The Best South Korean Horror Movies You've Never Seen

(Welcome to The Best Movies You've Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. In this edition, we take a look at the best South Korean horror movies you've never seen.)

Train to Busan and The Wailing are two of the best horror films in recent years, and they couldn't be more different. The former is a highly energetic and suspenseful zombie tale while the latter blends a methodically paced battle between good and evil with some incredibly intense sequences. Toss in less recent fare like Thirst, The Host, and A Tale of Two Sisters, and it's clear that South Korea is home to some terrific and terrifying horror movies.

Of course, as you probably surmised by the title of this post, I'm not here to talk about the great movies you've already seen – I'm here to recommend ones you haven't. Below, you'll find six Korean chillers featuring murder, madness, monsters, and more. Some of the threats are supernatural while others are all too human, but all of them are worth watching with the lights off and a hot cocoa in your hand.

Keep reading for a look at the best South Korean horror movies you probably haven't seen.

Antarctic Journal (2005)

A six-man expedition to the Antarctic's point of inaccessibility hits a stumbling block when they discover a journal left behind more than eighty years earlier. It recounts a British team's effort to reach the same goal, and the troubles detailed in the journal begin to match those facing the current expedition. Mistrust, hallucination, paranoia, and more soon take hold with tragic results.

Fans of Larry Fessenden's fantastic The Last Winter will enjoy this film's similar vibes as a group of scientists find themselves disinvited by mother nature herself from exploring her landscape further. The cold creeps from the TV screen to chill your bones with empathy and fear as the team crumbles beneath the weight of emotional distress and nature's wrath. Their own minds become the biggest obstacle they face, and with each passing day it becomes clear that it just might be an insurmountable one. The fear here isn't one of jump scares or monsters – it's one of our own limitations and mortality.

The cast is uniformly strong in crafting characters slowly driven mad by what they think they're seeing, hearing, and experiencing, but the always terrific Song Kang-ho leads the way both as the team's captain and the one with the haunting backstory. He's a man driven as much by guilt as he is courage and bravado, and when the latter two fail, it leaves him a broken and dangerous commander.

Antarctic Journal is available to rent on Amazon.

Bedevilled (2010)

Hae-won is a successful yet lonely young woman who decides to take a break from her city life after witnessing a violent crime, but returning to the small island where she grew up sees her witnessing far more. The years have not been kind to the tiny community or her childhood friend Bok-nam, and Hae-won watches passively as the elders abuse her in various ways. There's a limit to how much Bok-nam can take, though, and all hell is about to break loose.

This brutally effective thriller finds horror in the cruelty we inflict upon each other not just through our actions, but through our inaction as well. While it features a blade-wielding killer, it's the emotional weight that hits hardest and hurts the most. It's emotional, gut-wrenching horror as we're made to watch the monster be created before our eyes, and the film challenges ideas of complicity in the process with its message that we share responsibility for those around us. The film's a rarity that in line with Hong Kong's Dream Home in how it imbues the slasher sub-genre with surprising humanity and heartbreak.

Once the very physical horror kicks in, though, director Jang Cheol-soo shows a skilled hand at ratcheting up cathartic thrills and grisly violence complete with some very bloody outcomes. The kills are cringe-worthy and wince-inducing (and did I mention very, very bloody?) even as we're happy to see some of these bastards meet the wrong end of a sharp object. The end delivers even more bloodletting alongside both pathos and one final lesson in morality and personal growth. Horror doesn't often come this heavy.

Bedevilled is currently available to watch on Amazon Prime.

Death Bell (2008)

High-school exams can determine the rest of your life, and both students and parents take them very, very seriously. Someone's going a bit overboard, though, and making it a matter of life and death. As a class of top students meets to take their mid-term, someone or something strange has joined them on campus. One by one they're taken, and if the others don't solve a question in time, the abducted student is killed in some painful way. The clock is ticking.

Students all over the world are familiar with the stress of exams, and the film takes that scenario and runs with it, adding Saw-like puzzles and a slowly unraveling mystery alongside some brutal death scenes. One student drowns, another bleeds to death from hundreds of small cuts, a third is suffocated with slow drips of hot wax, and there are still stabbings, hangings, beatings, and more to come. They're acts of ultimate cruelty fueled by the smaller ones that are allowed to exist every day, and while there's little room for levity here, be sure to stick with it into the end credits for a highly amusing bonus scene.

