | Released: 2010 | Horror Sub-Genre: Thriller, Revenge | Starring: Seo Young-hee, Ji Sung-won
If you’re looking for a more horror-tinged, female-centric counterpart to Oldboy, consider Bedevilled. This revenge horror thriller was an unexpected box office success upon its premiere in 2010, and offers a captivatingly unique narrative.
Bedevilled centers on a woman named Bok-nam who lives on a small, isolated island off South Korea’s southern coast. Life isn’t great: her husband abuses her, and the other islanders harbor regressive social attitudes and constantly berate her. The only light in Bok-nam’s life is Yeon-hee, her young daughter.
However, unlike other vengeance movies (ex. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance), Bedevilled isn’t told from Bok-man’s perspective as the avenger. Instead, we see the story through the eyes of Hae-won, a distant friend of Bok-man’s who at first seems to have nothing to do with Bok-man’s miseries. As the movie progresses in a satisfyingly slow-burn manner, we dive deeper into Bok-man’s pitch-black psyche and learn more about Hae-won’s relationship with her.
Beyond unique storytelling technique, Bedevilled offers a dark look at stiflingly conservative social attitudes that persist in some parts of South Korea. It feels reminiscent of other female-centric narratives in socially claustrophobic settings, for example 2014’s A Girl At My Door and 2019’s Kim Ji-young, Born 1982.
8. The Wailing
Korean title: 곡성 | Released: 2016 | Horror Sub-Genre: Mystery, Thriller | Starring: Kwak Do-won, Hwang Jung-min, Chun Woo-hee
We go from islands to mountains with The Wailing, another Korean horror film that occurs in an isolated setting. After a mysterious Japanese stranger arrives in the mountainous village of Gokseong, unsettling events begin happening. Exhausted police officer Jong-goo has been investigating violent murders around the village, and begins to think there’s a connection with the Japanese stranger.
Amidst well-filmed natural scenery, The Wailing creates a palpable sense of dread and blends numerous frightening phenomena without seeming overwrought. We see zombie-esque behaviors, plague-esque symptoms, exorcisms blending traditional Korean shamanism and Christianity, and more. Paranoia heightens as the people of Gokseong desperately try to piece together the horror occuring around them.
Those with a more sociological and international relations-centric mindset will also find The Wailing an interesting reflection of Korean perceptions of Japan. Through its purported villain, The Wailing conveys a strong distrust of Japanese. This parallels real life Korea-Japan tensions that continue to flare up to this day and find their way into numerous other Korean films.
7. Save the Green Planet!
Korean title: 지구를 지켜라! | Released: 2003 | Horror Sub-Genre: Torture, Dark Comedy, Sci-Fi | Starring: Shin Ha-kyun, Baek Yoon-sik
Save the Green Planet! Is one of the most disturbing Korean movies in existence—no small feat given everything else you see on this list. Although the movie’s title might make it seem like some sort of happy-go-lucky environmentalist story, it’s anything but.
A raucous combination of dark comedy, sci-fi, and torture horror, Save The Green Planet! centers on a young man named Lee Byeong-gu who thinks aliens from the Andromeda Galaxy are about to attack Earth. In order to “save the green planet,” he kidnaps the CEO of a factory he used to work for; he thinks the CEO is an alien royal. Together with his girlfriend, Lee proceeds to gruesomely torture the CEO against the uplifting soundtrack of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”
Obviously, some guy who tortures people atop his mountain hideout and thinks aliens exist isn’t exactly sane—or is he? Beyond gut-wrenching yet well-acted torture scenes, Save the Green Planet! blends crazy suspense and subversions of reality to keep audiences on their toes. Watching this movie requires a strong stomach—but it’s a satisfyingly chilling ride.
Read our full review to learn more about Save the Green Planet!
6. I Saw the Devil
Korean title: 악마를 보았다 | Released: 2010 | Horror Sub-Genre: Thriller, Serial Killer | Starring: Lee Byung-hun, Choi Min-sik
Even though Oldboy isn’t on this list (given no major film databases classify it under “horror”), its influence keeps coming up. Vengeance seemingly seeps through all corners of Korean cinema, and I Saw the Devil is another exceptional revenge-themed horror film.
