Malevolent Mushrooms: Fungal Horror in Film, TV, and More

Let’s face it — nature is scary. Sure, there’s sunshine and flowers and cute animals, but there’s also a darker side. We’re not just talking about predators and the unfathomable depths of the unexplored ocean, either. We’re talking about something so commonplace that you might not even think to be afraid. And you shouldn’t be. Well, maybe a little bit.

You might have guessed it by now. We’re talking about mushrooms, or, more specifically, fungus. Many are edible, offering nutritional value or even psychedelic experiences. But others are toxic. All fungus, however, are so complex that some mycologists consider them sentient. Hardcore mushroom lovers have even claimed mushrooms are an alien species, or an indication of magic. Fairy circles, anyone?

This concept has thus grown into a horror sub-genre. Fungal horror meshes body horror, panic-inducing plant horror, and very real science dialed up quite a few notches. Let’s look at some examples below.

The Last of Us

Clickers come from the creative, twisted minds behind the hit video game The Last of Us. These zombie-like monsters are so named for the ominous clicking sound they make while they hunt. Constantly on the prowl, Clickers mindlessly consume food and expend energy only to kill. If that seems scary, wait until you find out how clickers are made.

Within the game, humans are infected by a mutated form of the fungus cordyceps. Cordyceps, by the way, is a real fungus. For us, it actually contains some health benefits — though only in moderation. In The Last of Us, however, infected humans gradually lose brain function and become Stalkers. Later, Stalkers reach the most common and recognizable stage of TLOU Clicker, identifiable by the warped, fungal-shaped head, blackened teeth, and layered, greenish hide. All these fungal freaks of nature can also be seen in the live-action HBO Max series for The Last of Us.

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy’s powers have always been scary. While this DC Comics villain is often reduced to a femme fatale, it’s important to note that she’s one of the strongest evildoers in Gotham. Coupled with major misanthropy, Pamela Isley is particularly dangerous. Where she has endless care and concern for plants, she has not an ounce of patience left for humanity. If she had it her way, nature would reign supreme once more.

Currently, Ivy has taken those feelings a little too far. After being significantly de-powered and losing her connection to the Green, she takes a solo cross country road trip. Along the way she spreads ophiocordyceps lamia to infect humans and bring balance back to the earth. And yes, this is related to the previously mentioned TLOU cordyceps. However, these fungi, while helping Ivy achieve her goals, might also be twisting her mind the more she uses them.

The X-Files, “Field Trip”

The X-Files explores a wide range of monsters and mythology. In the episode “Field Trip,” Mulder and Scully tackle fungal horror. Sent it to investigate two mysterious skeletons, the two agents encounter spores which induce separate hallucinogenic episodes. Eventually these visions merge into a shared hallucination.

Unbeknownst to Mulder and Scully, they are both also being slowly digested by the mushrooms, which secrete an acidic substance. Fortunately, Mulder suspects he and Scully are not experiencing reality. He breaks through the hallucination, hauling Scully with him to the surface before they can be decomposed by the nefarious fungus.


Based on a science-fiction novel of the same name, Annihilation follows a group of explorers and biologists who wish to study a mysterious quarantined zone known as The Shimmer. The Shimmer has expanded over time following a meteor crash three years prior. Everything inside the area is mutated, and the zone defies any scientific explanation. Additionally, the humans who enter The Shimmer have no memory of their journey, indicating time moves differently inside this zone.

Antagonists abound. There are alligators with shark teeth, a mutated bear, and alien fungi. The team finds a soldier’s corpse overgrown with fungi. His intestines and bones are stretched far across the the wall, decorated with plants and consumed by his captors’ slow method of death. It is perhaps the most gorgeous — and graphic and gruesome — fungal horror scene in all of cinema.

What Moves the Dead

What Moves the Dead by. T. Kingfisher is a modern retelling of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. The original short story involves Gothic families, themes of isolation, and hysteria. What Moves the Dead carries over these concepts, and also includes a range of frightening flora and fauna.

Retired soldier Alex Easton visits a childhood friend named Madeline Usher after they learn she is near death. When they arrive in the countryside to comfort her, Alex is instead greeted by myriad fungal growths and possessed wildlife. Plus, the Usher siblings are mysterious and somewhat mad. Alex finds help in a mycologist and doctor, and the trio must solve the secrets of this ancient ancestral home before it consumes them all.

Hannibal, “Amuse Bouche”

NBC’s Hannibal television series is no stranger to strange horror. The show continuously plays with the artistry in murder, elevating it to a museum and theater-quality level spectacle. Hannibal Lecter is, after all, an artist. However, what’s most interesting about this episode is that Hannibal isn’t the one committing the fungus-fueled crimes.

A particularly twisted killer wants to grow his mushrooms with the best and freshest fertilizer around. So he uses live humans. How? He targets diabetics, inducing diabetic shock so that they’ll be comatose. Then he buries them alive, feeds them intravenously, and allows his mushroom to flourish.

The Girl with All the Gifts

The Girl with All the Gifts takes place in a dystopian future in which humanity is nearly wiped out by a fungal infection. The infected are called “hungries” and can be compared to what we call zombies, as they lose their mental faculties and feed on human flesh. The infection is spread through blood and saliva, or through airborne mushroom spores.

Curiously, a group of infected children still maintain their emotions and rationale. They only lose control when they get too close to that irresistible human scent. Thus they are imprisoned. Outside, though, intelligent hungries are also giving birth to a new generation of hungry-human hybrids, ushering in a new species while the uninfected still fight to survive.

What are your favorite fungal horror stories? Share your fears at, and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!