If Jaws kept people out of the water, Contagion, this weekend’s all-star Towering Inferno of germ movies, will keep them from touching their faces.
The average person touches their face upwards of 3,000 times a day, and in the world of Contagion everything that comes in contact with your skin — an elevator button, a glass at an airport, a handrail on a ferry — could be fatal.
In this world of big diseases with little names like SARS and H1N1, germs are the new Frankensteins.
The movies have used microscopic germs and viruses as bogeymen for years.
In Warning Signs an experimental virus turns people (including Law and Order’s Sam Waterston) into rage filled maniacs, a plot echoed in Resident Evil when a virus gets loose in a secret facility. “The T-virus is protean,” says the Red Queen, “changing from liquid to airborne to blood transmission, depending on its environment. It is almost impossible to kill.”
The Thaw sees Val Kilmer unleash a prehistoric plague when he discovers a diseased Woolly Mammoth carcass. Eli Roth gave new meaning to the term cabin fever in his virus movie of the same name and the movie Doomsday sees most of Scotland devastated by a deadly germ.
Michael Crichton dreamt up the idea for The Andromeda Strain when he was still a medical student. The story of a deadly alien virus was inspired by a conversation with one of his teachers about the concept of crystal-based life-forms. His novel was a bestseller and the author — who would later go on to write the sci-fi classics Westworld and Jurassic Park — actually makes a cameo appearance in the hit 1971 film of the same name. He can be seen in the scene where the star of the movie, Dr. Hall (James Olson), is told to report to the government’s secret underground research facility.
Outbreak features germs of a more earthbound kind. Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey star in this 1995 film about an outbreak of a fictional Ebola virus called Motaba spread in the States by a white-headed capuchin monkey. If the contagious simian looks familiar, no wonder. It’s Betsy who also appeared as Ross’s pet Marcel on Friends.
The sitcom spoofed Betsy’s work in the disaster film by showing the monkey on a poster for a fictional film called Outbreak 2: The Virus Takes Manhattan.