Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time: Top 10 Outbreak Movies In Horror

March 20, 2020 | Posted by Joseph Lee
A Bloody Good Time 28 Days Later

Yeah, it’s…it’s been a while. Welcome to A Bloody Good Time!

What can I say? I took a break from ABGT to get my mind right, and eventually gave it up because I was just burned out. And no, this isn’t a full time thing. This is probably not even a more than one week thing. I just had an idea and what else am I going to do stuck at home all the time?

But you don’t care about that, you want some of that fresh horror content! Plus, you know, I gotta reclaim my turf from Rob Stewart, who’s totally not doing great horror content on his own that you should go look at just to point out how well-written and enjoyable it is. Okay, so I’m not great at insulting people.

The world is really crazy right now. There’s this virus running more or less unchecked from the sounds of things. Everything’s shut down, everyone’s panicking, and you can’t even get toilet paper anymore. Things we took for granted are suddenly yanked away from us. Some people are getting by with whatever they can. Video games, books, complaining on the internet.

For me, it’s the same as always, I watch movies. I watch horror movies, specifically, because watching other people suffer in a safe, fictional setting is miles better than turning on the news and seeing it in real time. At least I know zombies aren’t really going to rise up, you know?

So, let’s look at what, for my money, are some of the best movies about viral outbreaks. Horror movies, so don’t expect to see Contagion or The Andromeda Strain on here.

#10: Infection (2004)

We start the list with a little-seen Japanese horror film from sixteen years ago. I initially didn’t like this movie when I first saw it, but I’ve seen learned to appreciate it more. Infection follows a small, understaffed hospital that becomes the location of a smaller outbreak of an incredibly deadly disease, and it may be some sort of karmic revenge for a doctor hiding the truth about killing a patient. Either way, the people die in some nasty and melty ways.

I’m reminded of schlock like Body Melt or Street Trash, but this has better production quality. It’s also, arguably, a better film, although I won’t deny the other two are a lot of fun. The biggest problem with Infection is that its severely disjointed and one of the more non-linear J-horror movies you’ll ever see. It could be argued that it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I think it makes just enough to be worth a watch. Special shout-out to anyone working in healthcare right now, since you have to deal with a lot.

#9: I Am Legend (2007)

I could have went with any version of Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel. There’s the Vincent Price version The Last Man on Earth and the Charlton Heston movie The Omega Man. I wouldn’t say this is the best of them and none of them follow the novel close enough to retain the point of the story. But this does feature a terrific first two-thirds and one of Will Smith’s best performances. It’s 28 Days Later meets Cast Away. I mean that with the highest of praise.

That’s not to say it’s perfect. It doesn’t follow the book like it should (at this point I don’t expect any movie adaptation to do that). The CGI monsters look even worse now than they did then. And of course, the ending is particularly bad. But Will Smith is great and the shots of an abandoned New York are haunting and…sadly prescient today. And there’s always the Director’s Cut ending if you want something a little closer to Matheson’s intent. I recommend all three movies for different reasons, but this is the one I go back to more often.

#8: The Invasion (2007)

In my opinion, there’s never been a bad version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I also think it’s a tale, like Carrie, that needs to be told every 10-15 years due to how its relevance is evergreen. We might actually be overdue for a new one. They’re all great movies, although everyone’s going to prefer one version or the other. I don’t think anyone’s going to pick The Invasion, although if I were ranking all four movies, this would certainly be above Body Snatchers. Either way, this is the one you have to pick if you’re talking about outbreak movies.

Normally the ‘invasion’ is due to aliens replacing humans with copies. In The Invasion, it’s a disease. Well, sort of. It’s actually a fungus, but it works like a disease and it counts for the purposes of this list. Like the other versions of the story, the fungus controls you after you go to sleep, removes your emotions and promises you a better world as a result. It’s just a new way to tell an old tale, and having it be a spore that can easily be transmitted is a horrifying way. At least in the others, you could reasonably avoid being snatched if you were vigilant. All bets are off in this one, and that’s why I enjoy it.

