Viral Horror Films
by Ralph Lucas – Publisher
(October 26, 2020 – Toronto, ON) While the real horror of an uncontrolled virus pandemic commands the headlines every day and will most likely impact the U.S. presidential election on November 3, it’s hard to think of Halloween 2020 providing anything as frightening as the reality we’re all living through. That said, it seemed appropriate to look at past horror movies that used a virus or a viral-like outbreak as the catalyst driving the story. Being The Canadian Movie Database, we look at only Canadian movies, or Canadian co-productions but in no particular order.
First up is the 1975 David Cronenberg film Shivers. The story centres on residents of a singles lifestyle apartment building who become riddled with a man-made parasite that acts as a powerful aphrodisiac and causes a deforming venereal disease as they become violent and sexually aggressive. This is generally acknowledged as the film that launched his career as a writer and director almost 10 years after he had made his first movie.
Shivers led to the 1977 film Rabid, which is about how one infected person passes on her disease when she feeds on people’s blood and those she feeds upon become infected. A remade Rabid by directors Jen and Sylvia Soska was released in January of this year, a few months before the COVID-19 virus erupted across the globe.
In 2002 the first of the Resident Evil films was released. Based on the video games Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2, the film follows amnesiac heroine Alice (Milla Jovovich) and a band of Umbrella Corporation commandos as they attempt to contain the outbreak of the T-virus at a secret underground facility. The first film was a Germany-United Kingdom co-production but subsequent titles had lots of Canadian content. Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004) was a Germany, United Kingdom, France, Canada, United States co-pro; Resident Evil: Extinction (2007), was a Canada, France, Germany, United Kingdom, United States co-pro; Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010) was a Canada, France, United Kingdom, Germany co-pro; Resident Evil: Retribution was a Germany, United States, Canada film; Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016) was a co-production with participants from Germany, United Kingdom, United States, France, Canada and Australia.
In 2008 the Brazil-Canada-Japan coproduction Blindness was released. More a drama than a horror film, it none-the-less belongs on this list. The screenplay was written by Don McKellar based on the 1995 Nobel Prize-winning novel by Portuguese writer Jose Saramago. Blindness tells the story of the inhabitants of a city that is suddenly struck with a strange plague, leaving up to 90 per cent of the population devastated by blindness. A small group of the afflicted band together to triumphantly overcome the horrific conditions of their imposed quarantine. Blindness was selected to open the 2008 Cannes Film Festival and the 2008 Vancouver International Film Festival.
Released in 2009, Pontypool was adapted from the novel Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess, who also wrote the screenplay. The story is about Grant Mazzy (played by Stephen McHattie) who at the end of his career is hosting the early morning show at CLSY Radio in Pontypool Ontario. The call letters can be pronounced as sleazy. Reports of people having bizarre seizures, developing strange speech patterns and evoking horrendous acts of violence start piling in and Grant and others at CLSY find themselves trapped in the radio station as they discover that this insane behaviour taking over the town is actually a deadly virus being spread through the English language itself. Do they stay on the air in the hopes of being rescued or, are they in fact providing the virus with its ultimate leap over the airwaves and into the world? Pontypool was directed by Bruce McDonald.
Last on this brief list is Antiviral. Written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg proving that old adage about the apple not falling far from the tree. The plot? Syd March is employed by the Lucas Clinic, a company which purchases viruses and other pathogens from celebrities who fall ill, in order to inject them into clients who desire a connection with celebrities. Now that’s weird. Antiviral competed in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, and an edited version screened at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and was a co-winner with Jason Buxton’s Blackbird, as the festival’s Best Canadian First Feature Film.
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Ralph Lucas is the founder and publisher of Northernstars.ca. He began writing about film and reviewing movies while in radio in Montreal in the mid-1970s.