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.

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