STOP10: 10 S.E.Asian Horror Films for a Stay-in Halloween

Halloween, traditionally the pinnacle of wild parties and scare-houses, has now become a shadow of its former self. A year marked by Covid-19 has made quite clear to us that in this new normal, the old habits of packing oneself into spooky confines with scare actors and raving till 3am on muggy dance floors are not resuming anytime soon. Hence, if you're looking for a scare without having to leave your sanctuary, you're in luck! Here's a list of 10 Southeast Asian horror films you can occupy yourself with to make this 31 October a little more spine-chilling.

1. Shake, Rattle, Roll (1984)

There are actually 15 instalments of the Shake, Rattle and Roll horror anthology series from the Philippines since its inception in 1984. But the very first set, released in 1984, is arguably the best and most iconic, owing largely to the man-eating refrigerator in the second segment Pridyider and the half-body winged female vampire in the final segment Manananggal.

The first segment Baso sees a trio of teenage friends get possessed in the process of playing Spirit of the Glass, with the ‘possessors’ being tragic love-triangle characters from the Independence War era. The film then starts to pick up the pace with auteur Ishmael Bernal’s attempt at horror, Pridyider. Who knew an electrical appliance can be so terrifying? The refrigerator in this one rapes women and dismembers men. In first establishing how ordinary yet important the refrigerator is in the house,  Bernal exhibits mastery of horror. Yet, the refrigerator's ability to kill required only a small dose of common sense. The final segment plays on a familiar romancing the demon trope. A young man falls in love with a girl who hides the fact that she is a vicious manananggal, a mythological winged, half-body, human-eating monster. He is later tasked by the village to kill her. Hearing the manananggal screech is enough to make your hair stand.

2. 4bia (Phobia) (2008)

Made iconic by the hair-raising experience of flying with a dead body alone, 4bia needs little introduction but still proves to be a fun ride for anyone looking for some Halloween thrill. Four loosely connected stories play on our fears and our moments of vulnerability. Arguably the best of the four segments, Loneliness see a handicapped girl get hooked on texting a male suitor. It starts to get creepy when they exchange photos and all the girl received back from the man after sending her freshly-taken pictures are the same pictures. Can you guess why? He’s already in them. Scream!

Tit for Tat, the second segment which is about a bullied kid taking revenge on his perpetrators as vengeful spirit, isn’t too much to shudder about. Segment three, The Man in the Middle, takes the anthology on a comedic turn, with four boys arguing over who should sleep in the middle of the tent, as belief has it that whoever does that will be haunted by a ghost. True enough, the boy who ended up in the middle behaved strangely the day after and they are besieged by an even stranger discovery.

Last Flight, the final segment, could be the creepy answer to what happens when people pass away on board a flight. Pim, a flight attendant had to fly solo with a deceased Princess of Khurkistan, whose body sat on one corner of a cabin completely empty and dim? Of course, the royal ghost had some real beef with Pim, over an affair, making this flight not just chilling but entertaining as well!

3. Coming Soon (2008)

If Ringu made some people fear watching programmes in front of TV set, Coming Soon will make you fear sitting in ‘socially-distanced’ cinemas (especially the old ones in Bangkok) for there may be things coming to life from the big screen. Coming Soon operates on a film-within-a-film concept. One on hand, we are transported into the world of the movie Evil Spirit, which is about Shomba, a terrifying, based-on-a-true story witch. On the other hand, Shomba will turn up at a cinema seat near you.

Written by Sophon Sakdapisit, who also penned famed Thai blockbuster Shutter, the film follows cinema projectionist Chen’s encounter with Shomba and his investigation of the cursed trail of happenings that eventually bring him to Shomba’s actual former home. The movie is evenly-paced but promises to end on an adrenaline high.

4. Keramat (2009)

One of Keramat's greatest selling points is that it can easily be mistaken for a true story. The film masquerades as behind-the-scenes documentary footage of a movie production gone wrong. En route to Bantul, their shooting location, the production team becomes plagued with many strange occurrences, eventually culminating in the diabolical possession of one of their crew members. While the seamless ‘retelling’ of the story that contributes to the naturalistic atmosphere of the film may already give you the chills, one truly creepy detail must not escape you: The actors play characters named after themselves. This only further escalates the reflective character of Keramat.

Because of the found-footage concept undergirding Keramat, director Monty Tiwa’s frightening moments are not engineered as jump scares but as little surprises snuck into unexpected scenes. Fans of theParanormal Activity franchise will find this one just as enthralling, if not more.

