A great horror movie makes more of an impression on the psyche than any other kind of film. Hell, even a bad horror flick can scar you for life. There’s a phrase that every seasoned horror fan loves to hear: “Have you ever seen . . . ?” For the next 31 days, John E. Meredith will unearth some of his personal favorites that fell through the cracks, that are not so obvious, the kind that might even sneak up on you while you’re trying to sleep. Threads 1984, UK. Directed by Mick Jackson. Written by Barry Hines. Starring Victoria O’Keefe, Reece Dinsdale, David Brierly, Rita May, Karen Meagher. In those childhood nightmares, here’s how the world ends. School has been let out early. There’s been talk about nuclear war for days now, not in the usual way, but like it might really happen. Even the bullies are taking the day off, like they’re afraid. We’ve been dukin’ it out with the Russians over in Iran, seems like forever. Something about oil and ultimatums. But today someone has finally done it; someone sank someone else’s battleship. A couple of the teachers had televisions hooked up in their classrooms and when you walk past them you catch glimpses of Ronald Reagan’s face, looking very old and grim. But all of that was just buzzing somewhere in the background. I’m trying to find my mom’s car. The parking lot is in chaos, screeching tires, adults and teenagers actually running to get out. Some of the school buses are leaving, making dangerously sharp turns. Horns blasting. And I can’t find her car, not in the usual place. Not in the road in front of the school. But damn, look at that traffic, and there are accidents everywhere. And where is my mother’s car? Has she forgotten about me? All I want is to get away from here. To get back to my room, and the dog . . . Then I remember, she’s not coming. Not anymore. I asked her not to, said I would start taking the bus. It’s ninth grade now. I’m having enough trouble as it is, trying to fit. The bus now, and then I’ll get a car and – A horn wails, wall of yellow in front of me. A bus. Bus. Oh shit, the bus. The bus I’m supposed to catch. Cars and busses everywhere, but where is mine? Leaving, it’s leaving. I can see it, already at the light. I start to run, but the light changes. Green, go, green, go, go, going, and it’s gone. And I’m crying. Dammit, not here, not right in the parking lot. Even though they’re all leaving, someone will see. Someone will see the big baby freshman and . . . I’ll walk home. That’s it, no big deal. I can just walk. It’s no more than a few miles, and . . . The air raid sirens start to wail. Suddenly everything is white, a blinding flash, and inside of the flash it’s like I can see everything’s skeleton, even things that don’t have skeletons, and I feel hot so hot burning up but cold right down to the core too and I don’t feel so good feel like this is bad so bad gonna get so much worse . . . And this is what it’s like to watch a movie called THREADS. Commissioned by the director of the BBC after he watched an old UK docudrama called THE WAR GAME (1965), which had given him nightmares for weeks, he wanted a realistic depiction of what would happen if a nuclear holocaust were to befall England. He hired a fledgling young director named Mick Jackson to get it done. Jackson had already made a documentary guide to Armageddon in 1982, but nonetheless travelled around the UK and the USA, consulting leading scientists, defense specialists, doctors, psychologists, and even Carl Sagan in order to create a film that felt far too possible for many people of the time. The director spent a week at a training center for ‘official survivors’ in Easingwold, which only showed him how disorganized the post-war government would be, even in the best of circumstances. Following the first broadcast of his finished movie on September 24, 1984, Jackson received none of the usual congratulatory phone calls from friends and colleagues after viewing his nightmare. He had scared everyone too badly. The plot centers around two families in England, the Kemps and the Becketts. Young lovers Ruth and Jimmy have suddenly found themselves expecting a child, despite their plans for college and careers. While they sit in a car overlooking the city of Sheffield, or playfully argue about how they should decorate their apartment, news broadcasts on the television and radio grow more and more ominous. There has been a confrontation between the United States and Russia. Iran is involved, and so is oil. Tensions have escalated and the US makes an ultimatum, which the Soviets ignore, resulting in a brief nuclear skirmish somewhere in the Indian Ocean. The USS Kitty Hawk has been sunk. Britain is gripped in fear, looting and riots, before any bombs have even been dropped. Many are being arrested, known subversives, activists, and trade unionists, under the government’s Emergency Powers Act. But Ruth Beckett and Jimmy Kemp are figuring out how to tell their families that they are going to have a family of their own. The air raid sirens start to wail. There has been a single warhead burst over the North Sea. The resulting electromagnetic pulse has damaged all communications, burnt out most electrical systems. Nothing has hit Sheffield, but it’s been terribly crippled. All regular modes of communication have been disabled. There’s chaos in the streets and missiles are flying now. Ruth is home with her parents. Jimmy is running from his stalled truck. A megaton nuclear warhead explodes directly over the city of Sheffield. A massive deadly mushroom appears above the city. Blinding light. Roaring wind. Fire is everywhere. Milk bottles are melting. Someone’s teddy bear burns. A cat twists behind a wall of flames. A blackened hand, flesh curled back from the fingertips, reaches out of the rubble just before it is engulfed. And then that cloud, hanging there like a death’s head. But it’s going to get much worse. Most of those who survived, like Ruth and her parents, will soon wish they had not. “If anyone dies while you are kept in your fallout room, move the body to another room in the house. Label the body with name and address, and cover it as tightly as possible in polythene, paper, sheets or blankets. If, however, you’ve had a body in the house for more than five days and if it is safe to go outside, then you should bury the body for the time being in a trench or cover it with earth, and mark the spot of the burial.” THREADS is not found on many top-twenty horror lists, though it’s much scarier than any axe-wielding maniac or demon-infected child. This in itself may explain its absence. Most of the horrific sights we inflict ourselves with in horror movies are obvious fiction. They can serve as a replacement for something that scares us even worse. Or even act as a catharsis. But this. Yes, this could actually happen. This was worse than the biggest wave of zombies the apocalypse could ever send. Movies of nuclear war have existed since American pilots dropped Fat Man and Little Boy on Japan in 1945, a few of the best being ON THE BEACH (1959), FAIL SAFE (1964), and DAMNATION ALLEY (1977). If you want to consider stories of radiation sickness and nuclear winter as entertainment. But there was a definite sea-change as the Reagan administration came into its full war-mongering bloom. Maybe Ronnie would never have dropped the bomb, but to a teenager growing up in the ‘80s, it sure looked like he would. And all of those Russian guys, with names like Brezhnev, Kuznetsov, and Andropov, they sure as hell seemed like they meant business too. It sent a lot of us to bed with nightmares. In the year prior to THREADS, there had already been both THE DAY AFTER and TESTAMENT. But this one topped them all in its grim reality, even when it used Rice Krispies and ketchup as a special effect. It wasn’t the money-shot of the mushroom cloud, or even the city of Sheffield harshing out a nuclear winter that sticks in the memory. No, it was the pitiful wriggling masses that followed, the dirty, blood-soaked bandages that covered faces and limbs. It was the desperately hungry people, willing to eat anything. Or the frazzled military of a fractured government, given the authority to shoot little boys who steal a crust of bread. And it was that final image, when a young mother looks down into the dirty bundle at her brand new child . . . and sees the horrible face of the future. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.