Horror movies have a long, unsettling, even poignant tradition of reflecting societal fears. The tattered landscape of America’s Great Depression is seen all through 1931’s Frankenstein. 1956’s Invasion Of The Body Snatchers was as much about the West’s fear of communism as it was creatures from outer space. The slasher movies of the 1980s tell us much about the moral panic regarding teenage promiscuity that reigned under Regan rule. More recently, the rise of filmmakers like Jordan Peele provide comment on the racial prejudices that linger today.
And so it was no surprise that when COVID hit the world 12 months ago, horror filmmakers looked at the pandemonium dominating headlines and thought: ‘Hmmmm’. After all, the renewed success of Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 thriller Contagion in the early days of the pandemic proved there was an audience for frights that intersected with real world events. Much of what followed was too soon. In some cases it’s still too soon. Occasionally, it was awesome. We watched everything brought forth, so you don’t have to.
Corona: Fear Is A Virus
This Canadian low-budget offering was in production even before the country went into lockdown. Directed by Mostafa Keshvari on just one camera, the trailer was ready by March 8, 2020. Placing a selection of people from all walks of life in an elevator, the film attempts to say something poignant about racism and how it is fear that drives us apart. A point it makes with the subtlety of a Rottweiler banging a hammer.
How distasteful is it? One of the occupants is Chinese. She coughs. The movie plunges into a quagmire of tasteless opportunism there on.
Where to watch: TBC, the film premiered at Rhode Island Film Festical
When the corona pandemic hit the west last March, most of us scrambled to make sense of an event unprecedented within our lifetimes. Not Michael Bay, who put down his sticks of dynamite and quickly greenlit this convoluted dystopian love story that struggles from the off to find its tone. Announced in May, the film was the first to start production after Los Angeles shut its movie lots, and you might attribute the impressive cast to a Hollywood-wide work stoppage. KJ Apa (Riverdale), Bradley Whitford (The West Wing), even Demi Moore. Don’t judge them. People gotta eat.
How distasteful is it? COVID-19 has mutated to COVID-23, the world is in its fourth pandemic year, and Archie from Riverdale must rescue his lover from a concentration camp…
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video
Safer At Home
Decent premise, this. Four groups of friends, housebound due to the pandemic, their meet-up in Vegas curtailed, assemble on Zoom in an attempt to recreate the experience. They’ve been mailed party favours in advance, including tabs of ecstasy they decide to take. A row ensues between one of the couples, with the friends watching on. During a blip in transmission, one of them dies. Then everything goes bananas – and, truth be told, rubbish. Do you really continue to Zoom while running from the police? Asking for a friend.
How distasteful is it? By shoehorning in references to almost every news event of the past year – BLM, the terror of the Trump administration – director Will Wernick’s silly movie demeans important causes.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video (rent)
Full Moon Features is the production company owned by B-movie veteran Charles Band. Now 69 years old, Bland’s past work includes ’80s bargain bin VHS nasties like Ghoulies, Troll and the actually brilliant Re-Animator. If you’ve seen any of these movies, the lurid wonder of Corona Zombies will come as no surprise. The film doesn’t contain very much in the way of new footage, instead splicing together re-dubbed scenes from the late, great Bruno Mattei’s 1980 gross out classic Virus and other cult zombie flicks from the era, alongside COVID-related news footage.
How distasteful is it? Well, the film does begin with an outbreak at the Wuhan bat soup packaging factory…
Where to watch: Full Moon Features‘ streaming platform, although it is currently unavailable…
COVID 21: Lethal Virus
Stealing its narrative from any survival-horror video game ever made, COVID 21: Lethal Virus depicts a situation in which the coronavirus has mutated and threatens to finish off what’s left of humanity. A brilliant scientist is our only hope! She must be escorted to safety! Writer-director Daniel Hernández Torrado’s zombie-packed offering actually started work in 2019, then evolved when the world started to turn. It suffers from an alarmingly unlikeable protagonist (Scott, played by Westworld‘s Christian Stamm), but this is otherwise coherent, no frills fun.
How distasteful is it? Turns out Scott was a soldier in Afghanistan. He shot a child! “That’s OK,” says the clever scientist. No it’s not! It’s not at all!
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video (rent)
And so we come to Rob Savage’s Host, a thrilling one-hour insight into what happens when six friends decide to perform a seance via Zoom (spoiler: the outcome is even worse than any awkward, anxious end of call “goodbye”). Lauded throughout 2020 for its wit and invention, Host takes inspiration from the top tier of found-footage horror –seminal BBC 1992 TV movie Ghost Watch is a key text – and even manages to say something poignant about the unease of technological connectivity.
How distasteful is it? How awesome is it, more like!
Where to watch: Shudder