5. 23:59 (2011)

A great Singaporean urban legend that has circulated through the decades is that of the gory but unsolved death of a recruit on Pulau Tekong, the country’s offshore military training island for new and unsuspecting enlistees. While there are multiple variations of the tale, some of its most fascinating elements remain the same: A route march which proves fatal for one unlucky fella, supernatural possessions and exorcisms, as well as bunkmates who get implicated in the entire episode. Drawing on these pillars, 23:59 is a loose retelling of the story many Singaporeans have come to know by heart.

The title of the films refers to the time of death of a mad woman who had lived on the island, and whose spirit is rumoured to return to haunt the camp at exactly the same time. One of the men in the platoon tries to convince his buddy that he is being targeted by the woman’s ghost but isn't taken seriously. That is, until he goes missing during the route march and turns up dead. As his buddy investigates the death, he begins to uncover more than he had bargained for.

There’s something about seeing something familiar being warped in a twisted way onscreen that makes the creep factor go off the charts. Anyone who has ever served in the army before should catch this and ask themselves what they would have done instead... for a shot at surviving the ordeal.

6. Satan’s Slaves (2017)

Before Joko Anwar's 2019 runaway success Impetigore, he had produced a horror piece that became the highest grossing domestic Indonesian film of 2017. Part remake, part prequel, his re-envisioning of the original 1980 namesake was so well-received, it was both a critical and commercial success. Many looked favourably upon the film's ability to pay homage to the original while still reinventing itself.

In Satan's Slaves, a family must untangle a complex web of lies and illusions following the matriarch's death. The plot develops in a slow-burn manner, allowing suspense to build up and tragedy to strike when timely. If you love this one, you’ll be glad to know that a third instalment of the trilogy has been lined up, though its release date has not been confirmed yet.

7. Munafik (2016)

There is a reason why this film is the highest grossing Malaysian film when it was first released in 2016 (since dethroned by its sequel, Munafik 2). Munafik, which refers to ‘fake’ religious followers, is not a run-of-the-mill horror film that falls back on exorcism-driven easy scares. It focusses a lot on suspense building, creating a religious context around the story and offering an intricate plot filled with numerous revelations and an ending you could never guess.

Adam, a traditional religious medical practitioner, has lost his wife to a car accident and feels shaken in his faith and confidence in helping others. He subsequently meets Maria, who then gets possessed by an evil spirit. At this point, more strange and fatal things start to happen to the people in the village around him, making him draw the connections with his wife’s death. The fog begins to clear and it becomes apparent there is one main demonic force he must destroy.

8. Haunted Hotel (2017)

Amber Court is an apartment in Genting Highlands that is said to be on the list of top 10 most haunted places in Asia. Many Malaysians will also tell you, dozens of buildings are haunted in Genting Highlands. One look at the building could certainly give you the shivers. It was rumoured that a number of mysterious deaths had taken place in the building.

Haunted Hotel tells the story of Ling and her boyfriend Jun who just received a windfall at the Genting Highlands casino but became stuck there when thunderstorms arrived. As most of the nearby hotels were fully booked, the couple found themselves in Amber Court. Of course, strange things start to happen during their stay, amongst them, the cliché of a woman in a white dress, which drives them to bolt for the exit—though not without a big struggle of course.

While the film bears certain familiar playbook elements, it is convincing in its exploration of the main character’s psyche and amounts to being a psychological drama as much as a horror film. Trust us, this film won’t let you figure it all out that easily.

9. Co Hau Gai (2016)

Yet another box office topper on this list, Co Hau Gai—which translates to ‘The Housemaid’ in English—stands out for its setting. The story unfolds against the backdrop of the First Indochinese War, in which an orphaned country girl named Linh is hired to be a housemaid at a haunted French rubber plantation. Unfortunately, when she falls in love with the French owner, his dead wife’s ghost is awakened and she seeks nothing but revenge. This period film revisits a part of Vietnamese history that is usually associated with war and trauma but gives it a gothic romance horror spin. If this isn’t called being innovative, we’re not sure what is.

Nhung Kate, who plays Linh, was accorded the Special Jury Prize for Acting at the 2017 Los Angeles Film Festival for her performance. In fact, the Americans love Co Hau Gai so much that a remake is in the works. But we all know what that means. So catch the original before it becomes reduced to a byword in Hollywood!

10. Vengeful Heart (2014)

While the whole ‘organ transplant leads to haunting of new owner by old owner due to unfinished business’ shenanigans is not a novel concept, it is expertly repurposed in this Vietnamese film. Based on the play of the same name by Thai Hoa, Vengeful Heart's premise lies in the heart transplant of a woman, Linh. What was to be a relaxing post-surgery vacation for Linh and her husband leads them to sinister discoveries at every turn, and soon the truth must unravel. Though the film ends on a good note, which is decently comforting (right?), it does little to allay our most common fears of supernatural consequences when people exchange, well, things.

If you spend your Halloween this year huddled beneath the blanket with one of these films, let us know your experience!

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