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Hair-Raising Asian ‘Hair Horror’ Films

Although the vengeful, black-haired ghost concept may be a newer one for Westerners, the myth itself isn’t. In Japanese folklore the yūrei — or ghosts to our non-Japanese speaking readers — weren’t thought to be merely your average, run-of-the-mill, wandering about ghosts, but spirits that were mercilessly murdered, ripe with anger, and seeking their retribution. The first visual concept was adapted by Japanese artist Maruyama Ōkyo, who illustrated his idea of yūrei as a white-clad, long black-haired woman. This image has since created the universally perceived image of ghosts, particularly so in Japan.

In 1998, Japanese horror was forever changed when box office sensation Ringu was theatrically released; 4-years later, The Ring would win over Western audiences and, inevitably, the rest of the world. Ringu would become duplicated so often, it would eventually create a sub-horror genre: hair horror. No joke, a whole genre dedicated to creepy ghost women with long-black hair.

The mere concept is so scary in its homeland Japan that they’ve since discovered what absolute terror really looks like:

 

That game show prank isn’t the only one, and has been emulated at least once by every east-Asian prank show over the last decade. Like this one from Thailand [Candidly speaking, I would’ve had a heart-attack if this happened to me]:

 

But I digress. Here’s a short-list of the Most Entertaining Asian Hair Horror Films:

Ringu — The Ring [Japanese | 1998]

 

Obviously, we’d have to start our countdown with the one that started it all. Certainly not the very first film to place the vengeful spirit front-and-center, but the one that popularized the ghostly hair horror style, Ringu.

Even if you haven’t seen the film since it released, the imagery surely stayed with you, and the mere title regurgitated thoughts of a well, the creepy long hair, and the line “you will die in 7 days.” It stuck with the audience for good reason.

Not only were the images downright spooky, but the entire film’s cinematography. Dark, grey, and shadowy, each shot in both the Japanese and American versions capture the eerie and haunting atmosphere, further pulling its audience into the unknown after first subjecting the viewer to watch the cursed video alongside the film’s hero. If you don’t remember how terrifying that was, we left it up top for you.

Ju-on — The Grudge [Japanese | 2002]

 

Long, black-haired malevolent ghost? Check. Spooky ghost kid that makes haunting throat noise? Check. Scary black cat ghost? Check. Not being safe under your covers? Check. Ju-on perfectly worked itself into the subconscious of the viewer. The reason: none of us are ever safe.

Despite being absolutely terrified for your own well-being, writer/director Takashi Shimizu made a brilliantly empathetic spirit story, completely captivating his audience. Viewers really did feel sorry for the spirit, perhaps even sympathetic enough to justify her vengeful murder spree; however, would probably never get close enough to the house to ever tell her that. You can let her know, though.

Honogurai Mizu no Soko Kara — Dark Water [Japanese | 2002]

 

Look, I get it. Dark Water gets a lot of flack for not being a “good” movie; however, it’s absolutely worth a watch for any Asian horror fan, especially any hair horror enthusiasts. But, by all means, Dark Water isn’t terrible, and easily one of the most severely over-looked of its kind.

Possibly the most fear-inducing theme in this one has to be the constant feeling of overwhelming loneliness: the divorce, the abandoned little girl, and the other little girl suffering dramatic family and lifestyle changes. The most impressively well-projected aspect of the film is understanding these characters, written in such a comprehensive way that the viewer really feels the same sadness as the newly divorced mother, done so in a relatively unique way. Hideo Nakata — writer/director of Ringu — beautifully captures a bleak and gloomy environment enveloping our story’s mother and daughter, perfectly setting the creepy mood. Then, about half way through: blam! In comes some crazy scary hair out of the drains, ghost children, and a second ridiculously sad story.

Despite standing as less of a horror film, per say, and more of a thriller, Dark Water‘s most notable scene may be the reason viewers still apprehensively fill a glass of tap water on occasion.

Pon — Phone [Korean | 2002]

 

Honestly, the premise for Phone is much stranger and more cringe-worthy than any other on this list, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be on here. In a nutshell: a journalist writes a series on pedophilia and local sex rings, gets a new (haunted) cell-phone after pedophiles get her number, friend’s young daughter answers said new phone and screams and soon begins hating her mother and obsessed with her father, some Moonlight Sonata, more ghost phone number tied to a string of bizarre deaths, and a vengeful ghost girl.