#7: Carriers (2009)

Compared to other films on this list, Carriers is not fun. I’d argue that none of these movies are fun given the climate but the point here is escapism. I’m not recommending this for that purpose, but simply that it’s a very good movie. Just be aware that it’s a more nihilistic and grim movie than say, Will Smith hunting CGI vampires. It’s not bleak for the sake of it, though, it actually has a point. The dire circumstances our main characters find themselves in is all due to choice: the hard decisions they have to make in order to live. The world is pretty much dead and to survive they have to follow their set rules at any costs. It’s really depressing and sad, but at the same time it tells an actual story with relatable, if not always likable characters.

Chris Pine in particular is pretty good here. He’s not anyone you’d ever want to spend any time with, but his performance is good. And we’re given the impression that he only acts this way because he’s seen the horror of this world first hand and knows no other way to deal with it. There are constant references to his prior job as a gravedigger, which takes on a new meaning in this film. The twist surrounding that little detail is predictable, but in a good way. The world can be a very cruel place when everyone is out for themselves and “survival of the fittest” is in play. Thankfully, we live in a world that still has good people in it and plenty of hope.

#6: Cabin Fever (2002)

Okay, this one’s bleak too, but it’s also stupid and honestly the perfect kind of movie if you’re sitting at home worrying about what’s happening. You can say a lot about Eli Roth, but can’t deny he loves his horror and knows how to make some nasty movies. Such is the case here, about a group of kids who go to a cabin and contact a flesh-eating virus. A flesh-eating virus that reveals itself in increasingly disgusting ways. This was the movie that, for better or worse, put Roth on the map. There’s a reasons horror fans flocked to it when it came out.

Honestly, I think this one has mostly been forgotten over the years in favor of Hostel, thanks to stupid sequels and that putrid remake. Of course, it’s real selling point is the gore more than any realistic look at infections and viral outbreaks. There’s also the weird sense of humor that Roth has, which includes a random person in a bunny suit and the pancakes kid. Somehow it works, and it certainly makes the movie memorable. Not nearly as much as a woman shaving her legs and taking off more than hair, but I digress.

#5: Rabid (1977)

When I first saw this movie, I didn’t care for it. But unlike Videodrome and Scanners (I’m sorry, I’ve tried to give them several chances), Rabid grew on me. Considering its subject matter, perhaps I should be worried about that. It does have periods where it’s dull and perhaps the Soska Sisters’ remake is better, but it’s still a very good look at how quickly something can spread and how you can’t really depend on the government to treat it properly. That’s a message in a lot of these movies. If there’s one message you can get from an apocalypse movie or something similar, it’s not to trust your government.

Marilyn Chambers’ performance is the weakest thing about the film, but give her credit for trying. She’s primarily known for porn, so leading a body horror film like this is a big step for her. And we’re not really watching something like Rabid for the acting anyway. If the title didn’t give it away, it’s about a mutant strain of rabies that turns people crazy and deadly. If you can get beyond Cronenberg’s dry directorial style (as it was in many of his early films), then you get a suitably chaotic movie that’s all the more impressive since it was done with a low budget. There’s a lot of interesting ideas here, although I can think of a movie from the same decade that does it better.

#4: The Crazies (1973)

It could be argued that the 2010 remake is a more entertaining film. However that’s more like an action-zombie movie, and that’s not what George Romero’s original is at all. Romero is pretty clearly saying that your government is going to screw you over if something like this hits. I’m not making a political statement, but that’s the risk you run in movies where the world goes to hell. Anyway, governments in outbreak movies don’t get nearly as inept as they do here, for reasons I won’t spoil.

The movie is about a disease that, as the title implies, makes people lose their minds. So you not only have to worry about infection, but the infected as well, as they’ll go nuts and try to kill you. Society breaks down fast, as you might expect. Honestly, I think that’s the more horrifying aspect of a pandemic, and Romero manages to nail it here. Luckily it’s in a more over-the-top fashion that’s a little disconnected from reality. If you want something a litlte dumber and more fun, check out the 2010 version. This is the scarier and thought-provoking version.

