Forget Hollywood this Halloween: Here are 5 J-horror features that will scare, repulse and disturb you
A word of caution: These titles are not for the faint of heart but they are all incredible works that will scare more than most Hollywood movies can even dream of
Halloween is almost synonymous with spooks and scares. So, October is usually always flooded with horror releases, whether films or shows. Unfortunately, Hollywood (or rather American filmmakers) very often get it wrong. Even a horror movie factory such as Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions has duds dime a dozen. So, this Halloween, let’s step away from the sheer awfulness (and absolute un-scariness) of American horror shticks and make this an attempt to really frighten ourselves.
And what better way to do that than delve into Japanese horror or J-horror. This genre, over the years, has developed a cult following, especially with the massive popularity of ‘Ju-On’ or ‘Ringu’. And while both original films are excellent (even if we can’t say the same for its many sequels and Hollywood reboots), there is a lot more to the utterly unsettling world of J-Horror. So, if you want to give yourself a movie-watching experience unlike anything you’ve seen or felt before, this is a very non-exhaustive list to take a look at.
A word of caution: These titles are not for the faint of heart. They are surreal, feature extreme graphic violence, and will make you feel revulsion. But they will also scare you. Not just with the supernatural, but also with the real. So, here goes the list, in no particular order of how much each one merits:
This six-part Netflix horror series, directed by Sho Miyake and written by Hiroshi Takahashi and Takashige Ichise, is not at all related to Takashi Shimizu’s iconic ‘Ju-On’ and ‘The Grudge’ films. Instead, it attempts to tell a story (or rather many stories) that led to urban legends that eventually led to films like those made by Shimizu. The series is surreal, confusing, violent, and unsettling.
The complex tale begins in the early ‘50s and goes all the way up to 1997. And in more ways than one, it is a heartbreaking one that consumes many -- everyone who has been in contact with a cursed house. What makes this show absolutely devastating is how the curse wrecks people. From a man murdering his pregnant wife, and cutting her womb open to take the fetus out, to rape, to more, each chain of incidents more horrifying than the next. All the deaths, of course, are connected and are characterized by the slow descent of the characters into a madness of some kind. Some take years. Some take days.
The ‘Guinea Pig’ movies
This is absolutely not something that anyone should watch with their families. It’s a set of six short films released between 1985 and 1990, envisioned by manga artist Hideshi Hino (who wrote and directed two films in the series). The films gained notoriety in Japan during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The films focus on urban legends and are basically exploitation films that are chock full of gore, violence, mutilation, torture, and murder. The first film, ‘The Devil’s Experiment’ follows three men, who kidnap and torture a young woman. While many may consider this to have been inspired by the horrific torture and killing of Junko Furuta in 1989, the film predates the incident by almost four years. But this exploitation film is only the tip of the iceberg. The series, particularly with ‘Flower of Flesh and Blood’ and ‘Mermaid in a Manhole’, offer bleak, horrifying, and absolutely surreal fever dreams in the form of films. They scare, they disgust, and they scare some more.
Epithets fall short when it comes to ‘Audition’, arguably seen by many as a definitive pioneer of the genre. It’s a frightful, scabrous, evocative, and extremely disturbing film created by Takashi Miike, based on a script adapted by Daisuke Tengan from the 1997 novel of the same name by Ryû Murakami. This is not a supernatural horror film, even though it does adhere to a prominent J-horror trope: a demonic woman whose fury remains unmatched by hell.
An aging widower in the film business uses an underhand ruse to find a partner. He holds auditions for a non-existent female supporting role in a movie, whom he can let down and then ask out on a date. But who he finds is not what he ever imagined. A charming woman on the outside, but one who holds a dark secret. ‘Audition’ undoubtedly has one of the best climax sequences in the history of horror.
‘Kairo’ or ‘Pulse’
Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2001 film is as confusing as it is creepy. With two parallel stories running the film, the plot centers on ghosts invading the world of the living via the Internet. As surreal and strange and absolutely absurd this concept sounds, it makes for a surprisingly messed up and scary watch.
Kurosawa’s film does what J-horror excels at: filling people with dread and confusion that leads to more dread. It’s not the jump scares that make your heart jump out, but the grim possibilities of the film in real life. It also fills you with gloom and despair, something again that this genre is famous for.
When you think of water and J-horror, the mind goes to both ‘the Grudge’ and ‘Ringu’. But this film directed by Hideo Nakata, and written by Yoshihiro Nakamura and Kenichi Suzuki based on a short story by the one and only Koji Suzuki, makes for an equally compelling watch. The film follows a divorced mother who moves into a rundown apartment with her daughter and experiences supernatural occurrences including a mysterious water leak from the floor above.
The film has some of the scariest sequences in J-horror history (especially before the genre was flooded with uninspired and badly made films). At the same time, like good horror, the story also casts a glaring spotlight on human relationships -- in this case, a mother and a daughter.
Almost all of these titles have some kind of Hollywood remake, reboot, or variant. And in each case, just absolutely avoid them. Despite big names, not one of them manages to capture the true essence of what scares in these films. And that is easily a good enough reason to avoid Hollywood horror just in general.
Happy Halloween and many scares.