Most people have a little bit of a hypochondriac in them. We all know somebody who’s constantly in the hospital, fearing the fact their latest ailment is no doubt going to be the one that kills them, only to find out they have the common cold and it’ll go away in a few days with the simplest antibiotics. Changes are you laugh at this person and tell them to stop worrying so much, but deep down, part of being a human involves knowing the fragility of your own existence. Maybe it’s not a life threatening event every single time you cough, but deadly and terrifying diseases most certainly do exist, and they can strike absolutely anybody at the least expected times.
Hollywood loves the fact the human body is so fragile, and people getting freaked out over the idea only causes film producers to double down on the concept and create brand new diseases to scare the healthiest people amongst us into washing our hands extra carefully once we leave the theater. Sometimes the ailments seem kind of funny on screen, and in certain comedies, that’s the entire point. Take those same comedy diseases into the real world, though, and you’ll start to notice some terrifying side effects that no person would ever wish upon their enemies, even for a laugh. Naturally, the more dramatic and horror based entertainments out there hold their place at the top of the game in terms of unnerving their audience, but all aspects of scripted media have done their best to have us second guessing every sneeze. Keep reading to learn about 15 obviously fake diseases that still managed to freak everybody out.
15 The Thing Virus (The Thing)
The titular thing virus from John Carpenter’s The Thing is so terrifying and confusing it defies easy explanation, even by the highly intelligent researchers that make up the core cast of the film. We’re not sure where the thing virus came from, but we do know how it infects people and what it does. The thing virus rapidly takes control of individual cells and attempts to fuse with every nearby cell, perfectly mimicking them and gradually taking over entire human and/or animal bodies. The virus itself exists as a weird creepy alien, and any form of contact with that alien mass results in immediate infection.
The Thing earned its reputation as one of the all time greatest thrillers and horror films by creating a disease that would terrify absolutely anyone, but Carpenter didn’t stop there in creating his super virus. While many of the viruses on this list either have some sort of cure or at least manage to kill the victim pretty quickly, the thing virus never actually kills a person or dies, but rather takes over their body and controls them until it’s killed itself. And the only way to kill the thing virus is for it to be set on fire, typically via a flamethrower, if only because it’s cooler that way.
14 The Fever (Cabin Fever)
The full effects of the disease that slowly destroys the lives of the typical teenage horror flick campers in Cabin Fever don’t fully reveal themselves until the movie progresses. It’s pretty clear the disease is terrible from the start, but we only see it affecting a dog, so we don’t understand how bad it could be on a human host. Eli Roth next introduced a strange drifter to suffer from the disease, so audiences still couldn’t completely connect with what this horrible virus was. As is always the case in horror films, once the terror starting inflicted the sexy, happy go lucky main characters of the film, we started to understand just how terrifying a virus could be.
One of the scariest elements of a disease in general, as this list will show over and over, is the fact they can be spread in a myriad of ways that aren’t always immediately apparent. Blood to blood contact seems to be the main source in the film, but when contaminated drinking water gets thrown into the mix, it seems like the whole town could end up suffering the symptoms, which include flesh easily getting ripped off one’s body, violently vomiting blood, and eventually an extremely painful death.
13 Cluckitis (The Muppet Show)
For several decades, fans have been wishing they could interact with The Muppets the same way the many guests on The Muppet Show and their various associated movies have been able to do so. There is something so fun and fantastical about the Muppets than even in settings like their short-lived sitcom, it seems like almost nothing can truly go wrong for the Muppets. Eventually, they’ll all sing a song or Kermit will come up with some master plan that makes everything turn out fine in the end. Things can still get dangerously close to catastrophic before Kermit finds that solution, though, and one of the pitfalls of being a Muppet that everyone in that universe needs to deal with is the horrible disease, cluckitis.
Cluckitis presents at first like any other common cold, with sneezing and coughing and a general feeling of malaise. Things take a turn for the bizarre incredibly quickly, though, as any Muppet suffering from cluckitis will quickly and completely transform into a chicken. That might sound like a dream come true for the Great Gonzo, but consider us allergic to the idea.
