None of us enjoy being ill so why is that we find films about deadly disease such compelling viewing? Whether it be a grisly horror, an epic thriller or zombie drama we seem to find a morbid pleasure in watching people fall prey to killer viruses or brain devouring diseases. Psychologists
a number of reasons why we enjoy watching horror movies. These vary
from a cognitive, evolutionary desire to learn from the mistakes of the
characters who so frequently end up meeting their maker on screen, to
the exciting yet reassuring experience of watching chaos, drama and
death from a place of absolute safety.
Of course, disease makes the perfect villain for any horror film. Unlike baddies of the human variety, disease cannot be reasoned with or overcome by brute force (or a shotgun for that matter). Here are five epic movies where disease has wreaked havoc and destruction for the poor, unsuspecting characters.
Cabin Fever (2002)
When a bunch of stereotypical, all-American teenagers head out into a remote, redneck area of the woods for a camping trip you can pretty much predict that they’ll be trouble on the horizon. Since Cabin Fever is directed by Eli Roth (who also directed the equally disturbing Hostel) you can also predict that it’ll be trouble of the gruesome, gory, grisly variety. What, then, could be more gruesome than a highly contagious, aggressive, flesh eating virus in the wilderness?
As each of the characters (including the ‘jock’, the ‘slut’, the ‘shy hero’ and ‘shy hero’s sweet girlfriend’ and so on) get struck down by the killer disease, the film examines the darker side of human nature and how our own survival instinct and desire for self preservation can see us abandon and ostracise those who need our help – even those who we are supposed to care about.
Don’t expect a film that will change your life here. Cabin Fever is a low budget, tongue-in-cheek horror that is all about stereotypes, cheap thrills and good old fashioned gore. But, damn it’s entertaining.
I Am Legend (2007)
The film opens on a news report of a British scientist explaining that she has discovered a viral cure for cancer. However things don’t quite go to plan and three years on we see a desolate, abandoned New York City where Will Smith and his German Shephard, Sam, are the last ones standing. It turns out that this corrupt, engineered ‘cure’ has gone airborne, killing off most of humanity and transforming the rest into rabid, zombie-like creatures with superhuman strength and a taste for human flesh.
With similarities to other suspense, zombie-laden thrillers such as 28 Days Later and Resident Evil, I am Legend seems to question the power of science and mankind’s ability to destroy itself through endless meddling with powerful viruses.
With an exceptional performance from Will Smith and clever, edgy directing by Francis Lawrence, I Am Legend captures the sense of sheer devastation and isolation as a sole survivor searches valiantly for a biochemical cure to this epic disaster.
Nothing is as frightening as witnessing a disease-riddled horror that is, at least in some parts, possible and plausible. The fictional Motaba disease in Outbreak is based heavily on the real Ebola virus which causes massive internal bleeding within victims. Unbelievably, a real life outbreak of the virus occurred inZaire just months after this film was released.
With an all star case including Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey and Cuba Gooding Jr, this film examines how far the government would go to contain the spread of a deadly virus which was brought to the U.S from Africa by an infected monkey. Again, this raised questions in the real world with several ‘what-if’ scenarios being raised by the media following the film.
The Happening (2008)
Consider a truly terrifying concept – the very act of breathing could lead to your own self destruction. This disturbing theme is the basis for M. Night Shyamalan’s thriller which sees an airborne neurotoxin causing a reaction in the brain that makes people take their own lives by the nearest means possible – whether that be a tall building, a hair pin or a ride on lawnmower. The audience follow Mark Wahlberg and a small group of survivors as they try to outrun this deadly virus.
Critics have slated the premise of the film, classing it as a promising idea which was let down by the disappointing and unrealistic realisation that the source of the virus are toxic emissions from plants, trees and vegetation in an apparent natural, environmental catastrophe.
Whatever you think of the ‘eco-drama’ concept, however, the scenes where in which crowds of people halt, dazed in the streets ofNew Yorkbefore committing mass suicide is a chilling and disturbing image.
One of the most devastating disease outbreaks throughout history was the bubonic plague – also known as the Black Death. The plague ravaged Europe and Asia during several epidemics from as early as the 14th century.
Disease themes run throughout several modern day vampire films, but Nosferatu was probably one of the earliest examples of this in the form of a silent, expressionist German film. In it we see the eerie Count Orlok wreak havoc while his victim’s demises are blamed on the plague. Throughout history, before medical knowledge could determine the true source of this devastating disease, many people believed that there was a link between vampire activity and the Black Death.