Here’s something for all you wannabe hypochondriacs out there: September 11, 1978 saw the last recorded death from smallpox in history, as Janet Parker, a British photographer, succumbed to the virus in an event that changed the way pathogens were researched in the United Kingdom. While Parker was the final smallpox victim, that fact did nothing to lessen society’s inherent fear of viral agents — something that’s only increased in recent years, for obvious reasons. In Parker’s memory, then, let’s consider some stories where viruses ran amok (and, in most cases, were brought back under control.)
MAUVAIS SANG (1986)
This French drama was clearly a heavy-handed HIV allegory — the fictional virus, STBO, affected people who had sex without emotional attachment — but it’s worth watching despite the lack of subtlety, in large part thanks to the chance to see a young Juliette Binoche as the accidental femme fatale at the heart of the story.
ADRENALIN: FEAR THE RUSH (1996)
Everything from the title to the cast list (Christopher Lambert! Natasha Henstridge!) marks this as a low-budget 1990s direct-to-video classic, and the finished movie won’t disappoint. A mysterious virus born in the remains of the former Soviet Union makes its way to Boston — in reality, Slovakia, where the movie was filmed, because of course — while, simultaneously, a monster is killng off gang members. Could the two events be related? If you don’t instinctively know the answer to that, you might be the ideal audience.
“Based on Actual Events,” boasted the poster for this modern-day B-movie, but considering the plot revolves around an unknown plague that overwhelms a town following a meteor crash nearby, that’s kind of stretching the truth just a little. Of course, watching this might make you even more worried about meteor crashes, so there’s that.
A particularly deadly strain of influenza has wiped out the majority of humanity in this recent remake of a British TV series from the 1970s (a series created by the same man that gave Doctor Who the Daleks, interestingly enough; he clearly likes the idea of lots of humans dying). The remainders wander the planet wondering how — or even if — society can be rebuilt. Think of it as an even-more-depressing Walking Dead. No, really.
Similar to Survivors, it’s the influenza virus that is killing everyone off thanks to a shipping container filled with dead immigrants arriving in Korea, each one infected by the H5N1 virus — AKA, bird flu. Even though there’s — spoiler warning — a happy ending, expect all your worst fears about bird flu to be underscored by this horror movie.
Multiple virus tropes pile up in this movie that’s at once an HIV metaphor, zombie movie and body horror flick mixed into one. Trigger warnings abound in a story where the rape of the main character leads to her becoming infected with something that’s far, far more serious than the cramping and hangover that she believes she’s experiencing.
WORLD WAR Z (2013)
What can save the world from an unstoppable undead virus? That would be Brad Pitt, of course, in the adaptation of the beloved book that explained the viral outbreak in impressive detail — the book, that is; the movie is something else entirely, and yet, something that remains equally enjoyable. Apparently, even zombie movies can’t be stopped.
CABIN FEVER: PATIENT ZERO (2014)
The third installment of the horror series is actually a prequel, explaining how the virus escaped the lab conditions of its origins in the first place, and who the first humans were to fall before its deadly effects. Turns out, Samwise Gamgee himself — actor Sean Astin — was the one to blame all along. Bet you feel dumb for trusting him now, Frodo.
The short-lived conspiracy theory TV show might have had at least three twists too many for its own good, but at the center of it all was a virus that mimicked the zombie effect but in a way that was just that little bit scarier: these guys, after all, were capable of working together and (some limited) strategizing.
Y The Last Man meets Logan’s Run in this new TV drama about a town where a virus kills everyone off aged 22 and above… leaving the few left alive with a death sentence hanging over their heads and no immediately obvious way of solving the problem.