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Shelter in place with these creepy classics

By Staff | Mar 25, 2020

A subset of end of civilization films injects a biological disease. Some (“Andromeda Strain”) follow a “rare” outbreak; others jump into an overwhelmed zombie sick populace, and a few imagine a strain spreading from contacts with other worlds.

Where do the stories go and do many peg the unpleasant quarantine/contamination spread?

No, most of the science-fiction endeavors have the pandemic and slaughter at end stages and the scientists are losing the battle. Or, the world has already succumbed to a mass zombie virus so only a few are safe and looking for a cure.

Few envision a lengthy “shelter in place” scenario where households apply for passes to go to the supermarket or pharmacy. Filmmakers likely drop their characters in an out of control event or the tension of preventing one. They seldom pluck a family reacting to a developing state of emergency where the drama remains contained to the household or neighborhood rather than having a superhero speak his “magic” word or shed their corporate appropriate clothing for a cape

A Cold War “B” movie, “Panic in Year Zero,” most closely imagines suburban L.A. family leaving for a mountain vacation as a nuke blasts the city. Their journey now equates survival not a retreat. Objectives become making it to their out in the sticks camp site and obtaining additional supplies. “Panic in Year Zero” comprises a month in time sticking to the search for continuing sanctuary in an ever changing environment.

Dropping the bomb avoids special effects other than a generic A-bomb mushroom. The drama, hurdles, and problem solving relate to malcontent humans whose behavior has little to do with the atomic attack. Essentially, they invaded a house, killed the adults and kept a teen gal alive for repeated assault and handling “female” things around the house.

“The Andromeda Strain” (1971) – Based on the Michael Crichton novel, follows scientists investigating an infectious organism that falls to Earth from space. We’ll spoil the ending by telling you they mostly save the day, so relax. Notable for some very innovative cinematography and the amplified sound-wearing contamination suits.

“Outbreak” has a reverse premise. The novel virus came from military experiments. A rogue general knows that the best cover-up would be to nuke the town and chalk up all the deaths to roadkill. It’s a suspenseful rush to save the town from a warmonger.

“28 Days Later” (2003)/”28 Weeks Later” (2007) – In Danny Boyle’s excellent 2003 original, and its very superior sequel directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, the world is beset by a viral pandemic that turns anyone infected into permanently enraged monsters. Don’t call them zombies but, uh, they totally are. Partially avoids much anticipated and stereotypical zombie apocalypse cliches by limiting the global aspect to words not hopping around the globe in jets (a.k.a. “World War Z”)

However, nearly a decade ago Steven Soderbergh hit the Powerball cinematic projection jackpot except he didn’t envision the closure of nearly all movie theatres just the H1N1-esque spread, the wash your hands commandment, and the paradox of social distancing with the demand to “work together” to find a cure. The film skips much of the social panic in favor of interaction with scientists tracking the disease.

Screenwriter Scott Burns (The Informant) sought input from smallpox eradicator Lawrence Brilliant which led to input from the World Health Organization allowing him to contemplate factors such as “do you close the schools and if you close the schools, then who stays home with the kids? And will everyone keep their kids at home?” Exposure to treatment protocols and containment scenarios snared societal anarchy but not the shelter in place for weeks in a closed down city response.

Although fiction, “Contagion” (2011) mirros the H1N1, SARS and Ebola outbreaks generated from a Chinese open market where the people indulge in their cultural demand for consuming exotic wild animals. Here, the fictional spread scored a bullseye on the anticipated real source … a suspected open air market where a diseased bat ate part of a fruit later consumed by a pork chop bound pig.