The 25 best Korean horror movies of all time, ranked

Read on, if you dare.

<p>Everett (2); Kuk Dong Seki Trading Co.</p>

Everett (2); Kuk Dong Seki Trading Co.

There's been a growing global appreciation for Korean pop culture lately, including Korean movies. In 2020, Parasite became the first non-English language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, bringing a new awareness of Korean cinema to mainstream audiences around the world. But the country’s film history extends all the way back to the silent era, with multiple renaissances leading up to the Korean New Wave (also known as the New Korean Cinema) of the 1990s.

South Korean movies are known for their boundary-pushing storytelling, genre-bending filmmaking, and beautifully convoluted twists — and that is certainly true of Korean horror. Some of the films on this list feature straightforward scares, while others, like Parasite director Bong Joon-ho’s The Host, combine horror with sci-fi, comedy, and even melodrama. Korean horror films can also be quite violent, so take heed if you’re squeamish. For those who are up for an intense viewing experience, however, they’re some of the freshest and most memorable genre films being made anywhere in the world.

Here's Entertainment Weekly's ranking of the 25 best Korean horror movies of all time.

25. The Closet (2020)

<p>Dark Sky Films</p>

Dark Sky Films

A slow-creeping horror-drama that prioritizes character over cheap jump scares, Kim Kwang-bin’s debut uses a classic trope — the monster in the closet — to explore sticky themes of child neglect and absent parenting. In an echo of Carol-Anne and the TV in Poltergeist (1982), young Yi-na (Heo Yool) is pulled into the spirit realm through her bedroom closet. Her widower father, Sang-won (Ha Jung-woo), is blamed for her disappearance and seeks the aid of an eccentric psychic (Kim Nam-gil) to find her.

Where to watch The Closet: Tubi

24. Acacia (2003)

<p>Show East</p>

Show East

An understated creepy-kid movie with an occult twist, this horror film from director Park Ki-hyung — who also directed Whispering Corridors, which we’ll discuss later — plants folk horror in the suburbs. Six-year-old adoptee Jin-seung (Moon Woo-bin) is having trouble fitting in with his new parents (Shim Hye-jin and Kim Jin-geun) — a state of affairs that grows more distressing with the birth of a new baby. But the lonely little boy does have a strange bond with the acacia tree in his family’s backyard…

Where to watch Acacia: Kanopy

23. The Mimic (2017)

<p>Well Go USA Entertainment</p>

Well Go USA Entertainment

Another Korean ghost story where those who are closest to us are also the ones we should fear, this film is based on the urban legend of the Jangsan beom. It’s a white, furry creature that supposedly lives in the mountains near Busan, looks like a cross between a sloth and a dog, and lures children out into the woods so it can eat them. It can also take on the form of departed loved ones, which is how a family recently relocated to the Jangsan countryside gets sucked into its supernatural world.

Where to watch The Mimic: Tubi

22. The Red Shoes (2005)

<p>Tartan Video</p>

Tartan Video

This hidden gem of 2000s Asian cinema is only loosely based on the 1845 fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen (for one thing, the shoes in this movie are pink). Instead, it uses Andersen’s premise as a launching pad for a horror story about sexism in Korean society. As the film begins, a mother (Kim Hye-soo) and her young daughter (Park Yeon-ah) have just moved into a new apartment after Mom caught Dad cheating. Then they find the titular shoes on a subway platform and discover that they have a seductive, evil power. Though the 1948 British drama of the same name may be the most famous iteration, this twisted modern take is palpably tense and absolutely worth your time.

Where to watch The Red Shoes: Fandango at Home

21. #Alive (2020)



The timing of this Korean horror-thriller couldn’t have been better. Released on Netflix in September 2020, the film revolves around a reclusive gamer, Joon-woo (Yoo Ah-in), who locks himself up inside his apartment after realizing that a deadly virus is raging outside. Sound familiar? Of course, there’s one key difference: In the movie, the virus turns people into flesh-eating zombies. The addition of a resourceful neighbor, Yoo-bin (Park Shin-hye), takes the action to the streets, kicking up the excitement in the process.

Where to watch #Alive: Netflix

20. Spider Forest (2004)



Fans of Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000) will find a lot to love in this edgy, cleverly constructed 2004 horror-mystery hybrid, which begins with reporter Kang Min (Kam Woo-sung) discovering his girlfriend close to death from multiple stab wounds and bleeding out next to a stranger’s corpse. If that’s not bad enough, Kang Min wakes up in the hospital where a detective informs him that he’s the main suspect in both murders. Although he barely remembers what happened, Kang Min must try to piece together what happened in order to clear his name.

Where to watch Spider Forest: Kanopy

19. Seoul Station (2016)

Finecut/Next Entertainment World/Studio Dadashow
Finecut/Next Entertainment World/Studio Dadashow

An animated prequel to the zombie mega-hit Train to Busan released in the same year by the same director, Seoul Station matches its predecessor’s intensity while amping up the social commentary. The story takes place at the titular train station, where an injured elderly man shuffles across the platform as commuters look on with disgust. Then the man transforms into a violent, flesh-eating zombie, and all hell — with a side of George Romero-style class warfare — breaks loose.

