The True ABCs of Death: P is for Pestilence




Suggested Audio Candy


[1] Spineshank “New Disease”

[2] Angelo Badalamenti “Red Love”


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One of my chief aspirations as an adolescent was to rear a monkey. Actually, that doesn’t sound at all good, allow me to rephrase. From a young age I was fascinated with the notion of raising a gibbon as if it were the fruit of my very loins. It all started when I watched Jonathan Kaplan’s Project X, I was right alongside Matthew Broderick as he attempted to release Bluebeard and friends from their shackles before their one-way space expedition and, if that meant bashing Helen Hunt’s back doors in, then all the better. George A Romero’s Monkey Shines and Richard Franklin’s Link began to raise mild concerns as to their suitability as domestic pets but I wasn’t about to be discouraged easily. That was, until Outbreak, Wolfgang Petersen’s pandemic panic picture provided all the evidence I required to not act on my impulse. Consequently, nearly thirty years on, and I still don’t eat bananas.


I never understood hypochondriacs. These prophets of self-inflicted doom get hett up about the simplest common cold and are afraid to leave their sanitary quarters for fear of contracting some gnarled disease which will cause their body parts to shrivel up and drop off in their morning oatmeal. Living in fear doesn’t seem much like living at all, if you ask me, and I find the prospect of rolling the dice far more appealing. That doesn’t mean I take clean living lightly, I wash my hands thoroughly after leaking the leech and spend the lion’s share of my time in public restrooms strategically placing toilet paper, double thickness for the simplest splash left. But I don’t harp on about risk as Lee Majors crafted a career from playing fall guy and it didn’t harm his credentials one iota.


It is a good job really as, having a weakness for horror flicks, I would likely be reduced to a blubbering wreck. You see, the plague gets around and is commonplace in such confines. Today Grueheads, we shall be learning not to trust everything from grapes to processed yoghurt. None of it is quality tested when it comes to horror, a simple snack can leave you itching for dear life like a rabid mutt and the results are, more often than not, truly mortifying. It’s far more hygienic in such cases to trust nobody and never leave your guard down for a second. If you require further proof in my tainted pudding, then how do you like these rotten apples!

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Let’s start in the vineyard shall we? Jean Rollin was a true visionary and his films played a much larger part in the inauguration of the genre than he is ever given credit for. Of all his numerous works, one of the most accessible was The Grapes of Death. In this, the inhabitants of a small rural town were transformed into lumbering zombies thanks to a pesticide sprayed on local grapes. Who would have thought that consuming one portion of your daily five would prove so catastrophic? I expect sales of locally sourced wine in France plummeted around 1978 and the epidemic had already spread through the States a few years prior.

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Romero introduced us to The Crazies in 1973 and, this time, a biological agent was responsible for the infection. The residents of a similar small town became most disagreeable after going down with the sickness although Romero concentrated more on military strategy than the casualties. In 2010, Breck Eisner switched the perspective to those on the front line and his well-paced retelling was more cinematic as a result and no less riveting. Both offered a similarly bleak message of anti-establishmentism and a fairly damning indictment of overly-zealous martial law.

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David Cronenberg couldn’t resist but to get in on the act as he explored the realms of body horror, particularly with Shivers and Rabid. There was a distinctly sexual undertone to his fables with the strain of the latter escalating by a phallic underarm member and, the former, manifesting via any orifice available. Taking a lengthy soak in the tub was a definite no-no as proven by a conspicuous turd-like bath bomb which slithered where the sun didn’t shine. Actually, bathing was inconsequential anyway as, by the end of the movie, all the residents went for a dip. On the plus side, at least they all got their oats. It’s better to go out with a tweak in your bag balls than fading out flaccid.

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Speaking of cranially endowed Canadian crackerjack Cronenberg, another of his countrymen seems fixated with decay. Éric Falardeau’s gloriously-titled Thanatomorphose remained ambiguous as to what was causing the steady decomposition of its nameless central character and, instead, focused on showing her prominently in the altogether so we could watch her parts drop off that much easier. Not a film for those of a weak deposition or, indeed, those suffering from depression as laughs were thinner on the ground than a pair of spam flip-flops, this amounted to bizarrely compulsive viewing for the rest of us.

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Electricity provided the plague in question from Jeff Lieberman’s 1976 nature-gone-berserk flick Squirm. Where other ankle-biters my age rejoiced in carving up earthworms, I gave them a wide berth after witnessing how voltaic pulses messed with their circuitry turning them into ravenous hell slitherers. Between this, Food of The Gods, and those irrepressible Slugs, it’s a surprise I didn’t suffer an illogical aversion to nature. More recently, James Gunn confirmed my worst fears with the hugely affable Slither. Cue another parasitic outbreak which was markedly more rewarding than dissecting worms ever was.


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Even hydrating with harmless drinking water can have potentially cataclysmic ramifications. Eli Roth’s debut Cabin Fever revealed the darker side of Evian as attested by a group of contaminated co-eds who fell apart faster than O.J.’s defense. A simple task like strimming one’s legs became an absolute travesty although, considering it was Cerina Vincent in the tub, I’m sure I’m not alone in announcing that I’d still gargle her bathwater. The sequel, which Ti West effectively disowned, reached entirely new levels of sickness; proving that two wrongs really do make a right.

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In space no one can hear you scratch. Christian Alvert’s Pandorum featured two crew members who awoke from hyper-sleep with no recollection of how they got there. Turned out a deadly intergalactic strain of Pandorum had been responsible for half the universe going bat-shit and cannibalizing each other. Tough breaks for Ben Foster who probably grew up in wide-eyed awe watching Space Camp and Explorers, only to have fifteen barrels of shit kicked out of him for 108 minutes with hardly a moments respite. The warning signs were there way back when E.T. docked in L.A. but he won us all over with the old glow-stick finger trick. Foiled by our own fickle nature.


I could blather on for hours about pestilence. I haven’t even mentioned Carriers, [REC], Contagion, 28 Days Later or Splinter, let alone old school syndromes courtesy of The Andromeda Strain, I Drink Your Blood or Warning Sign. Then there’s the whole zombie debate which I’ll save for another letter of the alphabet. Instead, I shall end with possibly the tastiest treat this side of the Wonka Bar and one piece of confectionery which is just too alluring to a sweet tooth like mine not to indulge in. I’m speaking of he world’s newest dessert sensation, the one, the only… The Stuff.

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I’m sorry, I really am. Maybe it’s the colorful packaging, or perhaps the intriguing ad campaign. Whatever it is that makes Larry Cohen’s glorious gloop so moreish, it’s just too mouth-watering a proposition to pass up. It’s not that I’m unaware of the health warnings, although the print is admittedly miniscule, and I know full well that moments after the first glob hits the back of my throat I’ll be able to park a Corvette in the front of my face and still leave space for a moped and two space hoppers. It just matters not, I mean, look at it. Personally I don’t see why it was removed from store shelves. Maybe I can grab myself a consignment on eBay. That’s a thought. I’m off for a bidding war. Don’t forget, steer clear of monkeys. That is all.


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