The Last of Us is known for its rather unique take on zombies. You see, the infected in The Last of Us aren’t reanimated corpses or victims of a virus that drives them mad. They’re instead possessed by a real-life fungus known as cordyceps.
This mutated mould takes control of its host, turning them into a cannibalistic monster that desperately wants to spread the infection to other people. What’s interesting, though, is that this isn’t the first time fungus monsters have terrorised the small screen.
Back in 2009 – four years before the horror game came out – Primeval, an ITV sci-fi series about time travelling monsters, did an episode in its third season about a creature called the ‘Future Fungus’. The Future Fungus operated similarly to cordyceps in that it took over those infected by it, turning them into monsters.
Unlike the cordyceps brain infection shown in The Last of Us TV series, though, the infection in Primeval is a lot quicker. In Primeval, people are turned into literal mushroom monsters in the span of a few hours, while it takes years for an infected to reach that state in The Last of Us.
Of course, we’re not suggesting that The Last of Us stole anything from Primeval. It’s a matter of record that Naughty Dog’s game was in development when Primeval aired, so this is just an example of great minds thinking alike.
The idea of a fungus that takes over a person is well-established in the world of horror movies and horror series. The Japanese thriller movie Matango, made in 1963, tells the story of an island that’s overtaken by a mutated mushroom that infects people, turning them into strange fungal creatures.
Man’s natural fear of mushrooms goes back even further, though, to The Voice in the Night, a short story from 1907 about a shipwrecked couple who find themselves menaced by a strange fungus. Fun fact, this story actually served as the inspiration for Matango!
When you start turning over the rocks of fiction, though, you’ll find even more examples; Lovecraft wrote about fungoid creatures known as the Mi-Go, Stephen King wrote about a man being overcome by fungus in his short story Gray Matter, and there’s the morel from the 1962 novel Hothouse.