Where to watch Seoul Station: Amazon Prime Video

18. Hansel and Gretel (2007)



Another Korean movie based on European folklore, Hansel and Gretel draws its inspiration from the Brothers Grimm story of the same name. The film has the same grotesque nightmare quality as a fairytale — the old-fashioned ones, anyway — but changes up the story so that it’s an adult, Lee Eun-soo (Chun Jung-myung), who stumbles upon an idyllic cottage in the middle of the woods. There, he finds three children who appear to be held captive by their parents. But nothing is as it seems in this beautiful, grisly horror-fantasy.

Where to watch Hansel and Gretel: Tubi

17. Bedevilled (2010)



You may be tempted to turn off Bedevilled by the halfway mark, given the heaps of abuse — physical, emotional, and sexual — one of its female leads endures. But if you stick it out through the end, that horror gives way to violent, bloody catharsis as Bok-nam (Seo Young-hee) turns the tables on her cruel family and piggish husband. She does so with the help of her childhood friend Hae-won (Ji Sung-won), a businesswoman from the big city who managed to escape a life like Bok-nam’s on the remote island where they grew up.

Where to watch Bedevilled: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

16. The Call (2020)



Combining crime and supernatural elements, this critically acclaimed film traverses many decades for an unusual time-travel twist on serial-killer thrillers. Park Shin-hye stars as Kim Seo-yeon, a woman who recently returned to her childhood home to care for her ailing mother. There, she discovers that the landline connects her to Oh Young-sook (Jeon Jong-seo), who lived in the same house 20 years earlier. The two form a bond across time — until Seo-yeon starts to realize the dark, causal implications of their seemingly friendly phone calls.

Where to watch The Call: Netflix

15. The Medium (2021)



Unusually well-shot for a found footage horror movie, this Korean-Thai co-production presents itself as a mockumentary about a Northern Thai woman who claims to be possessed by a goddess. Nim (Sawanee Utoomma) says that her ancestral gift gives her the power to heal both physical and spiritual maladies. But the way her niece, who’s due to be initiated into the family legacy, is acting makes it seem more like a curse. It’s a slow build that becomes increasingly more violent with each excruciating moment, but the finale will leave your jaw on the floor.

Where to watch The Medium: AMC+

14. The Quiet Family (1998)

<p>Myung Films</p>

Myung Films

A black comedy so dark that it becomes a horror movie, this film was a hit in South Korea and inspired redos from both Japan (Takashi Miike’s The Happiness of the Katakuris) and India, where it was remade in three different languages. The premise has the potential for slapstick sillness, as an incompetent Seoul family fumbles its way through opening a hunting lodge in the Korean countryside. Then all their guests start dying by suicide, one after the other…

Where to watch The Quiet Family: Freevee

13. Monstrum (2018)



Set in the 16th century and supposedly based on true events, this monster movie plays with the audience’s expectations by remaining coy about whether its monster is actually real or the byproduct of Joseon dynasty palace intrigue. Spoiler alert: The monster is definitely real, a lion-bear hybrid covered in disgusting bloody pustules. Throw in period romance, a pair of wisecracking soldiers, and the occasional fart joke, and you’ve got a rip-roaring creature feature whose entertainment factor is off the charts.

Where to watch Monstrum: AMC+

12. Whispering Corridors (1998)

<p>Lotte Entertainment</p>

Lotte Entertainment

Park Ki-hyung’s eerie ghost story uses an all-girls boarding school as a launching pad for supernatural horror. Touching on sensitive subjects like bullying and suicide, Whispering Corridors struck such a chord with Korean youth that it launched a franchise that continued into the 2020s. We also highly recommend the 1999 sequel Memento Mori, both for its heart-stopping scare scenes and then-taboo lesbian theme.

Where to watch Whispering Corridors: Kanopy

11. Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018)



Set inside a former psychiatric hospital known as “one of the most haunted places in South Korea,” this found-footage horror movie starts off light then turns terrifying as six YouTubers filming in the building for laughs realize that the legends about Gonjiam are actually true. Director Jum Bung-shik makes clever use of the spooky location and visual format, leading to several moments of heart-stopping terror. Shortly after the release of this movie, the real Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital was torn down. Coincidence? You decide.

Where to watch Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum: Peacock

10. Sleep (2023)



The only film on this list that has yet to be released in the United States, Jason Yu’s feature debut was a hit in South Korea in the fall of 2023. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival that summer, where it got rave reviews from critics hailing this story of a woman whose insomnia tests her marriage — and her sanity. Much of the film rests on a razor’s edge between funny and frightening, which makes its twists and turns all the more surprising. Add a bravura finale, and you’ve got an instant Korean horror classic.

