China is never the first country you think of when it comes to horror films. Government regulation have all but destroyed most of the creativity in all movie genres, not just horror. However, a filmmaker occasionally manages to make something that’s either good, or just a lot of fun to watch. With this in mind, let’s check out 5 Chinese horror movies you can consider watching post-Halloween – if Horror movie fatigue hasn’t kicked in yet – and I’ve got a mix of serious or silly films for you to check out.
The House That Never Dies
This is the number 1 highest grossing horror movie in China ever, and will probably never be beaten considering the movie in second place, a 2017 sequel, only made half the amount at the box office this one did! Starring the beautiful Taiwanese actress Ruby Lin, Hong Kong veteran Francis Ng and directed by Hong Kong’s Raymond Yip, who also directed Lin in both Blood Stained Shoes and Phantom of the Theatre, the use of non-mainland Chinese actors and directors was a smart move.
There are several gimmicks in the House that Never Dies series that make them interesting films. They’re set in the present time in large Beijing mansion that holds a strong connection to the spirits of past residents. The actors also play duals roles of both the present and past characters. In this film, Ruby Lin plays an author in the present time who moves with her daughter to the mansion to be with her husband, who she suspects is having an affair with his assistant. While in the mansion, she witnesses supernatural events which are a connected to the horrible history of the residence.
In the past, Lin plays a prostitute by the name of Lu, who falls in love with a man from a noble family who live in the mansion. His family plays a trick on Lu, forcing her to marry his recently deceased brother and burying her alive in a coffin, only for her to be rescued as its discovers she is pregnant.
The theatrical version was released in True 3D and was highly acclaimed by critics and moviegoers, even inspiring segments of the audience to visit the actual location of the mansion featured in the film. While it does have the usual Chinese horror movie ending, the effects used throughout are quite decent, the acting is solid and not over done and the storyline is captivating in its use of the parallel timelines and the actors playing duals roles.
This movie can be found easily enough on Netflix, too, as a convenient viewing.
This is another movie that is both highly regarded by the audience and made a good return at the box office. Mortal Ouija is far more serious horror movie than most on this list, and is one of the better, if not best, films of the Die Xian, or plate-fairy, movie genre. Released in 2019 with a rumoured follow up due in 2022, Mortal Ouija tells the tale of a divorced mother and her daughter who take up residence in a large but old apartment close to the daughter school. At all times the apartment is cold and musty, and at night a foul odour can be detected but not located.
The previous tenants have left behind a storeroom full of junk, including an old ouija board and dish that the daughter, Wen Wen, plays with, conjuring the evil spirit within. Supernatural incidents occur in the apartment, and with the help of a few science spirit busters, they determine there is actually nothing abnormal occurring, but the incidents keep happening. Unfortunately, Wen Wen falls into a coma and is hospitalised; her mother subsequently makes contact with the previous owner who advises her that the ouija board contains a spirit that must be passed onto another person within 7 days of conjuring, or it will kill the person who called it.
The movie keeps up the supernatural pretence all the way, and even though it’s forced to explain the spirit as being a person dressing up, it then overrides that right at the end, creating an almost completely satisfactory ending. The whole movie is worth a watch. It’s one of the rare Chinese horror films that builds up the tension throughout and has a nice little nod to American films like The Conjuring and Japan’s Ringu.
This movie is very difficult to find with English subtitles, unfortunately, as it has never been officially released.
2017’s The Door is very interesting Chinese slasher film, a horror genre which is always overlooked in favour for the supernatural and spirit type of films. This is strange, nevertheless, because the slasher film should have the least restrictions on them.
The Door is set in an abandoned factory where a movie crew has assembled late at night to begin filming. One by one, the cast and crew go missing as its discovered there is someone, or a few people, hunting down everyone, punishing them for a previous incident that all of them were somehow involved with. Although hardly an original premise, the levels of violence and sex in the film are quite unusual for a Chinese movie. Strictly speaking, there is no actual nudity in the movie, but the sex scene is quite vigorous and the women are dressed in some skimpy clothing at certain points.
If you’re paying enough attention to the movie, its rather obvious how it ends as it is telegraphed from the beginning. Whether or not you enjoy the pay off is debatable, but the journey to get there, where the experience is steeped in traditionally Western horror elements, will have you forgetting the film you are watching is actually Chinese.
Bunshinsaba vs Sadako 2
A list of Chinese horror movies wouldn’t be complete without a few sillier, crazy choices for the entertainment value ahead of artistic merit. It also wouldn’t be a valid list without a BiXian movie, and these last two covered also come from the same amusing series. They’re both well worth a watch, too, as fantastically nonsensical entertainment!
Bunshinsaba VS Sadako 2 is exactly that – the second in the series of films that pits China’s pen fairy against Japan’s VHS spirit. Or in this case, digital video spirit. Just as you’d expect, a group of teens watch a cursed online video which sets Sadako free into the world to kill them. As the group starts to slowly whittle down, the survivors call upon a Professor who is a master of dealing with the supernatural and his trustworthy sidekick, both possessing an array of machinery they can use to suppress any spirits.
Predictably, Sadako is just a little too strong from them and they resort to an ouija board for summoning BiXian as assistance. Essentially, this becomes a China versus Japan movie in the ensuing showdown, just in spirit battle form! Naturally in a patriotic triumph, China also wins (or do they?)! It’s interesting that this series has decided to subsequently cast BiXian as a good guy, whereas she is usually shown as the spirit who mercilessly causes troubles for those conjuring her, but she’s clearly been entangled into national pride from her heritage.
Describing the film as a masterpiece would be a ridiculous notion – this is just a silly time-waster featuring some decent special effects, a competent story delivered through solid acting and an ending that works well within norms – nothing to disappoint to any severe level. Incidentally, before you ask, this movie has nothing to do with the Japanese movies either – did they even have intellectual property rights or is this a strange bootleg?
Bunshinsaba Hoichi The Earless
When you’re on a good thing, stick to it. After producing 2 films in the series, the first of which doesn’t contain English subtitles, production house Zhonglele, who are also responsible for some of the awesome monster movies that have been released recently including the incredibly entertaining film Land Shark, originally planned this movie to be Part 3 of the series. Originally going to be released in 2019, the movie was delayed and given a new title – a very confusing title of Bunshinsaba Hoichi The Earless. I am not going to try and explain the Hoichi The Earless matter, but suffice to say it has nothing to do with the classic Japanese horror story.
What this movie does do is call a truce with Japan, because Thailand is the new baddie in this film. That’s right, the Thai Kumanthong is the big evil, and is yet again another part of the movie that makes no sense. Nevertheless, you’re not here for logical cohesion, you’re here for fun. After trying to jump off a bridge to her death, but being rescued by her sister, You Mei discovers a wooden statue and takes it home. Researching the origins of the statue, she accidentally makes a blood sacrifice to it, unleashing Jaroona, the supposed Kumanthong. Let’s not analyse the accuracy of this segment, however…
Jaroona is a particularly nasty spirit, so You Mei calls upon the professor with the cool machines (from the previous movie) and his sidekick to help get rid of her. He decides to rely on the trusty Bixian, but we find out she isn’t strong enough to defeat her. So, they play the ultimate power move, they call Bixian’s immortal enemy, Sadako, in the hopes that she will team up with BiXian and defeat Jaroona. Is this an awesome but insane formula to substitute kaiju monster battles with mythological spirits?
These are the types of horror movies you usually expect from China – the utterly ridiculous – and I hope my showcase of five showcases their horror cinema to a reasonable degree. It’s sadly a rare occurrence that they’re actually fun and entertaining, but all these films definitely have redeeming qualities.