#3: The Stand (1994)

I am ecstatic that we’re getting a new version of this, as The Stand could definitely use an update. Not that the original version is bad. It’s very good and one of my favorite King adaptations. But it’s also a product of its time. Even King tried to modernize the story when he put out the revised version. It’s a tale, like Carrie, that could be relevant in any era. It’ll be interesting to see when CBS All Access decides to release the new version, because it might be a little too close to home for some.

Of course, only the first half of The Stand is about a pandemic at all. A superflu nicknamed ‘Captain Trips’ devastates the world. This features some of King’s best and most haunting writing. If you don’t sleep with the lights on after reading the scenes in the New York tunnels, you’re stronger than I am. The miniseries doesn’t really translate that scene well, but the rest is handled well enough. After that it turns into an over-the-top story of good vs. evil with the characters we followed in the beginning choosing sides. Sure, the ending is kinda hokey (God makes an appearance), but the scenes of the superflu’s devastation and the performances of the cast (particularly Jamey Sheridan as Randall Flagg) make this an all-timer.

#2: Day of the Dead (1985)

I knew I had to put a zombie movie on here. More importantly, I had to put one of George Romero’s movies on here. Yes, Night and Dawn of the Dead are classics, important movies and arguably better than this. But I think Day manages to capture the current climate a little more and works better as an outbreak movie in a way. I’ll try to explain.

Day follows a group of scientists and soldiers, locked together after the world has already gone to hell thanks to the zombie apocalypse. Tensions are high as the scientists struggle to come up with a way to make the above-world livable for humans again, running experiments to solve a problem they’ve never seen before. The soldiers are letting the power go to their heads and are making the underground world almost as bad.

Night is good at capturing the beginning stages of what happens, Dawn gives a better view of the world and what’s happening. But I think Day is a better example of the isolation that healthy people would be feeling in a scenario like this. Perhaps how they’re feeling now. Granted, I like to believe that people in general are better than Captain Rhodes, but the feeling is there.

On top of that, it features, for my money, the best work of Tom Savini’s effects career.

#1: 28 Days Later (2002)

First of all, not a zombie movie. That used to be a bigger debate, but let’s make that clear right now. The culprit of this movie is the ‘rage virus’, which has a scary-quick amount of time between transmission, infection and symptoms emerging. In this case, it’s like The Crazies in which the disease turns you into a mindless psychopath. One of the most disturbing scenes in the film is when Brendan Gleeson’s Frank gets infected, knows he’s infected and only has a brief amount of time to tell his daughter goodbye before he’s gone.

You’d think that would make this the bleakest of the movies on the list, but it’s actually hopeful. The world has certainly fallen apart (or at least the UK has), people are just as awful as ever in a situation like this and it seems like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. But some of the better moments (you know, that aren’t terrifying) are when our characters have a chance to bond and show that humanity can exist in the darkest of times.

That’s not to say this movie isn’t scary. The running infected might not bother you, but there’s a reason those shots of a vacant London are as iconic as they are.

And that’s it. Maybe these movies hit a little too hard given what’s going on, and that’s fine. But maybe watching some escapism with fictional people fighting like hell to survive and, in some cases, doing so, is just what you need. That’s not for me to say. I’m just here to recommend some good movies and hope that those recommendations give you a tiny amount of comfort in some bad times.

But hey, I’m the kind of guy who can make apocalypse jokes right now in order to break the tension. I watch people die on screen for fun. Maybe I’m not the best judge. I’m just trying to contribute the only way I know how, with content that you may or may not find entertaining.

Either way, it’ll get better guys. We might not know when and we might not like the way things are, but it will get better. Just be vigilant, keep yourselves healthy and do not become assholes. We have to stick together.