In this film, steely actor Lee Byung-hun (from A Bittersweet Life) stars alongside Choi Min-sik—who cinephiles may recognize as the lead actor of Oldboy. Choi plays a serial killer and rapist named Jang Kyung-chul who preys upon women, while Lee plays an intelligence agent named Kim Soo-hyun. One day, Jang gruesomely slaughters Lee’s fiance. A distraught Lee vows revenge—and uses all the spy tools at his disposal to enact slow, sweet justice upon Jang. However, Jang isn’t so easy to catch—and Lee starts getting more than he bargained for.
I Saw the Devil contains superb action scenes in addition to bone-chilling gore. The body count in this movie is high, and there are numerous plot twists that will make your stomach churn. Lee and Choi offer excellent performances, showing how both their characters begin to descend into madness as the blood flows.
Korean title: 박쥐 | Released: 2009 | Horror Sub-Genre: Vampire, Thriller | Starring: Song Kang-ho, Kim Ok-bin, Kim Hae-sook
Park Chan-wook, the director of Oldboy, also made one of South Korea’s most renowned horror films: Thirst. This vampire-themed horror thriller won the prestigious Jury Prize at 2009’s Cannes Film Festival, and enjoyed box office success upon its wide release.
In Thirst, a Catholic priest (played by veteran actor Song Kang-ho) named Sang-hyun volunteers for an unsuccessful vaccine trial that leaves him with cravings for human blood. To satisfy his bloodlust, Sang-hyun first steals blood transfusion packs—but then resorts to stronger measures as his bloodlust intensifies.
What’s even more interesting about Thirst is how it blends the themes of bloodlust with regular lust. Song Kang-ho and lead actress Kim Ok-bin provide stirring, intense performances that pair with gorgeously stylized visuals to tell a story that’s both chilling and thought provoking. On top of that, director Park layers pleasingly dark humor and moments of absurdity that further draw audiences in. Thirst isn’t your average vampire film—it’s something more, better than anything Hollywood’s made in recent memory.
4. Tale of Two Sisters
Korean title: 장화, 홍련 | Released: 2003 | Horror Sub-Genre: Mystery | Starring: Im Soo-jung, Moon Geun-young, Yum Jung-ah
Inspired by a folktale from the Joseon Dynasty, A Tale of Two Sisters is another chilling, top-notch Korean horror film that enjoyed both box office and critical success. The film centers on a girl named Su-mi who returns to her family’s isolated country house after receiving treatment at a mental institution. There, Su-mi reunites with her younger sister Su-yeon. The two sisters have a close relationship, but Su-mi feels animosity towards her stepmother Eun-joo.
Su-mi begins to have nightmares about her mother’s ghost, and starts suspecting Eun-joo of being abusive towards Su-yeon. The family begins to unravel as further ghosts and mysteries come into view.
A Tale of Two Sisters is fantastically moody in tone and visuals. There’s a palpable sense of eeriness combined with chilling suspense, and the cast (including child actors for the girls) performs superbly. A stirring soundtrack further complements the film by adding a sense of wistful melancholy that few “traditional” horror movies have.
3. Train to Busan
Korean title: 부산행 | Released: 2016 | Horror Sub-Genre: Zombie, Action | Starring: Gong Yoo, Ma Dong-seok, Jung Yu-mi
Fans of zombie horror movies cannot miss Train to Busan. This 2016 zombie epic is one of the most popular and entertaining Korean movies of all time.
In Train to Busan, a father takes his estranged daughter on a high speed rail trip from Seoul to the southern city of Busan. As they leave Seoul, however, a zombie outbreak happens—and a zombie gets onto the train. The father, daughter, and other passengers must fight against encroaching zombies as their train hurtles towards the unknown.