12 Ghost Sickness (Supernatural)
A select few Native American tribes might still believe in a version of ghost sickness that may well exist within their culture, but we’re talking about the type of ghost sickness that Dean Winchester suffers in the Supernatural episode “Yellow Fever.” In the episode, ghost sickness is spread via contact with an evil spirit known as a buruburu. Buruburu are spirits born out of people suffering a terrible and violent death, with the spirit acting as a manifestation of the victim’s fear of dying moments before they succumbed to their fate. As a result, if a person came in contact with a buruburu spirit, they would suffer nightmares about the buruburu’s death, experiencing the terror the ancient spirit experienced first hand.
While a disease that actually causes nightmares is scary enough, ghost sickness gets even creepier when the symptoms start to include physical manifestations of the torture inflicted on the buruburu. The real fear, however, is literally being scared to death, and having a heart attack out of fear while sleeping. Thankfully, the spirit itself can be scared to death as well, since the cure to ghost sickness is catching the ghost that caused the disease and forcing it to relive it’s original demise.
11 Cordilla Virus (24)
During the first term of George W. Bush’s Presidency, in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, there was a great public panic over the spread of the extremely deadly biological weapon anthrax being delivered through the US Postal Service. The popular Fox TV show 24 dealt with this same kind of terrorism through the eyes of super agent Jack Bauer, and there’s actually very little separating the fictional cordilla virus from the anthrax virus that actually exists in our world.
Anthrax already existed in nature before it was weaponised, while the cordilla virus was entirely fabricated by Ukrainian scientists to be sold on the black market. Once it fell into the hands of a bioterrorist it became even more deadly, and as increasingly evil people got ahold of it, they used it to commit acts of terror up to and including holding major United States cities temporarily hostage. People who were exposed to the disease experienced nosebleeds, severe hemorrhaging, skin abscesses, and finally death. Jack Bauer saved the day as he always does and only a small number of people were affected, but the similarities to a real life ailment and the national scale of the disease made it hard for audiences to forget it.
10 Torsonic Polarity Syndrome (South Park)
Torsonic Polarity Syndrome is more of a genetic condition than an outright sickness, and the way it’s presented on South Park is pure comedy. However, if you think about the disorder for just a few seconds and realize how unpleasant and disgusting it is, TPS can easily reach a point where it’s genuinely creepy and disturbing. According to the episode “How to Eat with Your Butt,” over 11 people worldwide suffer from the horrendous malady, which causes one’s buttocks to appear over their faces.
The idea is presented as a joke so funny it causes Eric Cartman to blow a funny fuse, and become unable to laugh at anything else. But if you really think about TPS, it stops being funny, and starts reaching a one-person Human Centipede territory. Stan and Martha Thompson handle their disease well, but it's no surprise they were forced to find someone else who suffered their same condition before they settled down and had a child. It’s so creepy and gross to think about, we just about want to end this entry right here and binge eat some chocolate guns to help get our minds off things.
9 Epideme (Red Dwarf)
If there’s any solace people can take in suffering from a deadly virus, perhaps it’s the fact that the virus itself has no emotion or intelligence and merely acts on instinct, and thus the human mind always will have the possibility of one day destroying it. Not so with epideme, the disease created in the 7th series of “Red Dwarf,” which rapidly gains intelligence and learns how to continue harming its victims despite the futuristic scientists of the program’s best efforts at stopping the sickness from spreading. The fact the intelligent virus also has a real douchey personality only serves to make matters significantly worse.
One of the creepiest elements of epideme is how it was created, insofar as it was originally intended to help humans perform a task many wish could be easier for them: quitting smoking. There were dire side effects, however, and instead people infected very quickly died, turned into zombies, and desperately sought a new host for the virus. The only cure is to coax the irascible illness to a specific part of your body and chop it off—a solution that might have some people considering an afterlife as a zombie.
