The Top 20 Horror Movies About Viruses and Strange Diseases

The next time you find yourself complaining about a cold, remember that there are plenty of worse things you could catch—at least if you happen to be in a horror movie. From the flesh-eating virus in "Cabin Fever" to the deadly prehistoric parasites in "The Thaw," the terrors in the movies below are as frightening as anything the imagination can conjure.

Eli Roth's startling debut about a flesh-eating virus that ruins a weekend getaway at a cabin in the woods is tense and uncomfortable with a dark streak of humor—all good things in a horror movie.

An experimental "rage" virus spread from a laboratory chimpanzee turns Great Britain into a wasteland sparsely populated by survivors and the hyper-violent "infected," who spread the disease by spewing their contaminated blood. This groundbreaking British epic established a new standard for modern zombie movies with its gritty, digital video aesthetic.

In this cheesy yet enjoyable cult film, a crazed and violent Satanic gang eats meat pies spiked with rabies-infected blood, making them even more crazed and violent. The gang members then head out to infect the rest of the town.

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The Grapes of Death (1978)

The Grapes of Death
© Les Films ABC

Perhaps the most accessible of French erotic horror director Jean Rollin's films, "The Grapes of Death" tells the story of a small French town whose residents are turned into homicidal maniacs by a pesticide sprayed on the local grapes. It's surprisingly well-paced and relatively action-packed for a Rollin pic, and with loads of seeping open wounds, it's become known as the first French "gore film."

Something of a precursor to "Resident Evil" and "28 Days Later," this overlooked chiller with an impressive cast (Sam Waterston, Kathleen Quinlan, Yaphet Kotto) takes place in a government facility that's locked down after an experimental virus contaminates the workers, turning them into rage-filled maniacs.

"28 Weeks Later" overcomes a few plot issues to deliver a worthy follow-up to the great "28 Days Later"—though the best part of the movie may be the first 10 minutes.

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The Crazies (1973)

The Crazies
Courtesy Alchetron

Zombie maestro George Romero turns his sights to the living in this tale of a town infected by a biological agent that drives the residents insane. Unlike the remake, this Vietnam-era film is full of political commentary, focusing largely on the military's behind-the-scenes strategizing to curtail the spread of the disease—at the expense of human casualties.

In a story that could only come from the warped mind of David Cronenberg, a woman who receives an experimental skin graft ends up growing an orifice in her armpit that sucks blood from its victims—who in turn develop a "rabid" craving for blood themselves.

This entry in the Ghost House Underground 2009 lineup is "Cabin Fever" meets "The Thing," as deadly prehistoric parasites are unleashed upon ecology students who discover a woolly mammoth in a melting ice cap. It's tense and unnerving with a clever commentary on global warming.

A woman desperately searches for her estranged teenage daughter in a suburban neighborhood cut off by a secretive military operation. It's a thrilling tale that overcomes its low budget with strong acting, great direction, and intriguing, well-rounded characters we actually care about. Tense, scary, and efficiently told, it's part "The Crazies," part "Quarantine," part "Night of the Living Dead," and part something else entirely.

"Carriers" examines the desperation of humankind in the midst of a highly contagious global pandemic. Dark, emotional, and deliberately paced, it's as much drama as it is horror, avoiding played-out Hollywood theatrics, stylized gore, and any semblance of a happy ending.

The infection in "Splinter" comes courtesy of a foreign creature—something like an alien porcupine fungus, a parasite that spreads through the host's body and takes over, whether the host is dead or alive, whole or in parts. The film takes a simple, vintage monster movie mold—unknown creature, helpless victims trapped in a remote gas station—and infuses it with a grisly modern sensibility and an engaging sense of humor.

This standout horror film plays a bit like a low-budget "Quarantine," with residents of a New York City brownstone battling a rodent virus that turns victims into man-eating ratlike creatures. It crackles with gritty independent film energy and manages a task that movies with 20 times its budget have difficulty with—generating genuine drama with realistic characters you actually care about.

In "The Stuff," the infection comes from an ice cream-like food that turns out to be a living creature that eats people from the inside, turning them into mindless drones. A dark satire of consumerism, the film's true "virus" might be human greed.

06
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Infection (2004)

infection
Courtesy Lions Gate

The riveting Japanese film "Kansen" ("Infection") plays a bit like "Assault on Precinct 13" meets "Cabin Fever," as the staff of a neglected, understaffed, out-of-the-way hospital reluctantly takes in a patient infected with a disease that turns you crazy before melting your organs into a green ooze. The workers struggle to deal with the contagion while trying to cover up a botched operation that could cost them their jobs.

05
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The Crazies (2010)

The Crazies
Courtesy Overture Films/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Whereas the original took the story of a small town driven crazy by a biological weapon and treated it with a message-heavy anti-establishment tone, the remake is more action-oriented, focusing mainly on the front-line struggles of the townspeople to fight off the infected.

04
of 20

Shivers (1975)

Shivers
Photo from Amazon.com

In this low-budget yet thrilling early feature from David Cronenberg that combines apocalyptic mayhem with a social statement about the sexual promiscuity of the '70s, a mad doctor creates a slug-like parasite that's a combination aphrodisiac and venereal disease and releases it on the residents of a Canadian high-rise.

Slug-like alien parasites crash land in a small town and act as a "conscious disease" that takes over the bodies of townspeople and uses them to feed and procreate. "Slither" is an outrageous, wildly imaginative combination of monster movie, alien invasion movie, infection movie, and gross-out fest.

In this Italian gorefest, a supernatural plague spreads through a movie theater, turning the audience into bloodthirsty demons. The movie boasts a fast pace, over-the-top action, and an atmospheric soundtrack that heightens the excitement of the battle for survival.

Smartly written and superbly acted, this Canadian film is unusually restrained, providing more psychological thrills than outright action through the story of a violent madness spread by the spoken word.