I love horror. It’s no surprise, of course, but what a lot of people don’t know is that not all great horror movies come from the United States. We have Latin horror in the form of such movies as Alucarda (1978), Cronos (1994) and most recently Amat Escalante’s 2016 movie The Untamed. Over in Brazil, they have Desaparecidos (2011) and let us not forget Canada with Ginger Snaps (2000), Shivers (1975) or anything by David Cronenberg. Europe has horror covered with more releases than I can number coming from England, France and Belgium, even South African cinema chimes in with sweet flicks like Eternity (2010) and The Demon (1981). And don’t even get me started on my favorite horror type; the Giallo from Italy. What I am trying to say is horror has come out of every continent on this ball of dirt and will continue to be made because wherever there is fear, someone will make it into a movie. And this is just films. Literature is another story altogether!
Which brings me to this weekend. I saw a few flicks from the Asian side of horror and it reminded me of when I first encountered far east action. It was in the form of Manga, Anime and Kung Fu films.
Growing up in Southern California, I had friends that came from many different cultures and backgrounds. One friend turned me on to Japanese Manga comics. Akira was the first taste of both Japanese manga and anime I consumed. It blew my mind and I was hooked. Soon followed Vampire Hunter D, Ghost In The Shell, Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei, and many, many more.
One that I loved the most was Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s Ninja Scroll (1993 JP, 1995 U.S.)
Ninja Scroll had it all; Horror, ninjas, Action, ninjas, boobs, ninjas, blood and guts violence, ninjas… I was 12 and through another friend, I was able to watch the original Japanese release with no subs or dubs. As frustrating as that was to decipher what was going on, the imagery stuck with me until the U.S. release in 1995. Thanks to the magic of subtitles and dubs, I could finally understand what it was all about, and boy, it didn’t disappoint. Ninja Scroll is the story of Jubei Kibagami, an out of work, wandering ronin, who happens to come by a woman being raped by one of the eight devils of Kimon. Jubei saves her and kills the devil, thus propelling his fate to fight and destroy all the devils. Jubei’s character immediately bonded with me. Him, a wandering warrior, just trying to keep to himself, and me, a lonely teenager just trying to survive. And deep down inside, we were both good guys whether we liked it or not.
After Ninja Scroll, I turned my attention to Kung Fu flicks courtesy of my local VHS rental store called Star Videos. The owner, Rene, would let me rent horror flicks for free in exchange for reordering the tapes. One day he got in some tapes from China. They were old Kung Fu films from the 70’s. Rene had me sort them together with the horror flicks because Rene knew what was up. He was a rad dude. And that was the start of it. After some years, I went back to Star Video. Rene was going out of business so I bought all the Kung Fu Tapes for a buck each And before you knew it, I was 22 and had amassed quite a collection of VHS Kung Foolery (not to mention horror). Eventually, not long after, I got dvd’s from China, that had two or three flicks on it apiece. I was in heaven. Kung Fu films are badass. Take the above Ninja Scroll formula of Horror, ninja, action, ninja, and superkick it in the face with Kung Fu and you get a perfect entertainment mix. Every Friday, for many years and occasionally now, I would hold Kung Fu Fridays and play such hits as; Hell’s Wind Staff (1979), Unbeaten 28 (1980), Five Deadly Venoms (1978) and 3 Evil Masters (1980). Of course, I love Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee movies, but those were more commercial… I wanted the dirty, bloody stuff and Fu flick houses such as Shaw Bros. and Golden Harvest studios delivered it way back in the 70’s. And while I missed the Kung Fu crazy here in America by more than a decade, I was glad that every Fu flick only cost me around a dollar to procure.
Why do I mention Kung Fu films, anime and manga when this article is supposed to be about horror in the orient? Well, that kind of answers the question in and of itself. In the far east, horror is a part of the everyday fabric of society. So naturally, it permeated everything; comics, films, martial arts. Sure, they had monsters, slashers, and aliens, but it was also alongside kick-ass ninjas and sky flying zen masters. Such classics as Black Magic (China 1975) where we have Kung Fu battling necromancers, or House (Japan 1975), which was the inspiration for the first Resident Evil game, gave an exciting tutorial and a well-trotted path for today’s horror filmmakers. Current Chinese horror films like Vampire Cleanup Department (2017) and The Sleep Curse (2017) are rapidly getting released and the Japanese have been doing it right since the 70’s and have never stopped. The future of Asian horror is only getting better as Netflix, Hulu and my favorite Shudder, are starting to stream these wonderful, international classics into new homes and new hearts. If you have a chance, please seek these films out. If you can’t find them on streams, many are on youtube and can be watched for free. There are even reddit exchanges for rare and hard to find films.
Of course, I can’t possibly cover all the great releases from the far east in this one article because I’d be leaving out some of the best; Korean horror, Indonesian, Philippian, and a plethora of other countries. Another article for another time.
Enjoy and catch you all later.