Go beyond Hollywood for your fix of scares this Halloween.
Horror films have a special place in audiences' hearts around the world. In Hollywood, characters like Freddy Krueger and Ghostface are synonymous with the genre. Meanwhile, Southeast Asia's horror icons are homegrown ghosts and monsters, from vengeful spirits to the undead fully wrapped in white cloth. The most terrifying and successful horror movies from Southeast Asia typically dive into folklore, making the thrills much closer to home for locals and delivering inimitable dread for worldwide audiences.
10 of the Best Underrated Asian Horror Movies to Watch During the Halloween Season
Recently, the cinema of Southeast Asia has witnessed an emergence of great, popular scary movies. Local horror films in Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia have set box office records, beating major Hollywood releases. This only solidifies the genre as arguably the most popular in the region. Films like Joko Anwar's Impetigoreand Emir Ezwan's Soulhave been officially submitted to the Academy Awards, cementing the importance of horror in Southeast Asia. With streaming services like Netflix and Shudder acquiring more international films, it has never been easier to watch these scare-fests at home in time for Halloween.
Directors Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom, who gained fame through Shutter three years earlier, returned with Alone, which tells the story of conjoined twins Ploy and Pim (Marsha Vadhanapanich) who have vowed to stay together until the end. However, after an operation to separate them killed Ploy, Pim was haunted by her twin's vengeful spirit.
Alone was hailed as a chilling psychological horror thriller with supernatural aspects. It delivered solid scares with efficient use of practical special effects and caught viewers off guard with its brilliant third-act twist. The film became a festival hit, winning best director and best actress at the 2007 Fantastic Fest.
Laddaland marked the second horror film directed by Sophon Sakdaphisit, one of the co-writers of Shutter and Alone. The film follows a family who moved to a new housing complex in Chiang Mai. While the move was to reduce the family's financial problems, they were soon haunted by mysterious paranormal events.
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The film was believed to be inspired by an allegedly haunted complex in Thailand, which made it even scarier. While its horror elements might be familiar to genre fans (haunted house, creepy neighbors), the film's setting gives it an edge. It provides a glimpse of a typical life in satellite cities, not just in Thailand but in other parts of Southeast Asia, and shows that even in cities, one is never safe from supernatural threats.
Munafik (which means "hypocrite" in Malay) follows the story of a grieving Muslim medical practitioner who recently lost his wife in an accident. The tragedy shook his belief until he agreed to help Maria, who experienced demonic disturbances and possessions.
Directed by Syamsul Yusof, who also starred in the lead role, the film was lauded as an effective horror film that capitalized on its setting and practical effects. Munafik has all the ingredients of a quintessential Southeast Asian religion-based horror: it's set in a local village and featured the strength of religion to defeat evil.
Directed by Timo Tjahjanto, who will soon make his Hollywood debut with the Train to Busan remake, May the Devil Take You sees Alfie (Chelsea Islan) as she seeks answers to her father's illness in his old villa but ends up in the clutches of a vengeful satanic priestess.
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The film is like an Indonesian take on Evil Deadand Hereditary, as it was set in a single location and dealt with familial trauma and curses. With that in mind, Tjahjanto crafted a film that has a unique mix of Indonesian and Western elements, complete with a generous amount of blood, making it gruesomely fresh to watch. Check out the sequel to this film, May the Devil Take You Too, as it takes the East-West terror mash-up to the next level.
After the death of one of the students in an all-girl Catholic school, a new counselor Pat (Bea Alonzo), tries to uncover the mystery that surrounds the school. She realizes that there was a dark force haunting it from the past, and everyone will be in danger as the secrets unravel.
While Hollywood horror films have often explored terror in churches with priests and nuns, Mikhail Red's Eerie is a standout in this, as in The Philippines, Catholicism is a major religion. Contextually it feels more sinister for local audiences and is a unique way to view the diversity in the region as well. Watch the film for a slow-burn horror with great use of practical effects on Netflix.
The Queen of Black Magic is a loose remake of a 1981 Indonesian film. The film followed a group of grown-up orphans and their families who returned to their orphanages and revealed the dark rituals performed there.
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Directed by Kimo Stamboel and written by Joko Anwar, the film takes its time to build the intensity until it provides horrific sequences that would make audiences squirm. The film does a great job in creating the right dose of tension before it unleashed its scares, from gross insects to full-on body horror.
Impetigore follows Maya (Tara Basro) as she discovers that she inherited a large house in a remote village and is also a target for the people there, who were all trying to kill her to break a curse that has beset the village for years.
Joko Anwar became a household horror director in Indonesia when he released Satan's Slaves. But through Impetigore, his original story, he solidified himself as a master of the craft. Filled with intense dread throughout, the film revealed its mystery slowly while keeping a strong grip on production values, from the gorgeous low-light cinematography to its atmospheric score.
Do not confuse this with the Pixar film. Directed by Emir Ezwan in his debut feature, this Malaysian folk horror sees a mother and her two kids encountering mysterious occurrences after bringing home a young girl.
Produced with an ultra-low budget, Soul succeeded in capturing the atmospheric dread with the help of its natural surroundings of Dengkil forest. Coupled with a quiet, slow-burn screenplay, there was always an aura of mystery and threat throughout the film. While many audiences drew comparisons to The Witchand The Wailing, Soul brings a fresh spin to Southeast Asian flair with its effective, simplistic style to the folk horror genre.
Shot in mockumentary-found footage style, The Medium chronicles Nim, a rural shaman who was chosen to be the host of a local goddess. But things go wrong when Nim's niece is believed to be possessed by the goddess, only to reveal that the deity might not be as compassionate as she first appeared.
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Banjong Pisanthanakun returned to create an iconic horror film that dealt with local beliefs and traditions unique to Thailand. It first presented the local beliefs in an empathetic way to immerse the audiences in the film before diving into the scares. The excellent use of mockumentary style and convincing performances by the actors further elevated the terror, making the situation depicted on screen even more real.
KKN di Desa Penari (loosely translated as Community Service Program at Dancer's Village) follows a group of university students trying to create several projects that would benefit a remote village in Java. However, they are soon terrorized by spirits led by one in the form of a traditional dancer.
Directed by Awi Suryadi, who frequently directs horror films, the film's success was driven by its true story retelling that went viral on Twitter in 2019. Out of respect to the actual village and victims, the names of locations and people were changed, which only fueled people's curiosity. This marks how urban legends or true stories are essential in crafting a resonant horror film, especially with a strong religious undertone such as this film. KKN di Desa Penari is currently Indonesia's highest-grossing local film and is only second to Avengers: Endgameoverall.
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Marcel is a list writer based in Indonesia. Passionate about most movies and series. A content manager by day and a videographer when needed.
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