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Outside the Lab Profession

Terror in the Lab

What creeps you out? Is it the thought of someone using their phone with blue gloves on? Leaving the lab door open? Or are you someone who prefers to ponder existentially into the wee hours? Whatever your taste for terror might be, there’s a fair share of it in the lab. Strange then, that many don’t associate laboratory medicine with the spine-tingling senses conjured up by the horror genre.

With Halloween just around the corner, we’ve put together a list of lab-related horror films that are guaranteed to have you shaking faster than a vortex mixer.

1.  Frankenstein (any version)

Was Victor Frankenstein the first fictional clinical laboratory scientist? We think so – but if not, he still deserves to kickstart our list; not only did Mary Shelly usher in a whole genre of science-based horror, but her protagonist offers a great moral lesson: the pursuit of knowledge must come with an ethical mind in tow. The story sports one of the most famous labs in all of literature, and Victor’s stitching together of body parts is part anatomical pathology and part autopsy in equal measure. From the kid-friendly cartoon antics of Igor (2008) to the 1930s black and white flick, pretty much any version of this classic tale will do the job.

2.  The Cursed (2021)

Following a long tradition of lycanthropy and disease as a metaphor for social subjugation, The Cursed stands out from the crowd by making its protagonist a bona fide pathologist. Set in 1881 rural France, the film not only covers the horrors of monsters, but the real life horrors of humans, too. 

3. The Autopsy - Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities (2022)

Guillermo del Toro is a connoisseur of horror and the macabre. In 2022, he treated Netflix viewers to an anthology series of horror shorts – each one with its own unique cast of characters and pernicious plot points. For this list, however, we’re interested in the third episode of the series, simply titled “The Autopsy.” The setup is fairly standard: a small town sheriff is investigating an unusual murder case and decides to call in a favor from his forensic pathologist buddy. Without entering the world of spoilers, it’s fair to say the story takes a twist. (Definitely not one for the squeamish among you.)

4. The Last of Us (2023)

Based on the landmark video game series by developer Naughty Dog, The Last of Us has almost certainly ushered in a new wave of video game adaptations that aren’t totally awful. Delivered with a beefy HBO budget, The Last of Us follows survivors 20 years after a fungal-driven pandemic ravished the world. The first series hinges on a country-wide road trip to attempt to create a vaccine and involves plenty of thrills and spills along the way. We’d highly recommend ID Transmission’s excellent series on the scientific accuracy of the show’s world.

5. Antiviral (2012)

King of horror David Cronenberg has touched upon the topic of disease a number of times. Whether in Shivers or The Fly (see below), he has used the tragedy of illness as a primary focal point for his twisted tales. This is clearly a hereditary fascination, as his son Brandon is responsible for Antiviral, a cynical, horrifying look at celebrity and parasocial relationships. Without spoiling much, the film focuses on a clinic that buys pathogens from celebrities in order to sell them to adoring fans who are seeking a sense of connection with famous people. Yikes.

6. The Fly (1958 or 1986)

In similar fashion to The Thing, The Fly has seen a number of beloved and trashed sequels/remakes based upon its 1950s progenitor. But the lab lies very much at the heart of The Fly. Although the protagonist isn’t a pathologist and is more interested in transporting matter, the resulting experiment-gone-wrong is clearly a genetics and physiology collaborative research project waiting to happen.

7. Contagion (2011)

Perhaps too close to home for many of us in recent years, Contagion sets out in sweeping detail how the world would respond to a pandemic caused by a disease that’s helped spread by droplets. How unrealistic! Though not hard horror, Contagion is hardly a walk in the park, either. The movie is notable in its approach to a medical disaster movie because it actually takes the time to explain virology and epidemiology. Few films bother to include growing cell cultures in the lab…

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About the Author
George Francis Lee

Deputy Editor, The Pathologist

Interested in how disease interacts with our world. Writing stories covering subjects like politics, society, and climate change.

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