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All words: Vesper Arnett, Max Bentovim, Ross Bonaime, Kaylee Dugan, Alan Zilberman

Ever since the success of The Hot Zone and The Andromeda Strain, science fiction and horror have had an interest in pandemic disease. Horror has always been about things you cannot control – whether it’s the dark or your own decaying bodies – and a disease creates a macro existential threat because, well, we cannot see the disease and pretty soon it’s everywhere. Thanks in no small part to a media that feeds on panic like a leech, Ebola terrified everyone nowadays, despite the statistical near-impossibility you’ll get the disease and the real threat of flu, which kills tens of thousands Americans every year. Rather than stay glued to CNN, hoping for the latest new detail about Ebola, the BYT movie team decided to watch movies about disease that are, you know, worthy of terror.

12 Monkeys

Look, Ebola isn’t really that scary, but you know what is scary? A plague so intense that everyone has to live in an underground structure that looks like it was decorated by a German Expressionism fanatic gone mad. I mean imagine a world where humans are screwed and bears roam the Earth. Now that’s frightening. Although, if 12 Monkeys teaches us anything, it’s that all you really need to stop a deadly world destroying virus is a convict with a heart of gold and time travel. Basically, everybody needs to put down their Richard Preston books and calm it down. As long as we do everything we can to protect Bruce Willis, and we don’t allow David Morse to fly anywhere, everything is going to be fine. –Kaylee Dugan

28 Days Later

28 Days Later is basically everything The Walking Dead should be, but isn’t. Danny Boyle’s film is frantic, surprising and exciting in a way that Rick Grimes just isn’t. Just look at the opening moments of 28 Days Later and tell me Rick Grimes isn’t at least partially inspired by Cillian Murphy’s Jim. While 28 Days Later isn’t technically a zombie film, the rage virus that infects the world definitely makes the infected act a pumped up, intense zombie. It’s also insanely easy to catch. Just look at poor Brendan Gleeson. Look up at the wrong moment and BOOM, rage blood in your eye and a few moments later you’re worried you’re going to maul your daughter to death. As far as diseases go, few are quite as insane and intense as pure rage. –Ross Bonaime

Contagion 

Contagion is so obvious a choice for this feature I wouldn’t have suggested it except for one thing: it’s just too damn good. A day-by-day account of the outbreak of a plague uniquely suited to wreak maximum havoc in the modern world, Contagion isn’t just a scary movie but maybe the scariest movie because of how cooly matter-of-fact it is. Opening in ringing fashion by not only slaughtering Gwyneth Paltrow but carving her skull open, Soderbergh pulls off the balancing act of tethering his plot to a large ensemble of well-drawn characters while still giving us a broad vision of humanity’s reaction to the pandemic. Indeed, if the MEV-1 virus is terrifying, the horror is often in how rapidly humans revert to barbarism or recourse to the evil of myopic selfishness in the face of it. Contagion is saved from being unbearably brutal by allowing the best of humanity to save the day, but it’s core question – if and when this really  happens, will we choose to save ourselves? – lingers uncomfortably long after the closing credits. –Max 

Let the Right One In

Yeah, Let the Right One In is the film that showed the awful dark side of vampirism, instead of the sparkling vampire side that gets romanticized. But maybe the true disease at the center of Let the Right One In is love and how getting infected by it can cause you to do some crazy shit. Like bleeding people dry in the middle of the woods. Or decapitating school bullies to save the one you love. In Let the Right One In, love is like becoming a leech, needing the other person to survive. Love can be the best thing that happens to you and it can also bring you to do some fucked up things in the name of it. –Ross Bonaime

The Lonely Heart

Epidemiologists and medical staff know how to treat Ebola. They know its biology, they know how it spreads, and they know it’s relatively easy to contain. You know you’re fucking scared of Ebola? Because you’re buying into a stupid Ouroboros of the media’s insatiable need to feed your panic. Now you know what’s actually terrifying? A disease you don’t know how to control, one that seemingly targets specific members of the populations. Set in the early days of the AIDS outbreak, The Normal Heart is an impassioned battle cry from a handful of gay men who refused to be ignored, or go quietly. They fought seeming insurmountable odds: in addition insanely costly treatments, the government basically refused to acknowledge the AIDS epidemic. Now that’s terrifying: I cannot even fathom a government that’s indifferent to the suffering of thousands. Obama spoke about Ebola at the end of this July; the Reagan administration did not acknowledge AIDS until seventeen months after the first AIDS case, and 243 had already died. –Alan Zilberman

Outbreak 

Back when Barry Levinson would direct middling Hollywood genre films, this is the disease thriller that started it all. The outbreak in question is eerily similar to Ebola, and spreads in much the same way (this one kills in 24 hours, though, by liquefying the infected’s organs(gross)). But rather than have sensible response to a public health crisis, Outbreak involves a patient zero (a cute monkey) and rampant fire-bombing. Outbreak is pretty good for a while, then serves as a warning to how other pandemic movies should play out: when the enemy is a deadly disease, you  should probably think of a better climax than a fucking helicopter chase. –Alan Zilberman

Rent

“Seasons of Love” was stuck in my head for a solid 40 hours this week. I am now spreading that gift to you. For the uninitiated, RENT is a modern classic in musical theater. It follows the lives of a diverse group of people who happen to be dealing with the AIDS crisis up close and personal. Many songs are joyous, celebrating life and love and everything wonderful. Other songs will make you sob, because you’ll discover that you don’t actually have a cold dead heart and that feelings are real. This movie came out about nine years after the original Broadway show, with many actors from the original cast (Idina and Taye! Adam Pascal! Jesse L. Martin!). It brings back a lot of memories for me, and I’m definitely sitting here singing along to the soundtrack. Hug your friends. No day but today, and all that. –Vesper Arnett

The Spectacular Now

The Spectacular Now can at this point look like another Shailene Woodley romance (sorry, The Fault In Our Stars is about a disease, but no thanks), but it’s Miles Teller’s dealing with his rising alcoholism that really stands out. Teller’s disease pushes away those he loves – especially Woodley – putting them in danger at times and potentially could ruin his life. Most films about alcoholism verge into being far too sappy, but The Spectacular Now puts it into perspective, without sugar-coating anything about Teller’s story. And it just happens to be one of the better teen romance films in years as well. –Ross Bonaime

World War Z

It’s definitely not the best zombie movie ever made, but it’s Brad Pitt battling to save humanity, and that’s always worth a watch. He’s a former UN investigator turned stay-at-home dad who likes making pancakes for his two young daughters and his wife (The Killing’s Mirelle Enos). The zombie threat is introduced as an outside threat that the government has under control and couldn’t possibly affect the United States. Everything kicks off in the first ten minutes, in good action movie form, and remains relentless as the parents fight to keep their family alive. It’s a bit War of the Worlds (2005) at first, but it takes a turn for the better as Pitt is called upon to help investigate the origin of the outbreak.  It’s kinda based on the novel, and that has a companion Survival Guide. Use it for your Ebola paranoia kit. –Vesper Arnett

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