Facebook Twitter

Movie studios have a tough time avoiding the plague In Focus by Richard Crouse FOR METRO CANADA February 26, 2010

craziesThis weekend’s The Crazies, a remake of a 1973 George A. Romero film, is one of those “everyone we know is dead” movies. It’s the story of a virus that turns the inhabitants of a sleepy Norman Rockwell town into koo-koo bananas killers. In this age of big diseases with little names—AIDS, SARS—and deadly airborne germs like swine flu, bacteriological horror movies have some resonance, but they’re nothing new.

In recent years, 28 Days Later—which is kind of like The Crazies with English accents—and the Ebola-esque Outbreak have used contagious illness as a starting point for their medical mayhem, but without The Andromeda Strain, The Cassandra Crossing or the intense vision of Panic in the Streets, those movies may not have existed.

Written by Michael Crichton when he was still a medical student, The Andromeda Strain sees an outer space biotoxin destroy a small town in New Mexico. Directed by Robert Wise—also at the helm of The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Sound of Music—the movie mixes standard sci-fi with credible medical theory and contains eerie lines like, “Most of them died instantly. A few had time to go quietly nuts.”

More down to earth is The Cassandra Crossing, a big budget disease- on-a-train flick. This time it’s not an extra-terrestrial virus, but a plague contaminated terrorist starting all the trouble. Structured like a Love Boat episode, with an all-star cast that mixes and matches Sophia Loren with O.J. Simpson, it has none of Andromeda’s serious edge, but for sheer cheesy fun it can’t be beat.

Predating all of them was Panic in the Streets, a low-budget film noir set in 1950s New Orleans. In it, a doctor and policeman (Richard Widmark and Paul Douglas) have just 48 hours to track down an illegal immigrant infected with pneumonic plague and stop a possible eruption of Black Death. Made during the Cold War, the rapid spread of the infection plays like a paranoid metaphor for the proliferation of Communist ideology. Despite this subtext, director Elia Kazan said: “This isn’t very deep. It has other virtues. It has lightness of foot, it has surprise, it has suspense, it’s engaging.”

Next to jump on the bio-thriller bandwagon will be Steven Soderbergh who is set to team with Matt Damon and Kate Winslet in Contagion, a thriller focused on the threat posed by a deadly disease.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.