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If it feels like the movie industry has gone "plague crazy" in the past few years, it's because it has. With the appearance of SARS, bird-flu outbreaks, and the whole H1N1 scare, filmmakers have turned to the concept of the "global pandemic" in order to scare the bejesus out of all of us with frightening regularity. However, not every plague film scheduled to hit theaters is set in modern times or about some crazy new virus threatening to wipe us all out. Instead, some filmmakers are going back to the granddaddy of all marauding diseases, the Bubonic plague. There are currently two films set in the dark days of the Black Death scheduled for release in the not too distant future, the Nic Cage vehicle Season of the Witch and Christopher Smith's Black Death. A new trailer debuted for the latter film yesterday.
In Smith's newest release, Sean Bean plays a knight named Ulrich who's dispatched (along with a band of mercenaries) to a remote village that seems to be immune to the effects of the plague. They're tasked with tracking down a necromancer -- a powerful sorcerer who can bring the dead back to life. It's due in theaters in the UK on May 28th.
Naturally, all this pandemic talk inspired me to start thinking of some of my favorite plague films. There are plenty of worthy contenders -- everything from Outbreak to Bergman's The Seventh Seal (which features the plague as a backdrop, but still counts). With that in mind, hit the jump to check out the new Black Death trailer and three of my favorite movies featuring potentially world-destroying epidemics.
It may be blasphemy in some horror circles to say this, but I prefer 28 Weeks Later over 28 Days Later. Both films feature a "rage virus" that spreads through humanity, turning anyone who gets it into raving, blood-spewing monsters. Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's follow-up has always felt more streamlined narratively and way more intense in terms of tone. This is to take nothing away from Danny Boyle's original -- which is a fantastic film in its own right -- but 28 Weeks is the one I come back to most often. In it, the plague that overtook England has been contained and efforts are being made to slowly repopulate London. Since it wouldn't be much of a story if everything went smoothly and according to plan, you can probably guess that the virus isn't quite as eradicated as the science people had hoped. Next thing you know, the disease is back and spreading like crazy. What ensues is the harrowing journey of two siblings trying to escape the city.
The Masque of the Red Death is one of my favorite Edgar Allan Poe stories, and Roger Corman's 1964 version (he would take another stab at in 1989, but he wouldn't direct) is not only one of my favorite Corman films, but one of my favorite epidemic stories as well. Screenwriter Charles Beaumont was charged with adapting the haunting story of a Prince who hosts a debauched party at his medieval castle while the Red Death stalks the countryside -- killing anyone who contracts it within 30 minutes. Vincent Price tackled the lead role, playing Prince Prospero and it's a great performance from one of horror cinema's most enduring icons. The film also benefits greatly from the lush cinematography of Nicholas Roeg (who would go on to direct Don't Look Now). I can't recommend this one enough. A classic plague story, a fine performance from Price, and some of Corman's best direction make The Masque of the Red Death a real standout in this subgenre.
Vincent Price turns up on the list yet again, this time as Dr. Robert Morgan in Ubaldo Ragona's The Last Man on Earth. The film is an adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend (which was remade in 1971 as The Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston and as I Am Legend with Will Smith in 2007), but for me, the Vincent Price version is the best. Price is the lone survivor of a deadly plague that's wiped out humanity, only he's not as alone as he thinks. Each night, other "victims" of the outbreak rise up as vampires/zombies with a thirst for his blood. The film does an amazing job of capturing the existential despair of Morgan's daily existence as the last man on Earth. The doctor spends the daylight hours hunting down and killing his sleeping enemies and then holes up in his fortress-like home after dark. As many have noted, the film clearly seems to have had an impact on George Romero's Night of the Living Dead -- the scenes of the monsters trying to break through the defenses of Morgan's abode are very similar to ones Romero would employ in his film a few short years later.
So, those are three of my favorite films involving life-altering plagues. Agree? Disagree? Feel free to share your own list in the comment section below.