Where to watch Sleep: Not available to stream

9. Three… Extremes (2004)



Only one of the segments in this horror anthology comes from a Korean director. (The other two filmmakers, Fruit Chan and Takashi Miike, are from Hong Kong and Japan, respectively.) But the Korean segment, Cut, is elegant and cruel in a way that only the great Park Chan-wook can pull off. The story revolves around a famous film director and his pianist wife, who are held hostage by a resentful background actor. But the real draw here is Cut’s elaborate torture device, which uses piano wire in inventive and shocking ways.

Where to watch Three… Extremes: Peacock

8. Save the Green Planet! (2003)

<p>CJ Entertainment</p>

CJ Entertainment

Jang Joon-hwan’s Save the Green Planet was recently optioned for a remake by Poor Things director Yorgos Lanthimos and star Emma Stone. And if you’ve seen the movie, that tracks. This bizarre and, at times, quite disturbing horror/sci-fi/comedy hybrid is strange and singular in a way that’s similar to Lanthimos’ work, telling the story of a conspiracy theorist who’s convinced that the CEO tied up in his basement is an alien intent on destroying the Earth. But is he really?

Where to watch Save The Green Planet: Kanopy

7. Thirst (2009)



Aside from Cut, Thirst is the only true horror movie in Park Chan-wook’s filmography. And it’s got all of the sumptuous style you’d expect from the director of The Handmaiden (2016). Song Kang-ho stars as Sang-hyun, a Catholic priest who contracts a virus while on a mission trip that makes him super-strong and inhumanly agile — and gives him a burning appetite for human blood. Things get complicated (and very bloody) when Sang-hyun begins a torrid affair with housewife Tae-Ju (Kim Ok-bin), leading to the kind of hysterical climax Korean genre movies do so well.

Where to watch Thirst: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

6. The Wailing (2016)



Some movies just have a malevolent aura about them, and The Wailing is one of them. While watching the residents of a small Korean village succumb, one by one, to the belief that they’ve been possessed by demons, you start to wonder if curses can be transmitted through screens as well. The film is long but worth the runtime, as we get to know the community members before witnessing the horror of what happens to them. It all builds to an exorcism scene that’s impressively staged and terrifyingly intense.

Where to watch The Wailing: Netflix

5. The Host (2006)



Another quintessentially Korean genre-bender, Bong Joon-ho’s international breakout was a festival sensation when it premiered at Cannes in 2006. First and foremost, it’s a monster movie about a mutated creature that crawls out of the Han River causing mayhem and spreading a deadly virus. But it’s also a political satire and a family drama, driven by Song Kang-ho’s performance as a poor vendor who must descend into the sewers to battle the beast and save his daughter Hyun-seo (Go Ah-sung).

Where to watch The Host: Hulu

4. I Saw the Devil (2010)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

Even compared to the rest of the films on this list, Kim Jee-woon’s crime/horror hybrid is an intense viewing experience that blurs the lines between good and evil in ultra-violent, darkly funny style. The stakes just keep getting higher in this Grand Guignol of bloodthirsty excess, as bereaved government agent Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun) descends into shocking depravity in his pursuit of serial killer Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik). The twist? Soo-hyun already caught him once; this second hunt is just for fun.

Where to watch I Saw the Devil: Hulu

3. The Housemaid (1960)

<p>Kuk Dong Seki Trading Co.</p>

Kuk Dong Seki Trading Co.

Although not strictly a horror movie — its tone is more comparable to an erotic thriller like Fatal Attraction — this 1960 feature is a milestone of genre cinema and Korean movies as a whole. Directed by Kim Ki-young, the film is a cautionary tale about the dangers of infidelity, following a couple that hires a maid to help around the house while the wife is pregnant, only to have the girl (Lee Eun-shim) destroy the family from the inside out. It’s since been remade multiple times, but the original’s gliding camerawork and social commentary make it a timeless classic.

Where to watch The Housemaid: The Criterion Channel

2. Train to Busan (2016)

Well Go USA
Well Go USA

The biggest and most influential horror hit to come out of Korea in the past decade, this zombie thriller has inspired multiple spinoffs — including our No. 19 pick, the animated prequel Seoul Station. The secret to its success lies in its thrilling, claustrophobic action sequences: The story takes place almost entirely on a high-speed train from Seoul to Busan, where distant dad Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) is attempting to bond with his daughter Su-an (Kim Su-an). But they soon realize that all of Korea, not just their transit, has been taken over by hungry, impossibly fast zombies.

Where to watch Train to Busan: Peacock

1. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

When it comes to the sophisticated style and shocking twists of Korean horror, no film is as perfect an example as A Tale of Two Sisters. Directed by Kim Jee-woon — who also made our No. 4 pick, I Saw the Devil — this psychologically harrowing film is about a pair of young girls who live in a handsome country home with their father. Also present are two malevolent presences: The ghost of their mother and their evil stepmother Eun-joo (Yum Jung-ah). Kim’s direction is bold and stylish, and the supernatural scenes are terrifying, embodying the finest that Korean horror has to offer.

Where to watch A Tale of Two Sisters: Kanopy

Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.