One of its greatest strengths is a teasing of threats both human and supernatural. Director/co-writer Chang layers the film with red herrings in regard to suspects, explanations, and more leaving viewers certain one person is the killer before quickly believing a ghost is to blame. It's well crafted and immerses the audience into the middle of the terror which heightens our own confusion and stress considerably, leading to an ending that wraps up the story with revelation, emotion, and yes, more death.

Death Bell is available to rent on Amazon.

Hide and Seek (2013)

Sung-soo is happy both at work and at home with his wife and children, but that contentment takes a blow when he learns his estranged brother has gone missing. A visit to his brother's apartment leads to a chance meeting with terrified neighbors who believe they're being watched, and the discovery of odd symbols carved into everyone's door only makes things stranger. And then he returns home to find similar symbols marking his own front door.

This is one hell of a creepy movie, and director Huh Jung deserves credit for crafting some truly terrifying sequences without the aid of supernatural shenanigans. The threats here have a physical presence, but that tangible nature doesn't make it any less unnerving. The narrative touches on themes of isolation and loneliness, and it recognizes the importance and power of human connection. Not everyone has it, but everyone needs it in one form or another, leaving them open to suffering.

The film has already seen a remake hit screens in China, and an English-language one is next in line. Actor/director Joel David Moore is set to direct, and while I hope it succeeds where too many remakes of Asian horror films have failed, it goes without saying that you should catch the original before then. The social aspects that fuel the story should translate well enough to the U.S., but why risk missing out on brilliance just to avoid reading some subtitles?

Hide and Seek is available to rent on Amazon.

Pulgasari (1985)

A king in feudal times makes a proactive move to prevent a peasant uprising by confiscating all of their metal property. Farming tools, cooking implements – he takes it all to forge into weapons, but after the rebellion fizzles out, he makes one more transgression by causing the death of a beloved blacksmith. The old man crafts a small figurine in his final hours that comes to life, grows to monstrous size, and fights alongside the peasants to unseat the king. The only problem? It feeds on metal tools and implements.

Regular readers of this column will know that I occasionally cheat in regard to my "best movie" qualification, but it's always for a good reason! I've done the same here as this film is neither South Korean nor all that great, but hear me out... it's the production details that make this a must-see. Its director, Shin Sang-ok, is a South Korean filmmaker who was kidnapped in 1978 by Kim Jong-il for the purpose of making propaganda films for North Korea. How bonkers is that? He made seven, and Shin's final film for the dictator was this metaphorical kaiju tale purportedly about the dangers of unchecked capitalism.

Like I said, it's not a great film, but if you factor in the abduction, it's easily the best North Korean movie you're ever likely to see. There's definite fun to be had here too, especially for kaiju fans as the creature begins life as a guy in a suit amid over-sized props and grows into a guy in a suit amid miniatures. Scenes of destruction and big battles share the screen with quieter moments of family bonding and the king's concerns, and depending on your interpretation, the film might just come across as a thinly veiled condemnation of Kim's dictatorship.

Pulgasari is copyright free and available to watch on YouTube.

White: The Melody of the Curse (2011)

The Pink Dolls are a girl group consisting of four young women desperate to make it big, but that desire has so far been unfulfilled. That changes when they come across a video recording of a song and dance without attrition and instead claim it as their own. It becomes an instant hit, but with fame comes increased ambition, greed, and the ghostly presence of the woman behind the song they've stolen.

One of the tropes of Asian horror films, whether Korean, Japanese, or Thai, is the creepy image of a woman with long black hair covering her face. She's typically standing in a corner, crawling towards the camera, or maybe even hiding under your covers. This pop-oriented chiller shakes up that entire thing by featuring a creepy image of a woman with long white hair covering her face. It's true! Happily, it doesn't leave things any less spooky here, as her appearances in shadow, out of focus, and on distressed video unnerves despite the ghostly white. Similarly, the traditional nature of the story – an unhappy spirit, deadly incidents, a moral lesson from beyond – work every bit as well in a colorful world with a dance beat.

Most of the film comes to life in well-lit sequences which pair well with the poppy, music video vibe, and the darkness comes instead from more personal places than a pitch black room. The women grow increasingly antagonistic as their naturally competitive personalities become heightened by a taste of success and a touch of supernatural rage. The cruel drive of unsatisfied ambition powers the living and the dead, and that cautionary tale pairs well with the thrills, chills, and dance numbers within.

White: The Melody of the Curse is available to rent on Amazon.