Where are all the decent Chinese horror films?

Why Mainland China falls short when it comes to scary movies

Raise the Red Lantern

With Halloween approaching, it’s the perfect season for horror movies – at least in most of the world. In Mainland China, however, it’s a different story.

China has a much smaller slate of horror films than other countries, and interest isn’t high. But why is China so lacking in the horror film department? Like many problems with Chinese film, a lot of blame for this can be laid at the feet of Government restrictions.

China has undefined limits on violence and sexual content, two mainstays of the horror genre. Even worse for horror films are the state’s limits on superstitious content, which extends to ghosts, zombies and other symbols of the supernatural.

Despite the fact that ghosts have long played a role in Chinese mythology and folk tales, they’re not allowed in Mainland films for fear of encouraging superstition. Mainland horror films still try to portray ghosts, however, leading to some pretty ridiculous plot twists.

Take the 2014 hit The House That Never Dies (spoilers ahead). The film, inspired by a real, ostensibly haunted house at 81 Chaoyangmen Nei Dajie, centres around a woman haunted by ghosts in a stately Beijing mansion. The film’s strong production values made it a smash at the Chinese box office despite some seriously melodramatic acting and clichéd imagery. At the end of the film, it’s revealed that every ghost we’ve seen is actually the result of the heroine having been secretly dosed with LSD.

Watch The House The Never Dies trailer [VPN required].

Other films have likewise explained away their ghosts as the result of bad dreams, insanity or hypnosis. It has to be said that not all the blame lies with the government. Hollywood had its own spell of strict (industry-imposed) censorship from the ‘30 to the late ‘60s, and while that was a relatively fallow period for horror films, America still managed to produce some gems.

Many Chinese horror directors, however, seem content to merely copy imagery from dated Japanese ghost movies. With limits on the number of foreign films shown on Chinese screens, even lacklustre Chinese horror films are able to make a profit from young viewers, especially given those films’ low production costs.

If you are seeking some scares with Chinese characteristics, though, you’re still covered. As with a lot of Chinese genre films, the more unregulated Hong Kong film industry provides what the Mainland lacks. Check out four Chinese horror films worth a watch.

By Aaron Fox-Lerner

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