Pandemic horror films: 17 scary movies that hit a little too close to home right now

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If the coronavirus pandemic is already causing you sleepless nights, avoid these horror films at all costs.

There’s no getting away from it: the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has absolutely damaged our calm. We’re finding it harder than ever to sleep, to think rationally, to concentrate – so why on earth would you want to ramp up your contagion fear levels with a pandemic-themed horror?

However, with so many of us forced into voluntary (or involuntary) quarantine, is it any wonder that people have started to seek out… well, seek out horror films that hit just a little too close to home? That’s right: there’s been a spike in viewers engaging with pandemic-themed horror films on Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming sites. 

It kind of makes sense. Kind of. After all, as we previously reported, watching traumatising horror films can up the levels of feel-good, pain-killing chemicals produced in the brain.

With that thought in mind, these are the terrifying films you should avoid at all costs (or, y’know, stream the hell out of) during the Covid-19 lockdown. 

Carriers

A classic pandemic horror, this film – starring Wonder Woman’s Chris Pine – sees four survivors of a vicious disease do their absolute damndest to avoid the looming threat of infection.

The Flu

In this South Korean film, chaos ensues after a lethal, airborne virus infects the population of a city less than 20 kilometres from Seoul. Killing all those who contract it within 36 hours, it seems a population of nearly 1 million people are suddenly in danger of being wiped out. 

Will they create a vaccine in time? God, we hope so.

Hush

Hush on Netflix
Hush on Netflix

Not strictly a pandemic horror, but this Netflix film – set in a lonely house in the middle of the woods – plays with our deepest isolation fears. While our deaf heroine fights for her life in utter silence, prepare to scream along at home ever so loudly when the masked killer appears at her window.

It Follows

This horror film is unlike any other: slow-paced, quietly terrifying and difficult to pin down exactly what it’s about. However, it’s worth noting that most critics have interpreted it as a parable about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, making it a fitting addition to this roundup.

REC

This Spanish horror starts off simply enough: a reporter and her cameraman are covering a firefighter intervention in an apartment building in Barcelona. However, it soon becomes apparent that the building is an incubator for a viral infection that turns people into erratic homicidal monsters. Tense. As. Fuck.

Outbreak

When a Californian town is struck by an Ebola-like outbreak, it’s down to military medical researchers to contain and treat the infected, not to mention try to come up with a cure in record time. 

Fair warning: this horror film features a lot of bleeding from bodily orifices.

The Happening

It begins in New York City’s Central Park, where people begin dying by mass suicide. Initially believed to be caused by a bio-terrorist attack using an airborne neurotoxin, the behaviour quickly spreads across the northeastern United States – and it quickly becomes apparent that this is… well, it’s a pandemic. And one made all the more terrifying by its immediacy and lack of symptoms, at that.

Shaun of the Dead

That’s right, folks: it may be a horror comedy, but it’s still going to get under your skin – especially during the age of Covid-19. Shaun and his best friend team up to save his mum and girlfriend (plus his girlfriend’s irritating roommates) from a hoard of flesh-eating zombies, but they also have to work hard to avoid becoming infected themselves. 

Sure, there are plenty of LOL moments, but there’s a few scenes near the end which are guaranteed to make even the stoniest-hearted among you cry actual tears.

Viral

In a cattle-ranching town in Brazil’s countryside, adolescents panic when they are threatened by the outbreak of an epidemic, a contagious infection transmitted by kissing. In a contemporary and dark plot, the series portrays the desires of digitally connected youth within a physical reality filled with fear and mistrust.

The Platform

The Platform (which we have already written about extensively) focuses on a collection of prisoners in a stacked prison where the only food available to inmates is the leftovers of those people above them. 

Of course, this doesn’t bode well for prisoners in the lower levels: some starve to death, some brutally attack their fellow inmates in order to get their hands on the food they so desperately need, and some partake in a little (un)healthy cannibalism. 

Does this sound a little like the panic-buying situation down your local supermarket yet? Because it does to us.

The Bay

Shot in that all-too-realistic found-footage style, this indie horror film sees a deadly plague unleashed upon the inhabitants of a quaint seaside town. 

With politicians refusing to take action in a bid to prevent panic, and ordinary people going about their days with no clue of what’s about to happen, this film – despite not being one of the best ever made (ahem) – is guaranteed to twist your stomach into a knot of dread.

Cabin Fever

Eli Roth’s directorial debut follows a group of college graduates who rent a cabin in the woods: so far, so traditional horror. Rather than fall victim to cannibalistic hillbillies, though (so tired, so done), they are slowly picked off by a terrifying flesh-eating virus. 

Keep a pillow ready to hold over your eyes for when they get to that bath scene. You know the one I mean…

28 Days Later

What’s worse than a zombie outbreak? A rage zombie outbreak, obviously, In this classic Danny Boyle film, a handful of survivors come together a month after a mysterious virus has decimated the UK and try to survive long enough to be rescued. Too bad, then, that some of the uninfected are even more dangerous than the zombies themselves…

Contagion

This horror-thriller – starring Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon and Jude Law – about a deadly virus opens on a black screen with nothing but the sound of Gwyneth Paltrow’s character coughing a body-wracking, deep-in-her-lungs cough. Within minutes, she’s dead.

“Should we tell somebody?” one doctor asks, after they perform the autopsy and discover the fatal particles causing this terrifying illness.

“Tell everybody,” another doctor responds.

It’s too much. Especially now.

The Shining

For anyone trapped in their homes at the moment, this classic Stephen King horror – all about a man slowly succumbing to cabin fever – will definitely send shivers up and down your spine.

The Painted Veil

It’s not necessarily a horror per se, but this drama is very much a member of the pandemic genre. Starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton, it tells the tale of an unhappily married couple living at the centre of a cholera outbreak. 

It’s easy to forget about the deadly illness, though, as the love story at this film’s centre unfolds… but it’s very much there. And it will remind you of this fact in a very big way about halfway through, so don’t get comfortable.

10 Cloverfield Lane

Fancy something deeply unsettling? 10 Cloverfield Lane sees a young woman who, after a car crash, wakes up in an underground bunker with two men who insist that an event has left the surface of Earth uninhabitable. Are they telling the truth? Or is there something even more sinister afoot?

The Andromeda Strain

Based on Michael Crichton’s 1969 novel of the same name, this film follows a team of scientists as they investigate a deadly organism of extraterrestrial origin. They soon learn that it a) kills animal life almost instantly and b) appears to be highly virulent. Will they be able to defeat the pathogen before it’s too late?

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Images: Netflix/Amazon Prime

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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