The Andromeda Strain (1971)
I’ve been itching to watch this ever since the coronavirus news hit and people started ruminating on what the best infection movie was, the answer is of course The Andromeda Strain. I’ll cut to the chase, this is one of my favourite films of all time. It’s simply flawless, the perfect tense science-fiction thriller. Not only that, I’d credit it with forming my cinematic obsession. This along with many other delights I first discovered via Alex Cox’s Moviedrome late night slot in the 80/90s, pricked my interest and kept me buying blank VHS tapes, that I filled with a whole host of weird and wonderful filmic delights (The Wicker Man, Barbarella, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Man Who Fell to Earth, THX 1138, Westworld, Dazed & Confused, The Fog, Vanishing Point)... god I loved those tapes. I’ve not watched it in many years though and there’s always the worry that you remember it to be something it’s not. I needn’t have worried. It’s just as wonderful as I remember. A world of secrecy, classified documents, code names and mis-trust. At the heart you have the virus, hitching a ride from a fallen satellite that’s landed in a small town in New Mexico, killing its population. Classic disaster movie stuff and I mean classic, minimal music, no fast cuts. It’s clean, methodical, driven by heavy dialogue, solid central characters and a solid structure, but all that’s by the by as they don the 70s style hazmat suits and enter the town by helicopter. What follows are some of the coolest and eeriest shots in cinema history. Dead bodies cut down in their daily lives. Everywhere, the definition of a ghost town. Until... the baby cries. From here it only gets better, subterranean labs, retro computer screens, flashing lights. It’s beautifully mechanical, colour coded and heavy on exposition, but lovingly crafted. It’s not all enjoyable, I’d forgotten just how horrific the animal testing scenes are and quite how sustained. The way this was achieved on set would not be allowed now for sure! It’s still utterly brilliant though as the team of hand-picked scientists battle against the mystery virus and the facility in which they’ve attempted to contain it. Despite my love of this film, I’ve never really warmed to this genre, but maybe it’s because this feels as much thriller as anything else. Despite its hefty use of proto-scientific language, I suspect it’s just the good old fashioned gripping story. The silent killer, the battle for humanity and some bloody cool looking sets. Absolutely marvellous.