8 Imminent Death Syndrome (Mr. Show with Bob and David)
Imminent Death Syndrome is exactly as bad as it sounds, in that the only thing science has yet to truly understand about IDS is that people suffering from it are totally going to die, and soon. David Cross plays a victim of the terrible disease in a famous sketch from Mr. Show, which sees two guitar teachers instantly claim Cross is the best guitarist they’ve ever heard—simply out of sympathy towards the fact he’ll be dying soon. IDS may seem like it has some upsides, including the fact everybody will absolutely become your friend and say the nicest things to you until the inevitable happens. Of course, the inevitable is still going to happen…well, eventually.
Another perk of IDS is that while death is imminent, there’s no saying exactly how imminent it is, and it could even be years if not decades before the deadly disease actually kicks in and causes victims to meet their ultimate fate. As a matter of fact, Imminent Death Syndrome actually seems like it has a whole lot in common with another, less scary disease invented by Mr. Show: the crippling laziness Ronnie Dobbs refers to as “entitilitus.”
7 Boneitis (Futurama)
Futurama is one of the most blatantly comedic shows to make an appearance on this list, and the general nature of bone-itis fits in well with that reputation. All we really know about bone-itis is that it’s a bone disease, which results in an incredibly painful but mercifully quick death by way of some serious spasms throughout the entire human skeletal system. Bone-itis actually isn’t some sort of future disease within the show’s universe, either, but it relatively prehistorically dates all the way back to the 1980’s.
The only known sufferer of bone-itis in Futurama is “that guy,” a wealthy and successful stockbroker/businessman who had himself cryogenically frozen to prevent the horrible fate his disease ensured him. The poor guy finds himself incredibly successful in the future as he was in the ‘80s, but unfortunately for him, he’s so successful he completely forgets about his rapidly progressing disease until moments before it graphically kills him. His only regret was that he had bone-itis, and we hope and pray we’ll never commit such a folly ourselves. At least he didn’t have electro gonorrhea, the noisy killer.
6 T-Virus (Resident Evil)
Resident Evil is one of the most enduring video game series to have turned into an outright film franchise, and part of that has to do with the incredible creepy outbreak that inspired the plot of the first three video games. The t-virus is a bioengineered virus intended as the first step in creating a super weapon known as the Tyrant, hence the T in the virus name. As always happens in games and films like this, the virus got into the wrong and hands and started to spread to the public, causing zombies to roam the streets the second they were introduced to the illness.
We don’t need to explain what’s so creepy about zombies, but the idea of somebody intentionally creating a disease that turns a person into one is even scarier than the walking dead. While Resident Evil relied on the t-virus exclusively for its first three games, the creators would introduce the Las Plagas parasite and the similar C-virus to keep scaring gamers into the next generation of play.
5 Krippin Virus (I Am Legend)
By the time the original I Am Legend begins, nearly the entire world has fallen victim to a debilitating virus, which turns victims into some sort of zombie/vampire hybrid that instantly robs them of any humanity they once had. The only person to survive the disease is Robert Neville, and Neville himself doesn’t even quite understand why he was so (un)lucky to be the lone survivor of the human race. The 2007 film adaptation didn’t leave Will Smith as the sole survivor, but the character felt it was quite possible he could have been as he searched through New York City looking for clues about whether or not the world could be saved.
Regardless of which version of Legend you read/watch/enjoy, the virus that is identified as “krippin” in the film is one scary disease. While most thriller film illnesses settle for turning victims into mindless drones, the krippin virus has a psychological element that causes victims to respond to vampiric lore the way they’ve been conditioned to through their actual life. Through this element, people with the krippin virus are somehow kept mentally aware, which makes it even more frightening to consider being somehow afflicted.
