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Best (Non-Zombie) Epidemic Infection Horror Movies

Infections, Diseases, Viruses and Parasites, Oh My!

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12. Splinter (2008)

Splinter DVD
© Magnolia

Splinter's infection comes courtesy of an foreign creature -- something like a 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.

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11. Mulberry Street (2007)

Mulberry Street
© Lionsgate

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 maneating 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.

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10. The Stuff (1985)

The Stuff
© Anchor Bay

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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9. Infection (2004)

Infection
© Lionsgate

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.

8. The Crazies (2010)

'The Crazies' poster.
© Overture

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.

7. Shivers (1975)

Shivers DVD
© Image

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.

6. [REC] (2007) / Quarantine (2008)

Quarantine DVD
© Sony

These two deserve to be lumped together because, really, they're the same movie -- Spain's [REC] being remade by Hollywood into Quarantine. 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.

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5. Slither (2006)

© Universal

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.)

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4. 28 Days Later (2002)

28 Days Later
© 20th Century Fox

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.

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3. Demons (1985)

Demons DVD
© Anchor Bay

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.

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2. Pontypool (2009)

Pontypool DVD
© IFC

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.

1. The Signal (2008)

The Signal
© Magnolia

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.

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