Yeah, it gets more than a little weird in the middle there.

The redeemable aspect of the whole thing is how absolutely interesting of a story it is, consistent pacing and, at times, downright chilling. Somehow the whole package pulls together nicely, leaving the viewer satisfied with the story and the frights.

Kairo — Pulse [Japanese | 2001]

 

From the late ’90s and up to around 2007, Japan suffered from a severe suicide epidemic. Although the issue has in no way been resolved, it seems as though the popularity of suicide pacts and suicides in public places has simmered down. Film studios looked at the hyper-blitz of media attention and felt it would make for an opportune time to cash in on a few suicide themed projects. The pay-off was big and, soon enough, Asian horror fans were submerged in flavor-of-the-month suicide horror. Some were good, most were bad, but Pulse seemed to stand-out on its own.

When a series of suicides are linked to a webcam oriented website that reportedly allows users to interact with ghosts, s*** starts to get real. Possibly the neatest aspect is how Pulse actually started various Asian horror themes: ghostly stains, possession, technology traveling spirits, and suicide.

Pulse seems to sort of just work. Despite not having the strongest script, it blends together nicely, ultimately making for one immensely creepy film — which is why you’re watching anyways.

Apartment 1303 [Japanese | 2007]

 

No words can accurately honor how absolutely awful this movie is, and typically one should never reference a movie of this caliber on any list other than terrible. Not only is the story a mess, but the acting is equally atrocious. What’s more is that it started with some great potential, the middle gets messy, and the end is a giant hot mess; however, 2-years after seeing this movie, I still laugh at the thought of the big end scare.

So why would this be on the list? Mind you, this isn’t a list of the “greatest” or the “best”, this is the top most “entertaining” of hair horror, and entertained you shall be.

Exte: Hair Extensions [Japanese | 2007]

 

“Hey! Cool! I see Go-Go from Kill Bill [or Takako from Battle Royale — whichever you know her best from] is still getting work.” — Everyone’s first thought

Boy, this movie is really, really odd. First off, let’s point out the fact that this is about as literal a definition for hair horror I’ve seen. Trying to describe the film to someone is even more difficult, and, for this, I really like IMDB’s description [verbatim]: “About hair extensions that attack the women that wear them.” Honestly couldn’t have summarized it any better.

Exte: Hair Extensions is essentially the Survive Style 5+ or Funky Forest [Hmm…both star Tadanobu Asano. Wonder what that says about him?] of the horror genre. Ridiculous, over-the-top, insane, and, more often than not, nonsensical — Hair Extensions does not seek to disappoint for hair horror fans or fans of the strange.

Muoi: The Legend of a Portrait [Korean/Vietnamese | 2007]

 

Muoi is no stranger to any Asian horror lists I’ve compiled, and for absolutely good reason. Regardless of the film’s cliché scares — yes, even despite an ending “twist” that can be called in the first 5 minutes — Muoi wraps together some satisfying creepy moments into a suspenseful and gripping story quite well.

Muoi follows young writer Yun-hee as she attempts to rid 3-years of writer’s block by visiting an old friend now living in Vietnam, Seo-yeon — not to mention Yun-hee’s previous book was a catty, gossip-filled, villainous portrayal of Seo-yeon, who claims to have yet to read the book. While visiting, Yun-hee attempts to uncover the story behind local legend, Muoi.

Probably one of the coolest tidbits outside of the film’s story is that it is the second horror film made in Vietnam — the first debuting only months before Muoi — and is also the reason for Vietnam’s film rating board, making it the first R-rated equivalent for the country. Well, at least we thought that was pretty neat.

______________________________________________________

Fun Fact: All but 2 films on this list were remade for American audiences, with the latest member of the club releasing under everyone’s nose in late July, Apartment 1303.

Cover image source: Movie Clips, Youtube

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Categories: Asian Films

Author:Jen

Founder, Editor-in-Chief at Another Castle | Twitter: @ComradeJen

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