Necrofungus Psilocybelis: True or False? Biology in “The Privilege” (2022)
Is necrofungus psilocybelis real? From zombie ants to psychoactive, corpse eating fungi, is the biology in Netflix’s horror movie, The Privilege (2022), true or false?
First, we have necrofungus psilocybelis, psychoactive mushrooms that grow on dead bodies. Then there’s Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis, a bizarre, killer fungus that turns ants into zombies.
To be sure, the animal kingdom has a lot of gruesome material to offer the horror genre. But how accurate are the fungi in German horror flick, The Privilege?
Let’s separate truth from fiction.
Back to Biology Class
In the biology class scene, Leander, the high school douche, makes an unwittingly clever remark about “zombie ants.”
So first of all, how about Leander’s zombie ants? Are they real?
Zombie Ants: True
So first of all, “Zombie Ants” are very real. They are created in the wild by a fungus called Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis, just as Finn’s biology teacher says.
Zombie Ants Fast Facts:
- Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis lives in the jungle.
- It infects ants
- The ants leave the colony
- They go under a leaf
- The ant chomps down on a vein with its mandibles
- It dies slowly for 4-10 days
You think that’s a gruesome HORRIBLE way to die? Wait ’till you hear about all the suffering the ant goes through.
While the ant is slowly dying, Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis makes “fruiting bodies (that) grow from the ant’s head.” The fruiting bodies rupture, releasing Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis spores. After the ant dies, Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis stays under the leaf. (Source: Wikipedia)
Here’s a video of this truly horrifying phenomenon from National Geographic:
As you can see, some of the biology in The Privilege is true. Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis is definitely a real fungus. But what about Necrofungus Psilocybelis?
First of all, let’s recap the story. Finn has been hallucinating. He is being medicated. One night, he cuts open one of his pills and finds a weird looking wormy thing inside. So the next day, he brings it to Lena, and the two of them head to the bio lab together.
Although this thing looks like a worm, Finn’s biology teacher says it’s actually a regionally extinct species of fungus called necrofungus psilocybelis.
Having left the classroom, Finn and Lena do their own research. Lena reads that witches used to take necrofungus psilocybelis to hallucinate, especially while communicating with demons and spirits. However, the practice of picking worm-looking mushrooms off of dead bodies for consumption died out with the advent of the modern era.
I can’t imagine why.
Finn, feeling deeply disturbed, asks Lena whether the pills he has been taking are like magic mushrooms. Lena replies that they are probably more like “black magic mushrooms,” being that withces and shamans were the ones taking them.
While that was an entertaining part of the movie, is Necrofungus Psilocybelis real?
Is Necrofungus Psilocybelis Real?
Necrofungus Psilocybelis is not real.
Although Lena is apparently conducting online research, all of my thorough Google searches came up negative. There truly does not appear to be a real fungus called Necrofungus Psilocybelis.
Although necrofungus psilocybelis is not real, The Privilege writers drew on real life for inspiration, from ancient European shamanic practices to real Greek and Latin medicinal etymology. In other words, they made the fungus sound real.
For one thing, check out the word roots:
- Necro: from Latin Nekros, meaning dead body or person
- Psilocybelis: from psilocybin, the active hallucinogenic ingredient in magic mushrooms. Psilocybin originally comes from the Greek, psilos, meaning “bare, naked, mere.” (Source: Etymonline.com)
Ancient Shamanic Hallucinations in Europe
Before medieval times, European shamans and witches used magic mushrooms, presumably to communicate with the spirit world.
One of the cave paintings in Spain is believed to depict magic mushrooms. And it dates back 6,000 years. Unfortunately, they think these mushrooms are Psilocybe Hispanica, not Necrofungus Psilocybelis. (Source: Newscientist.com).
What’s more, it is no secret that ancient Europeans used drugs to communicate with the spirit world. Neolithic Europeans ritually used cannabis, opium, and mushrooms. Modern archaeologists have found remains of these drugs. They think the ancient Europeans used to use them for pleasure, but also for spiritual reasons. (Source: Archaeology Wiki).