Best (Non-Zombie) Epidemic Infection Horror Movies

Infections, Diseases, Viruses and Parasites, Oh My!

The next time you find yourself complaining about having a cold, remember that there are plenty of worse things you can catch -- at least if you happen to be in a horror movie. Here are some great horror movies featuring epidemic infections, viruses, and diseases that would make anyone's skin crawl. (Zombie infections deserve a list all to themselves.)

In this cheesy, sleazy yet enjoyable cult film, a crazed, violent Satanic gang eats meat pies spiked by rabies-infected blood, turning them even more crazed, violent Satanic gang! They proceed to infect the rest of the town with rabies, raising the film's mouth foam budget exponentially.

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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 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 (How do a couple of kids just waltz into a quarantined area?) to deliver a worthy follow-up to the great 28 Days Later -- even if the best part comes within the first 10 minutes. If there's ever a 28 Months Later, let's hope it doesn't devolve into I Am Legend.

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

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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 (see below), this Vietnam-era original is ripe with 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 (and cinematic pacing).

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 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 seeks her estranged teenage daughter in a suburban neighborhood cut off by a secretive military operation. It's a thrilling tale that overcomes a 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 captures the sobering 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.

Splinter's infection comes courtesy of a foreign creature -- something like an alien porcupine fungus -- a parasite that spreads through a host's body and takes it over, whether it's dead or alive, as a 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 edge and an engaging sense of humor.

A standout of the second After Dark Horrorfest, this pleasant surprise 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.

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Infection (2004)

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 with a disease that turns you crazy before liquefying your organs into a green ooze. Both twists and commentary about the health care industry abound as the workers struggle to deal with the contagion while also trying cover up a botched operation that could cost them their jobs.

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The Crazies (2010)

The Crazies
Courtesy Overture Films/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Whereas the original dealt with the story of a small town driven crazy by a biological weapon with a message-heavy anti-establishment tone that delved into the military side of the equation, the remake is more action-oriented, focusing exclusively on the front-line struggles of the townspeople to fight off both the infected and the overzealous infantry.

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Shivers (1975)

Photo from

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, causing them to become violent and, um, "in the mood." Fun fact: leading lady Lynn Lowry also appears in The Crazies and I Drink Your Blood.

These two deserve to be lumped together because, really, they're the same movie -- Spain's [REC] being remade by Hollywood into . In both, a TV news reporter shadows local firefighters called to an apartment building that turns out to be the site of a viral outbreak that turns its victims aggressive and "bitey." (Granted, in REC2, the "virus" turns out to be some sort of demonic possession.) The first-person viewpoint, courtesy of the news camera, is the real selling point (or nausea-inducing point, depending on your point of view), placing viewers in the midst of the hectic action. Comparing the two, Quarantine has better overall production value, but the "person" in [REC]'s finale is jaw-droppingly creepy.

Slug-like alien parasites crash land in a small town and act as a "conscious disease" that takes over bodies of townspeople and uses them to either feed or procreate. Slither is an outrageous, wildly imaginative combination of monster movie, alien invasion movie, infection movie, zombie movie and gross-out-fest with an ever-present zany sense of humor. (Note: it's often called a zombie movie, but the infected people are still alive while being controlled by the parasites, unlike the similarly plotted '80s zombie movie Night of the Creeps.)

An experimental "rage" virus spread from a laboratory chimpanzee turns Great Britain into a wasteland sparsely populated by survivors and 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 and frenetic, fast-paced zombie-like "infected." That said, the baddies aren't zombies, but that fact won't be much comfort as they rip your arm off and beat you to a bloody pulp with it.

In this Italian gorefest, a supernatural plague is spread from a mysterious mask throughout an enclosed movie theater, turning the audience into bloodthirsty demons. It boasts a fast pace, over-the-top action and an atmospheric soundtrack that heightens the excitement of the tooth-and-nail battle for survival.

Superbly acted and smartly written with a near-poetic beauty, this Canadian entry in unusually restrained, providing more psychological thrills than outright zombie gut-munching action in the story of a violent madness spread by the spoken word.

A triumph of small-time, independent filmmaking, The Signal manages to craft a chaotic apocalypse with limited means, reveling in the emotional impact of the situation -- that is, a mass mania spread via electronic devices. Its unique three-act, three-director storytelling format delivers an offbeat indie vibe little seen in horror movies, touching seemingly every genre -- horror, action, sci-fi, drama, romance, comedy -- with equal agility and aplomb.