As most of the country becomes sequestered in our homes, watching movies and catching up on TV shows have become a go to for keeping the boredom at bay. But as we hide out from the Covid-19 Coronavirus do we really want to watch Hollywood fictional horrors of how extreme, how apocalyptic the little microscopic buggers could be to us and the world? The answer might be “Yes” if you look at Netflix’s Top 10 which has 2 such entries. If you’re likely to suffer even more anxiety than the news is already giving you or have your imagination send you hiding under the bed wrapped in Saran Wrap and duct tape then you probably want to distance yourself from any movie involving germs. But if you’re a glutton for punishment or just want to live out your worst case scenarios vicariously through your TV then I have suggestions for the best germ ridden movies and television. The list won’t include “after the fact” type movies like zombie apocalypse films. We’re going to focus on active infections and the brave characters fighting against them.
Famous for the “running zombies”, these aren’t actually zombies at all. After animal rights activists break into a lab and liberate the animals they also unleash a virus which turns people into rabid, vicious killers. A sequel, 28 Weeks Later, followed but failed to match the original.
In Cabin Fever two couples and a third guy go camping at a cabin one of them has access to. I’ve never understood why many horror movies stick a 5th wheel in with two couples whose only intent being there is to have sex. More fodder for the fever in this case. A toxic sludge produces a flesh eating virus that gets into the water system which the unknowing kids drink and get infected. One by one they succumb with some of the most gory effects I’ve seen. It’s so cringe inducing to watch a woman shaving her legs till she sees she is ripping the flesh off of them. A couple of sequels and even a remake (!) simply rehash the original. This movie is only for people with a tough stomach.
One of the better hand held camera movies, Quarantine is an American made version of a Spanish film called [Rec] . A female reporter and her cameraman do a ride along with a fire truck and its crew. When they respond to a call from a large apartment building they find some kind of outbreak among several tenants. The most terrifying moment though is when a giant tarp begins dropping down the outside walls of the building sealing everyone inside. Those who try to break through are shot. The worst thing though was the stupid decision of including the movie’s ending in the trailers for the film. One sequel followed, Quarantine 2 Terminal which is set at an airport and, like the majority of movie sequels we see today, it basically is a repeat of the first film.
For the quintessential virus thriller, The Andromeda Strain is a must see. Written by Michael Crichton (Westworld, Jurassic Park) who uses his knowledge as a former doctor to craft a tense, claustrophobic story of an organism brought back by a space probe which decimates the population of Piedmont, a small mid-western town, over night except for an old man and a baby. A team of 4 scientists are brought in to study the organism and the two sole survivors of Piedmont. Deep below ground in a complex called Wildfire the scientists discover the organism is growing and will soon threaten all life on Earth. Directed by Robert Wise (The Haunting, The Day The Earth Stood Still) the film has a very sterile atmosphere and builds slowly to its climax. A 2 part TV movie was made many years later but added too many unnecessary distractions whereas the original 1972 movie seals you inside the Wildfire complex with the scientists giving the feel that their fate was your fate. One of the best science fiction movies ever made.
Contagion which starred Matt Damon and Gwenyth Paltrow showed the stark reality of a world wide pandemic. This film bears an uncanny resemblance to our current situation to the point of being prophetic of our current crisis. The movie featured a bug that has so much in common with Covid-19 it is well worth the watch to see the global scale and transmission of a Coronavirus. The scenes across the world of people wearing face masks is the scenario happening in the world today. Even the way this virus got into the human population echoes what some scientists believe happened with Covid-19.
Outbreak was a big mainstream success starring Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman and Cuba Gooding Jr. The film features a chilling look at a virus that echoes many real life outbreaks such as Ebola. One frightening scene shows a movie theater where an infected person sneezes and we see in extreme close up slow motion the particles from the sneeze spewing into the packed movie house. A cautionary tale for the current pandemic we are currently in and the need to deprive the Covid-19 virus of new infectees through social distancing.
One film, though, towers above all other movies I’ve mentioned. It is not a horror movie, it is not science fiction. It is a true story. Based on Randy Shilt’s book of the same name And The Band Played On is the story of the early days of the HIV epidemic. In the early 80s doctors were discovering groups of gay men in New York, Florida and California were coming down with a disease that ravaged their immune systems leading the men to come down with opportunistic infections which ultimately killed them. The government’s response at the time was pathetic to non-existent. President Ronald Reagan refused to even mention the virus till near the end of his presidency. A sexually transmitted disease affecting gay men? No thank you. Suddenly the gay community was in a fight for their very existence and a movement of enormous magnitude was born. First they accomplished the renaming of the stigmatic GRID (Gay Related Immune Disorder) to AIDS (Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome). Their voices were loud and they would not be silenced. Still, it took the death of beloved Hollywood icon Rock Hudson to really get the ball rolling against the disease now identified as HIV. Elizabeth Taylor took up the cause vowing to spend the rest of her life fighting HIV and searching for a cure. And The Band Played On featured a stunning all star cast which included Richard Gere, Ian McKellan, Lilly Tomlin, BD Wong, Swoozie Kurtz, Matthew Modine, and Alan Alda who played Dr. Anthony Fauci…a man who now finds himself again thrust into the spotlight as the lead medical voice against Covid-19. A lot was learned from the battle against HIV (which was found to be part of a new class of viruses known as retro-viruses) that should have prepared us better to handle Covid-19 but just as with HIV the leaders of our government have come up short. There is still no cure for HIV after almost 40 years of fighting the virus. New advances in medicine have made it possible though for patients to live full, productive lives. This is the movie to watch if you want to see the real life fight against an “invisible enemy”.
The world we live in today is facing many crises and none are more serious than the climate change dangers of global warming. Rising temperatures, deforestation and pollution are driving exotic animal species closer to the human population centers. Some of these animals–who are only trying to survive–can carry viruses which could jump into the human population as may have been the case with Coronaviruses and HIV. There is no more time to delay. Scientists have warned us if the world doesn’t jump on this problem immediately we may reach the point of no return as early as 10-20 years from now. And then viruses will be the least of our problems.
I want to give a special thanks to Alex Wright who provided the cover image with the germs for this article. If you would like to see more of Alex’s work you can check out the link below.
Monsters Unleashed: Germs! Viral Movies To Watch During Pandemic
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