Some of the most popular American horror movies are remakes of Japanese originals, and there’s a good reason for that: Films like Ringu (later remade as The Ring) and Ju-on: The Grudge (later remade as The Grudge) are truly terrifying. To gear up for fall—and to make sure we all get some use out of our night lights—we’re spotlighting 20 bone-chilling Japanese horror movies to watch in 2018. They give scary a whole new meaning; in fact, the DVD covers alone have been known to give us nightmares. From the straight-up harrowing to the psychologically upsetting, these are the best Japanese horror movies to stream right now.
When a recent widower holds auditions to find a new wife, he quickly falls for an enchanting young woman with a dark past. The owner/object power dynamics are fascinating; it’s a worthwhile watch as a feminist study even if suspenseful psychological thrillers aren’t normally your thing. But fair warning: The movie isn’t gory throughout (the buildup is quite slow, in fact), but there’s an unexpectedly gruesome torture scene at the end. Let’s just say I don’t even want to tell you what one character eats for dinner. This Japanese horror film is one of the scariest you’ll ever see.
Up Next: Tales of Terror From Tokyo
Inspired by Japanese folklore, Snow Woman is a hauntingly beautiful film. It tells the tale of a woman who lures in victims with her beauty only to kill them with her icy breath. The juxtaposition between death and gloom and a visually striking backdrop makes it a compelling watch. It’s definitely one of the tamer Japanese horror movies out there, so if you like a little creepiness without all the guts and gore, this just might be the one for you.
Up Next: Jigoku
A serial killer who owns a fish shop buys another fish shop to torment the previous owner and his family… That’s definitely a creepy setup for a horror movie, and we’ll probably never look at aquariums the same way again after watching Cold Fish. The movie is loosely based on Gen Sekine and Hiroko Kazama, a married couple who killed four people in 1993.
Up Next: Suicide Club
If you prefer supernatural suspense to real-life crime horror, Dark Water should be on your list of Japanese horror films to watch. It’s about a single mother who moves into a run-down apartment with a mysterious water leak with her young daughter. Things seem strange at first before they turn full-on destructive. Directed by Hideo Nakata—the filmmaker behind Ringu—the film offers up plenty of moody atmosphere and creepy symbolism.
Up Next: Teke Teke
Jared Leto fans, this one is for you. Set in post-WWII Japan, The Outsider is about an American who joins the yakuza (a sophisticated international crime gang) after spending time in an Osaka prison. As expected, violence and drama ensue in this Japanese horror pick.
Up Next: Battle Royale
One Missed Call
One Missed Call is another Japanese horror film that inspired an American remake. The 2003 original is about a psychology student who receives an unsettling voicemail on her cell phone of her own voice screaming. The American version received far better reviews than the original, so it’s worth checking out.
Up Next: Kairo
Ju-On: The Grudge
Ju-On: The Grudge is arguably the most famous modern-day Japanese horror film. It was such a success that it sparked an American remake starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. It uses an interesting nonlinear narrative to tell the horrifying tale of a building cursed after a string of murders. It contains real-world violence and grit as well as supernatural spookiness, so if you like your horror movies to have both of those things, opt for The Grudge.
The Japanese Horror Movie Up Next: Rinne
Ichi the Killer
Here’s another disturbing film directed by Takashi Miike, who also directed Audition. It’s about a disturbed man who goes on a sadistic spree when his gang leader/puppet master disappears. The level of violence is so over the top that Ichi the Killer is banned in several countries. The opening more than sets the scene, so you’ll know right off the bat if it’s too twisted for you. (It’s so disturbing I don’t even want to tell you about it.)
Up Next: Kuime
Made in 1964, Onibaba is a classic Japanese horror film directed by Kaneto Shindo. It’s about a 14th-century civil war and two women who kill soldiers for loot. It involves a mask of dead samurai, a fascinating mother-daughter dynamic, and a haunted swamp.
Up Next: Woman in the Dunes
Directed by Hideo Nakata, The Ring (Ringu in Japanese), is legendary. It’s about a reporter who’s investigating a story about a cursed videotape that’s linked to the deaths of multiple people. The metafictional element makes it even more haunting, as you yourself are watching this supposedly cursed video. It will probably give you a phobia of wells.
Up Next: Noroi: The Curse
In search of more horror films this Halloween? Check out this list of '80s horror films that are kitschy in the best possible way.