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Infectious Films: Our Favorite Movie Outbreaks

With fear of an Ebola outbreak hovering over us here in Dallas, the hypochondriacs here at Movie Ink can’t help being fixated on infectious films. Here are some faves that go great with orange juice and cough drops:

Panic in the StreetsPanic In the Streets (1950). Directed by Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront) and starring Richard Widmark and Jack Palance, this forgotten gem involves a manhunt to apprehend two criminals carrying the bubonic plague before they infect New Orleans. Winner of the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture Story.

Last Man on EarthThe Last Man on Earth (1964). Based on Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend and starring Vincent Price as the lone survivor of a global plague that turned mankind into vampiric marauders. Remade in 1971 as The Omega Man with Charlton Heston (as a civil rights allegory — seriously!) and in 2007 as I Am Legend with Will Smith.

Masque Of The Red DeathMasque of the Red Death (1964). A classic adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s inspired short story, directed by schlock master Roger Corman. Price stars as a tyrannic Satan-worshipping prince attempting to wait out a plague from behind the walls of his decadent castle.

Andromeda StrainThe Andromeda Strain (1971). Based on the novel by Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park) and directed by Robert Wise (Star Trek: The Motion Picture), this early bio-thriller focused on a team of scientists in a race against time to isolate the extraterrestrial germ that wiped out an entire town.

CraziesThe Crazies (1973). George Romero followed up his classic zombie flick Night of the Living Dead with this horror-thriller about the accidental release of a military bio-weapon in a small town. While scientists races to find a cure, a group of civilians struggles to survive against the infected as well as soldiers with orders to shoot on sight. A cult classic, remade last year.

ShiversShivers aka They Came from Within (1975). One of director David Cronenberg’s first feature films, about a mad doctor who infects a young woman with an organism that is part aphrodisiac, part venereal disease. Before long, she’s spreading the infection to everyone in her high-rise apartment complex, resulting in a rampage of sexual hysteria.

RabidRabid (1977). Also by Cronenberg, and starring porn actress Marilyn Chambers (Behind the Green Door) as a motorcycle accident victim subjected to an experimental tissue-repair treatment. She begins e on blood, and her victims become carriers of something akin to rabies.

VirusVirus (1980). The world’s population is devastated by a super-virus AND a nuclear holocaust (some days you just can’t catch a break) in this Japanese production with a big-name American cast which includes Robert Vaughn, Glenn Ford, George Kennedy, Edward James Olmos, and Chuck Connors.

OutbreakOutbreak (1995). Inspired by Richard Preston’s book The Hot Zone, Wolfgang Petersen’s (Troy) tale of an Ebola-like outbreak in a small California town gave audiences a taste of what such a disaster might truly be like, and firmly planted the acronym “CDC” in our everyday vocabulary.

28 Days Later28 Days Later (2002). Danny Boyle’s stylish and intense thriller about England brought low by the accidental release of a virus that turns the infected into mindless, berserk killers. A surprise mega-hit, it spawned a sequel of rare quality, 28 Weeks Later.

Cabin FeverCabin Fever (2002). Eli Roth’s (Hostel) witty tale of a group of students who rent a cabin in the woods and promptly fall prey to a flesh-eating virus. Inspired by the indie horror classics of the ’70s and ’80s, as well as trip Roth took to Iceland, during which he developed a skin infection.

QuarantineQuarantine (2008). This squirm-tastic American remake of the Spanish horror movie REC dispenses with that film’s supernatural trappings in favor of something more akin to 28 Days Later. The found footage-style thriller follows a news crew and a group of first-responders trapped in an apartment building whose residents are infected with a form of super-rabies. A sequel was released direct to video.

ContagionContagion (2011). A superb medical thriller by Steven Soderbergh (Out of Sight, Traffic) that features an all-star ensemble cast battling the global outbreak of a deadly disease. Soderbergh paints an unnervingly believable portrait of what containing and treating a global outbreak would entail. An added plus: Gwyneth Paltrow dies badly and gets the top of her head sawed off in the first ten minutes.

About Gary Dowell

Professional film critic, journalist, Byronic hero.


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