TOP 5 OUTBREAK/EPIDEMIC FILMS
Coughing, sneezing, itching, red eyes, vomiting. These might sound like a list of side effects for a new anti-depressant or erectile dysfunction pill. However, if you happen to be in a movie those symptoms could be the calling of something much more portentous. And with the suspense thriller Contagion hitting theatres this past weekend, I decided to do a list (in no particular order) of some of my favorite films that had me going viral.
12 Monkeys (1995)
An odd mixture of ingredients that on paper shouldn’t have gelled together as well as they did. An offbeat director from the Monty Python troupe, best known for helming wacky comedic fare. An A-List star not known for having much success outside of action films or rom-coms (Hudson Hawk anyone?) And a sci-fi thriller that cannot decide if it’s a time travel or an epidemic film.
12 Monkeys is an after the fact epidemic film set in a post-apocalyptic dystopic 2035. Where 99% of mankind has been wiped out by a super virus and the survivors have been forced to retreat underground. Willis plays Cole, a convict who volunteers for a Terminator-type time traveling mission to discover (and if possible prevent) the exact origin of the virus. The only clue that anyone seems to have about the virus was that the virus had something to do with the Army of the 12 Monkeys. The only problem is that the reported mastermind of this alleged terrorist group is a raving loon played by then relative newcomer Brad Pitt in an Oscar nabbing performance. Also along for the ride is Madeline Stowe, the Julianne Moore of the 90’s, playing Pitt’s psychiatrist.
And just like Terminator, Cole (Willis) gets sent back to the past without on shred of proof or evidence of who he is and gets his keister thrown into the same pysch ward as Goines (Pitt) who happens to the son and sole heir to a preeminent virologist played by Christopher Plummer. In a last ditch effort to convince her of his mission; Cole ends up kidnapping Dr. Railly (Stowe) to assist him on his quest. But the deeper Cole goes down the rabbit hole, the more tenuous his own grip on reality becomes. Maybe Goines isn’t as crazy as he seems or maybe he didn’t have anything to do with the outbreak to begin with.
The film doesn’t focus much on the effects or the symptoms of the virus as much as it does on the prevention of the outbreak. What 12 Monkeys lacks in body count it more than makes up in tension. An engaging ride that is as trippy as it is gripping.
12 Monkeys received an 87% on Rotten Tomatoes and 8/10 stars on IMDb.
I remember when Outbreak hit theatres back in the summer of 1995. Clinton was still in office, Bruce Willis still had hair and I was still in my teens. (Alright I was 19, but teen was still in the number.) Looking back if I had to be honest, Outbreak would be the most formulaic film on my list, but it just so happens to be the first of the films on the list that I saw. So I am willing to give it that pass.
The film is pretty by the numbers and so is the storytelling but the impressive cast including Dustin Hoffman (Tootsie, The Graduate), Rene Russo (Lethal Weapon 3-4, Ransom), Morgan Freeman (Bucket List, Shawshank Redemption) and Donald Sutherland (MA.S.H., Invasion of the Body Snatchers). This stellar cast undeniably helps to elevate material that would have definitely fell flat in the hands of lesser talent. Here’s the drill, back in the late 60’s there was a sudden outbreak of a virus with a 100% mortality rate called Motaba, named so after the Motaba River Valley in Zaire, Africa. (Why is it seems that all the best plagues seem to come from Africa?) Back then Team America decided to handle the problem with extreme prejudice but if countless Sally Struthers infomercials have taught me anything, its that nobody cares as much about African suffering as they do American.
That being said the excrement hits the fan, 30 years later when the virus shows up in a small California town packaged in an adorable little monkey who just so happens to be carrying more infections than an off-The-Strip Vegas hooker. Virus monkey impossibly ends up in a pet store infecting none other than McDreamy himself Patrick Demsey, who instead of heading to a hospital or even home to sleep it off, heads to a crowded movie theatre. Now it’s a party as the residents of the town start dropping like flies.
Kevin Spacey (American Beauty, Se7en) and Cuba Gooding Jr. (Jerry Maguire, Shadowboxer) round out the rest of the cast playing a scientist and military officer respectively. Considering that most of this cast have little gold statuettes named Oscar on their mantles, it’s not hard to see how easy it was to sit back watch these actors chew the scenery. So while you know exactly where the film is headed, it doesn’t mean that you cannot enjoy the ride.
Outbreak received a 60% on Rotten Tomatoes and 6/10 stars on IMDb.
The Andromeda Strain (1971)
It would hard to have any list about virus or epidemic films that did not include arguably the granddaddy of them all. The Andromeda Strain was based off of a novel written by none other than the late Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park, Sphere). Yes folks, Hollywood has been raping and pillaging bookshelves for quite some time. The story is part sci-fi thriller / part medical drama (not surprising considering that Crichton had recently abandoned his career in medicine) and all round entertaining.