Besides excellent action sequences, Train to Busan also contains well-crafted characters that get properly developed. It’s the rare kind of zombie and horror movie that entertains you with fights, but also makes you cry out of empathy with characters. On top of that, the film contains well-placed commentary on social inequality. Train to Busan was such a critical and commercial success that a sequel named Peninsula is getting made.
To learn more about Train to Busan, read our comprehensive review!
2. Seoul Station
Korean title: | Released: 2016 | Horror Sub-Genre: Zombie, Animation | Starring: Ryu Seung-ryong, Shim Eun-kyung, Lee Joon
It’s easier to introduce Seoul Station after discussing Train to Busan. This film is an animated prequel to Train to Busan that might be less well-known, but is arguably more horrifying and compelling.
Even more so than Train to Busan, Seoul Station digs into the darkness of human nature. The film begins with a surly father searching for his daughter, who’s become a prostitute. Amidst this search, zombies begin to infect Seoul. As the situation unravels, the father finds his daughter’s boyfriend; the two battle each other and zombies as the search continues and hidden secrets about each character slowly emerge.
While Train to Busan still contains some hopeful notes, Seoul Station is bleak. It dives deep into the underclasses of society—homeless people, sex workers, hopeless youth—and stays in the abyss. This film might be an animation that talks about zombies, but it highlights some very real problems in the world.
To us, Seoul Station evokes the desolate poeticism of famed Korean hip-hop group Epik High’s song “Maze,” which states: “reality kills, call your doctor now for your reality pills.” If you want a film that scares you with harsh doses of reality, you must watch Seoul Station.
1. The Host
Korean title: | Released: 2006 | Horror Sub-Genre: Monster Horror | Starring: Song Kang-ho, Bae Doona, Go Ah-sung
Number one on our list of best Korean horror films is The Host. There are so many great Korean horror films, and we wouldn’t be surprised if someone argues that Train to Busan or any of the preceding members of this list should surpass The Host. However, to us The Host rises to the top because it’s not only entertainingly horrifying, but also a more fascinating look at Korean society than any of the other films on this list.
The Host is like Korea’s Godzilla. In the film, a massive lizard-like monster emerges from the Han River and begins ravaging Seoul. After the monster swipes away his daughter, a dim-witted man and his siblings must battle the monster—and unsympathetic authorities—to rescue her.
For fans of Parasite, Snowpiercer, or Okja—The Host is an earlier work from the same director, Bong Joon-ho. The Host contains much of Bong’s trademark dark humor, action, and social commentary. Even more than those other films, The Host’s social commentary has a distinctively Korean flavor, for instance by conveying anti-American sentiments. At Cinema Escapist, we think a movie is better when it allows you to learn about different cultures. To that end, we even wrote an article about why anyone who cares about Korea should watch The Host—it’s that important.
Korean title: 불가사리 | Released: 1985 | Horror Sub-Genre: Monster, Fantasy, Action | Starring: Kenpachiro Satsuma, Chang Son-hui, Ham Gi-sop, Ri Jong-uk
Surprise! We never said that this list had to be just South Korean movies, did we? As an extra bonus, we want to share another fascinating Korean monster movie, this time from North Korea.
If The Host is South Korea’s Godzilla, then Pulgasari is North Korea’s Godzilla. In this 1985 film, a huge monster named Pulgasari helps peasants fight against their feudal overlords, but starts getting out of control. Some interpret this story as a critique of unchecked capitalism, while we’ve thought about Pulgasari as a metaphor for nuclear weapons. Regardless of your interpretation, this is one trippy movie.
What’s even more fascinating is the story behind how the film got made. Dear Leader Kim Jong-il was not only produced the film, but also kidnapped a South Korean director in order to make it. Furthermore, Dear Leader tricked staff from Japan’s Toho studios—which made the original Godzilla—into working on Pulgasari. Kenpachiro Satsuma, who played Godzilla in many films throughout the 1970s, ended up donning a rubber suit to play Pulgasari too. If you want to see the world’s most unique (and Kim Jong-il approved) kaiju film, check out Pulgasari.
Read more about Pulgasari in our full article about the film.
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