The Guy Behind ‘Saw’ and ‘Insidious’ Also Gave Us This Zombie Horror Comedy

The Guy Behind ‘Saw’ and ‘Insidious’ Also Gave Us This Zombie Horror Comedy


The Big Picture

  • Zombies can be funny!
    ‘ takes a hilarious twist on the classic undead trope with child zombies and jump roping body parts.
  • Cooties
    offers a refreshing and comedic take on the zombie genre, a far cry from Whannell’s usual horror style with bright colors and humor.
  • Don’t write off
    due to initial bad reviews. Child zombies add a unique element, keeping viewers on edge and laughing throughout.

Leigh Whannell has given horror lovers classic franchises like Saw and Insidious, as well as other films like the most recent adaptation of The Invisible Man. But hidden within his dark and scary resume is a hilarious zombie flick starring Elijah Wood and Allison Pill. Cooties, which quietly premiered in 2014, takes the classic zombie trope and gives it a hilarious twist, providing unexpected moments and ridiculous action sequences. It’s so vastly different from everything else on his resume, and that’s what makes it extra special. That, and of course, Rainn Wilson.


A mysterious virus hits an isolated elementary school, transforming the kids into a feral swarm of mass savages. An unlikely hero must lead a motley band of teachers in the fight of their lives.

Release Date
October 10, 2014

Jonathan Milott , Cary Murnion


Main Genre

Leigh Whannell , Ian Brennan , Josh C. Waller

Lionsgate Premiere

There Are Many Different Types of Zombie Movies

Odd math makes a hilarious comedy. Zombie movies have been popularized ever since the very first one was released in 1932. White Zombie, which was inspired by Haitian folklore, is about a young woman who is transformed into a zombie by an evil voodoo sorcerer. Bela Lugosi plays the voodoo sorcerer that revives the woman as a creature of the undead. While the film itself was not a critical success, it did pave the way for other zombie flicks, including George Romero‘s seminal film, Night of the Living Dead. These films have created a cultural understanding and idea of what zombies are, with minor variations here and there in regard to how zombies are created and how they attack. Are they slow zombies, or are they fast zombies? Lab accident or supernatural force?

‘Cooties’ Puts the Fun Back in Zombie Features

These differences allow for zombies to exist in all kinds of stories, and Leigh Whannell took that to the next level when co-writing the movie Cooties with Ian Brennan. Cooties is almost the polar opposite of Whannell’s other film franchise, Insidious. Cooties follows a not-so-successful horror writer Clint, played by Elijah Wood, going to work as a substitute teacher at Fort Chicken Elementary School. There, he encounters his own former (and current) school crush Lucy (Allison Pill). Lucy, however, is in a relationship with the machismo-filled gym teacher Wade (Rainn Wilson).

It’s a normal day at Fort Chicken Elementary School, at least until one student takes a bite of a chicken nugget. These (and many other) chicken nuggets change everything. Before the teachers realize something is wrong, the student becomes wild and ravenous, scratching and biting their fellow students, turning them into zombies. Without revealing too much, Cooties turns the world from normal into one full of child zombie armies that the surviving teachers must escape before being eaten. There is a key secret to the chicken nugget virus, and this secret is what cinches this film as a solid zombie classic with a refreshing take.

Unlike Insidious, there is a clear sense that Cooties is meant to be a comedy. The colors are bright and sunny, even as the zombie children play jump rope with the pieces of their victims. It lets the watchers know that they can relax; it’s a horror film, yes, but it will for sure make you laugh. The plot is ridiculous, and watching grown adults running for their lives away from the undead children is both exciting and giggle-inducing. After all, the whole story takes place in a town called Fort Chicken, inside Fort Chicken Elementary School, and the infected chicken nuggets were produced at a chicken nugget factory which also happens to be in Fort Chicken. This film does not take itself seriously, and the viewers who are unable to understand that clearly missed the memo.

‘Cooties’ Deserves Another Look

Image via Lionsgate

The reviews for Cooties are, frankly, not great. With a “could be worse” rating of 46% on Rotten Tomatoes and an audience score of 38%, one can’t help but wonder if this film was all but buried due to its initial poor reception. Many of the reviews cite violence against children as a reason the movie is bad. They seem to have forgotten that zombies are zombies, regardless of age. Some of the best horror films feature creepy children, so what makes Cooties any different? In fact, the idea that the zombies are children is precisely what makes Cooties special. Audiences have been overwhelmed by zombie movies that primarily show adults as the undead. And as The Last of Us proved, child zombies can be even more effective in creating tension and fear.

There may be a small child zombie here and there, but the primary scare factor comes from the zombies being big and strong enough to overpower their victims. It’s the exact fact that these zombies are kids that make them more efficient than most movie zombies. Children are fast and agile, and these skills are only heightened when they get turned. It’s understandable that the idea of these tiny humans being viciously terminated by their teachers is something that made people uncomfortable, but to discredit the entire movie because of this is a major disservice to Cooties.

Perhaps many were bothered by the amount of gore given the fact that children are involved, but again, it’s a zombie movie. It’d be more concerning if there weren’t any gore at all. The one negative point that could be made against the film is the love story between Clint and Lucy. It feels unnecessary, as the main plot is plenty for the movie to ride on. This is a minor complaint, though. Whatever reviewers’ reasons may have been for not enjoying it, there are many more reasons to love it. Rainn Wilson killing zombies is reason enough for fans of horror and The Office to enjoy watching. It’s a fun, plucky, disgustingly stupid good time, and should certainly be on any zombie fans’ movie cue.

Cooties is currently available to stream on Prime Video in the U.S.



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