When an Army satellite crash lands somewhere in the New Mexican desert, it brings back a lethal stowaway in the form of a virus. First, the recovery team gets infected, and then a nearby town, all of whom die within a matter of days with the inexplicable exception of one infant and the town drunk. A crack team of scientists is rapidly gathered at a secret facility to find some way, any way to stop this virus from wiping out the human race. Film aficionados might recognize some of the actors who play the doctors Arthur Hill (Westworld), David Wayne (The Three Faces of Eve) and James Olson (Commando).
Now I first saw this film almost fifteen years ago, while I was in college and even then I still thought it held up in all the places that it needed to. Thankfully, the film is supported more by the suspense than it was by special effects and slick cinematography. Like most virus films, Andromeda Strain is a race against the clock, against extinction. It is my sincerest recommendation, that if you have never seen this film and you would like to like to see where films like Outbreak and Contagion got their inspiration from, then do yourself a favor and check it out. I think you’ll find it contagious, in the best way possible of course.
The Andromeda Strain received a 67% on Rotten Tomatoes and 7/10 stars on IMDb.
Cabin Fever (2002)
The early 2000’s was a pitiful time for horror films, sci-fi themed or otherwise. And 2002, was no exception. Once mighty and proud franchises were clutching on for dear life with atrocious sequels like; Halloween: Resurrection, Jason X (or Jason Goes to Space Camp) and Wishmaster 4. So when a little flick named Cabin Fever hit the theatres no really expected much from it. And in retrospect, neither did I. It seemed like just another throwaway teen slasher flick and boy was I glad to be proven wrong. Once I scratched beneath Cabin Fever’s diseased, puss-ridden surface, I found a quite enjoyable little virus horror gem that more than deserves a place on this list.
Now Cabin Fever is definitely more on the horror side than the sci-fi side that’s just fine with me. And in terms of a virus thriller it’s more Lords of the Flies than Dawn of the Dead. The premise is mind-numbingly simple which allows you to just sit back and enjoy the mayhem. Let’s see if you can guess the storyline, shall we?
Five college students take a vacation to:
A) A beautiful South Florida beach resort.
B) A gorgeous ski resort in the Rockies.
C) A remote mountain shack in the middle of nowhere.
Of course, it’s the remote cabin in the middle of nowhere. There are 3 guys, 2 girls and a buttload of sexual tension. And everything is hunky-dory until a stranger with a bizarre skin rash shows up to cockblock the whole evening. They send him on his way but not before he’s able to taint their one and only water supply with a flesh eating virus that makes the Ebola virus look like poison ivy. The funest thing about Cabin Fever is that due to their location, there’s no hope for a cure, which only leaves survival. And it’s a ball to watch these young co-eds turn on each other faster than the cast of Survivor. It was no wonder people were hailing the praises of Eli Roth with his debut film. Another one to add to your Netflix’ queue if you haven’t seen it yet.
Cabin Fever received a 63% on Rotten Tomatoes and 5.4/10 stars on IMDb.
The Crazies (2010)
I didn’t get around to seeing The Crazies until it hit DVD last summer and damn did I want to kick myself for not seeing it on the big screen. The film lived up to its name and then some, delivering a taut suspenseful action thriller. The best way to describe The Crazies is Outbreak by way of The Happening (only without the suck). However unlike Outbreak, the narrative is told from the perspective of the townsfolk; an aspect that I absolutely loved about the film. The virus in this film didn’t kill you; instead it turned you into a homicidal maniac. The film takes place in rural yet scenic Odgen Marsh, Iowa (a real life small-town that probably didn’t get a lot of tourism after this film was released).
The first few minutes of the film starts with an innocent little league softball game being interrupted by a neighbor walking onto the field wielding a 12-gauge shotgun. The local sheriff played with effortless authority by Timothy Olyphant (TV’s Deadwood, Justified) who has no choice but to confront the glassy-eyed citizen and ends up having to kill him before he starts plugging the little leaguers. Things quickly go from bad to a helluva lot worse as citizens start killing friends and family alike without explanation. Suddenly, the military descends upon the town like a pack of rabid bill collectors in order to quarantine the outbreak. And as anyone who’s seen a virus movie, we all know what ‘quarantine’ means. The townspeople are round up like cattle and those that try to escape are slaughtered faster than you can say ‘mad cow disease.’
Olyphant and wife, Radha Mitchell (Pitch Black, Man on Fire) plan their escape with deputy, Russell (Joe Anderson / Across the Universe) and his gal pal Becca, (Danielle Panabaker / Mr. Brooks) before the military has a chance to execute their final ‘containment protocol’. The Crazies has plenty of genuine scares and edge of your seat thrills. If you get a chance to check this film out, please do. Trust me you won’t be disappointed.
The Crazies (2010) received a 72% on Rotten Tomatoes and 6.6/10 stars on IMDb.