Viral Horror: 10 ‘Infection’ Horror Movies

Currently, we’re living in scary and unprecedented times. As countries across the globe lockdown and we increasingly practice social distancing, our health care professionals are heroes on the front-lines of a war to curb COVID-19. Meanwhile, many of us are either working from home or looking for ways to pass the time. Inevitably, horror fans will probably be digging through their Blu-ray and DVD collections for some movie marathons. Arguably, the horror genre is most effective when it touches on our real fears. Maybe we turn to horror because it offers us a hypothetical or ‘safe’ way to confront and cope with these anxieties. Regardless of why you find comfort in horror movies, I’ve compiled a list of 10 ‘infection horror’ movies that may get you through the coming weeks. Enjoy and stay safe.

The Omega Man (1971)

To date, Hollywood has adapted Richard Matheson’s post-apocalyptic horror novel, I Am Legend, three times with varying success. Arguably, Vincent Price’s The Last Man on Earth is the best version. Will Smith’s I Am Legend is at least half of a good movie. The less said about the ending, the better. But 70’s cinema aficionados may appreciate Charlton Heston’s The Omega Man. Yes, it plays hard and fast with much of Matheson’s novel. Like the other movie adaptations, The Omega Man also fundamentally misunderstands the meaning of I Am Legend. And Charlton Heston plays … well, Charlton Heston. Regardless The Omega Man channels the lonely spirit of the novel with some added 70’s vibes. At the very least, viewers currently practicing social distancing will relate to ‘Robert Neville’s’ loneliness as the ‘last man on earth’.

Rabid (1977)

One of David Cronenberg’s early directorial efforts, Rabid is a low-budget Canadian ‘zombie’ horror movie that set the groundwork for ‘Body Horror’. After a horrific motorcycle accident and experimental plastic surgery procedure, Rose wakes up with a bloodlust and a phallic-looking stinger hidden in her armpit. Each person she ‘feeds on’ turns into a zombie-like creature who spreads the infection. Horror fans will get their fair share of cheap gore but, like other ‘infection’ movies, the real scares emerge from the movie’s portrayal of the virus’ spread and government incompetence in curbing the outbreak.

Cabin Fever (2002)

Director Eli Roth’s directorial debut is about as divisive as the rest of his work. Cabin Fever is a quirky indie horror and hallmark of Roth’s affection for Grindhouse cinema. A group of partying teens’ cabin getaway goes horribly wrong when one of them catches a flesh-eating virus. Not surprisingly, Roth ensures that every stage of the disease is captured in grotesque detail. You’ll never be able to watch someone shaving their legs again after watching Cabin Fever. Along with the usual Grindhouse gore, Roth injects quite a bit of eccentric, off-beat humour into the movie. A party-loving deputy and a mullet-haired boy who’s partial to Kung Fu and pancakes are, for lack of a better word, memorable. Warning – avoid the remake at all costs.

Resident Evil (2002)

Very few movie adaptations of video games work out. But director Paul WS Anderson (Event Horizon) turned Mortal Kombat into something of a guilty pleasure. And several years later, Anderson brought Resident Evil and the T-virus onto the big screen. Though critics were underwhelmed, Resident Evil spawned a successful movie franchise and made Milla Jovovich an action star. As far as video game movies go, Resident Evil mixes horror and action surprisingly well with a decent amount of atmosphere early on. Even if some of the CGI hasn’t aged well, Resident Evil has a few impressive showcases, particularly the laser defence system scene. The endless stream of sequels were unnecessary, but Anderson’s original entry still works much better than expected.

REC (2007)

Don’t like found-footage movies? Forget it, because Spanish-made REC is one of the best horror movies released this century. A news crew on a fluff-piece assignment with firefighters become trapped in a quarantined building where a virus turns infected into blood-frenzied animals. This is one of the cases where the found-footage format works, adding a sense of realism and urgency to the story. Moreover, REC mixes in an interesting religious mythology without giving away too much detail. There’s still plenty of mystery to mull over and leave you wanting more. And watch out for the ending – it’s one of the best final scares you’ll find in any horror movie. If subtitles aren’t your thing, American-remake Quarantine, is nearly just as good.

Splinter (2008)

There’s a good chance you haven’t seen Splinter. And that’s unfortunate. This is another interesting twist on the ‘zombie’ or ‘infected’ subgenre that deserved a bigger audience. Like Night of the Living Dead, Splinter centres around a small group of people trapped in a single setting. Specifically, a young couple and an escaped convicted with his girlfriend are trapped in a remote, roadside gas station. Outside the gas station, a fungal virus that infects and ‘animates’ its victims – whole or in pieces – is trying to get it. Splinter is a simple survival horror movie that works due to compelling characters, taut scares and tensions, and a refreshing spin on an old horror monster. If you haven’t seen Splinter, do yourself a favour and check it out.

Pontypool (2008)

Just when you thought there was nothing left to do with the zombie subgenre, along comes Canadian indie horror, Pontypool. Shock jock Grant Mazzy and his radio crew are trapped in their studio in the now quarantined small Ontario town of Pontypool. Outside the building, a growing horde of frenzied, infected townspeople are gathering. Soon Mazzy and his colleagues discover the source of the infection – a virus that has infected certain words in the English language. Director Bruce McDonald, who adapted Tony Burgess’ source novel, captures a near perfect feeling of isolation and helplessness. Pontypool’s small budget and single setting doesn’t hurt the movie but rather intensifies the apocalyptic feeling. This is one of the more creative uses of the ‘zombie’ in the horror genre.

Doomsday (2008)

A highly contagious virus. An entire country quarantined. Those are about the only things Neil Marshall’s Doomsday has in common with our current situation. Following the successes of Dog Soldiers and The Descent, Marshall wrote and directed this mix of Escape From New York and Mad Max. Years after the ‘Reaper Virus’ sweeps over Scotland, England sends a para-military team into the quarantined zone to recover a possible cure for a new outbreak in London. While there’s some fun callbacks, particularly to John Carpenter’s work, Doomsday is a tale of two movies. The first movie is fun, pulpy mix of action and horror. Too bad the second half devolves into a strange medieval setpiece. Still, Doomsday has enough stylistic flair to make it worth a watch. No one fights over toilet paper, but there is a queasy barbecue scene that makes a Costco trip suddenly much more tolerable.

28 Days Later (2003)

Rage. They’re infected with rage’. With 28 Days Later, Danny Boyle resuscitated the decaying zombie genre. Horror fans may remember it best as the movie that gave us ‘fast-moving’ zombies. But it’s also one of the first movies to re-imagine the zombie as a viral outbreak. In the time since its release, 28 Days Later stands as one of the best horror movies of this century. It’s also a riveting story of what it means to survive. Though the movie’s narrative abruptly shifts at the midway point, Boyle effortlessly threads a consistent thematic narrative. And 28 Days Later’s scene of Jim wandering the empty streets of London was haunting in 2003 – it’s taken on an entirely new meaning today.

The Bay (2012)

For some unknown reason, acclaimed director Barry Levinson tried his hand at found-footage in the early 2010’s. Audiences ignored it, but Levinson’s The Bay is pretty compelling stuff. Briefly, The Bay is ‘assembled’ and ‘leaked’ from confiscated government footage of a parasitic infection spreading through a small coastal town. Several narratives of the infection’s spread and increasing government clamp-down are intertwined. While it’s not necessarily a horror movie, The Bay certainly has its share of gruesome moments. But what’s more likely to linger for viewers is the movie’s unnerving portrayal of the efforts to which the government will go to cover-up and deny.

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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