4 Motaba Virus (Outbreak)
Many of the diseases we’ve discussed throughout this list come from films that deal with the idea of a deadly outbreak, so it’s obvious the 1995 Dustin Hoffman thriller named after the phenomenon itself would get some serious attention. Outbreak deals with the deadly Motaba virus, a stand-in for Ebola that quickly spreads to California thanks to a case of curiosity killing the cat with some United States Army virologists. Hapless smugglers get involved and an infected monkey is sold in a pet store, leading to dozens of Californians becoming afflicted by the terrifying disease.
People suffering from motaba experience flu-like symptoms and quickly die, but the real creepy thing about Outbreak is the way the United States government reacts to the rapidly spreading disease. Fearing the danger that could be caused by the virus spreading even further than it already has, the President approves a plan to bomb the affected town and wipe out the disease in the most explosive way possible, assuming everyone living there is about to die from the illness, anyway. Thankfully, the government re-captures the original monkey and creates an antidote out of her blood, but the horrifying plan already became public, and that was scary enough for us.
3 Spontaneous Dental Hydroplosion (The Office)
Even amongst the very fake diseases on our list, spontaneous dental hydroplosion stands out as being multiple layers of made up. Jim and Pam invent the disease in the third episode of the very first season of The Office, one of several they create in order to mess with Dwight after he’s been placed in charge of creating a new health care plan for the staff of DunderMifflin Scranton. Dwight asked his co-workers which diseases they wanted covered by the new plan, and while Jim decided to simply write every disease he could think of, Pam took the more creative approach of theorizing what certain symptoms should be called.
Pam describes her made up disease as “my teeth turn to liquid and then they drop down the back of my throat.” Jim immediately names her ailment and a legend was born, but let’s pause for a minute and think about how terrifying that would be. Especially given the name of this disease implies the event happens at random and with no onset, SDH is truly one of the most terrifying illnesses any television show or film has ever invented. Regardless of what “hot dog fingers” or “Count Choculitis” may be, either one of them beats accidentally drinking your teeth when you didn’t even know you were sick.
2 Reaver Madness (Firefly)
It’s a huge spoiler to the nature of the Firefly universe and particularly the film Serenity to fully explain what caused the Reavers that infest the future in Joss Whedon’s short lived sci-fi series, but all it takes is one sight of them to know you don’t want to suffer whatever fate created them. Reavers are the be-all-end-all terrifying barbarians that, if they catch you, will “rape you to death, eat your flesh, and sew your skin into their clothing—and if you’re very, very lucky, they’ll do it in that order.”
If you don’t want the movie spoiled, move on to the next article, because here we go. In Serenity, it’s revealed that Reavers were created through an airborne toxin that was supposed to calm people down and weed out aggression. Unfortunately, a genetic mutation we’re calling Reaver Madness caused .1% of the citizens of the future to instead have the exact opposite reaction to the toxin, instantly going insane and becoming mindlessly violent. In the real world, people criticize things like the government putting fluoride in drinking water because they worry about possible side effects to our health that might cause. Imagine if the government was to release something inthe air, and the side effects could be this horrible if only you were so unlucky to suffer the genetic mutation that caused the mental insanity.
1 Rage Virus (28 Days Later...)
28 Days Later... is far more than a mere zombie or outbreak film, as its reputation as one of the scariest films of the past two decades should make immediately clear. As the title should imply, it only takes 28 days for the rage virus to completely obliterate British society and turn London into a wasteland, survived only by the most wily and lucky few who somehow have escaped infection. The rage virus starts with an infected chimpanzee biting an animal rights activist, who almost immediately turned mad herself and violently attacks a group of scientists, presumably infecting quite a few of them in the process. 28 days later, there are virtually no survivors.
The rage virus is so fast acting and terrifying that many Londoners in the film’s universe committed suicide rather than suffer an even more horrible fate. Said horrible fate takes place rapidly, as the virus spreads through a human’s body in under 20 seconds, followed by turning victims into mindless, murdering psychopaths. The only solution people have found is quarantines, and the few well-armed survivors to band together and create communities seemed to be amongst the worst sort of people ever to live, meaning anyone outside of their ilk is truly alone in this frightening and highly volatile universe.