7 Apocalyptic Horror Movies That Aren’t About a Virus

I love horror. That’s a new development for me, and one that can be credited to Fanbyte EIC Danielle Riendeau, who helped me gradually expose myself to a genre I’d detested for most of my life. Why would people intentionally want to scare themselves? Well, why do people skydive or ride rollercoasters? We’re complex, bizarre creatures, and sometimes that means wanting to trick our brains into the thrill of fear while knowing on a conscious level that we’re safe.

So even in the midst of pandemic conditions here in hard-hit New York City, I still find myself turning to horror films. If you’re doing the same, here’s a list of seven such movies with global stakes — none of which are about a virus that kills people or turns them into zombies. No, here you’ll only find demons, space vampires, and metafictional terrors. And maybe you, like me, will find that falling into a good end-of-the-world flick can actually do wonders for your mood.

The Gate

1. The Gate (1987)

A young Stephen Dorff makes his acting debut in this extremely Canadian supernatural horror story, which has some of the weirdest stop-motion creature animation I’ve ever seen. It’s kids fighting demons with none of the preciousness of many such setups. Hey, remember how you could just have a child say the word “fag” in a kids’ movie back in the 80s? That’s weird, huh. Still one of the best examples of the children versus evil subgenre. Be warned: the dog dies. (It gets better, though.)

Prince of Darkness

2. Prince of Darkness (1987)

Everybody should already have watched The Thing, but you might not have seen the other two films in John Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy.” Prince of Darkness is the second, and features grad students teaming up with the Catholic church to take out Satan himself. It’s a classic “trapped in the house” setup, but it’s different enough in tone and structure from The Thing to be enjoyed on its own merits. The last shot of the portal to hell is one of my favorite in any Carpenter movie, which is saying a lot.

Night of the Comet

3. Night of the Comet (1984)

Catherine Mary Stewart stars as Reggie, a horny gamer who loves Tempest, wears the sickest shirt I’ve ever seen, and is one of a few people spared from the return of Halley’s Comet, which turns everyone into zombies or dust for some reason. She and her sister immediately grab guns and start just chilling at the mall while a young Robert Beltran smoulders in a cool jacket. Mary Woronov is also there. A tightly-paced, funny movie with some incredible lighting, made on the the cheap and exemplifying the very best of 80s adventure horror. Plus, there’s the line, “Daddy would have gotten us uzis.”

The Void

4. The Void (2016)

A bunch of people trapped together in a hospital by cultists? Check. A villain playing with forces beyond his comprehension? Check. Gross monsters? Check. The Void draws more than a little inspiration from Carpenter films, but succeeds in creating its own, more modern vibe. It favors strong imagery over narrative cohesion, which may deter some, but the practical effects alone are worth watching for — and they’re all the more impressive considering that they were produced on a shoestring budget.

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5. Lifeforce (1984)

Astronauts discover three hot nude people aboard an ancient spacecraft full of disintegrating bat creatures. Later, the entire crew minus one man is found dead, and when the British government takes the untouched bodies in for dissection, things start to go bad very quickly. Lifeforce is a movie about sexy space vampires, and that should be enough for you. If it’s not, well, it’s also got Patrick Stewart in a brief but enjoyable pre-Star Trek appearance.


6. Demons (1985)

Directed by Lambarto Bava and produced by Dario Argento, Demons is a messy, unhinged splatterfest that plays out like a video game. I mean, there’s a scene where a guy drives around a movie theatre on a motorcycle chopping up demons with a sword. The effects here are classic Italian horror, with plasticine faces sloughing off as the titular creatures tear their way through a cast of moviegoers. It’s dumb, disgusting fun.

In the Mouth of Madness

7. In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

The final installment of Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy pits insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) against a Stephen King stand-in whose works are coming true and unraveling reality itself. In the Mouth of Madness breaks the mould of The Thing and The Prince of Darkness by allowing the action to sprawl out across various locations, but that only leaves more space for the existential terror at play. The threat here isn’t an alien creature or even Satan, but something far more ineffable, more all-encompassing. But hey, at least it’s not an infectious disease.