Why I Love… Threads; because holy shit it is the most frightening film I have ever seen.
If you’re looking for something a little bit different this Halloween. If you’re finding you third dozen viewing of ‘Scream’ and ‘The Shining’ a little bit dull now and you’re still reading this despite my crass opener may I suggest ‘Threads’.
In short it is about the before and aftermath of a nuclear bomb exploding in Sheffield.
Sheffield. Not the most chilling place that comes to mind. But there in lies the everyday charm/horror of the film.
Similar in tone to the previously banned ‘The War Game’, ‘Thread’s takes a docu-drama approach to the story. A loud an overbearing ticker tape, which unnervingly remains the same throughout the events of film, presents us with Sheffield during a period of heated tension between the US and Russia. Young couple Ruth and Jimmy (Reece Deasdale who you may recognise from I.D. and Coronation Street) decide to get married. The whole story starts of innocently and initially you may find yourself wondering when things are going to get going as this bland melodrama plays out like an un-funny version of ‘The Royle Family’. The ticker tape and TV reports remind us of the ever mounting tensions. Sheffield council erect a bomb shelter in the town hall, people start panic buying, protesters are arrested.
Then one dull autumnal Sheffield morning whilst Jimmy is out getting food for the home the air raid siren hauntingly sounds. The horrified population look up to see a mushroom cloud hanging over the high street. It doesn’t sound too frightening but there is something about the silent image of nuclear explosion hanging over Woolworths that will linger in your mind. The blast blinds and explodes local buildings. A mother who’s son is playing outside screams his name “Michael”, which bearing the same name as I do chilled me to the core as the blast warps her cry into an ear-piercing scream and she bursts into flames, the film falls silent as her husband desperately tries to put her out. The remain lodged between the sofa and the wall in their semi-detached with the mother shivering from third degree burns with their beloved son dead for a while after.
That’s only the beginning of the horror. Sheffield’s emergency operations team are trapped underground. The team that is supposed to know what to do and be the bastion of common sense begin to turn on each other as their own rations run out. The blast is so devastating emergency services are practically wiped out, as has Sheffield itself. Fires rage and bodies remain trapped. The complete break down of all government services and the absolute domino effect of all these events make for sobering thoughts.
A month later soldiers break into the emergency operations hub to find the team all dead from suffocation. As burying or burning bodies is considered a waste of time and energy bodies are left to rot leading to an outbreak of disease which kills off further survivors. All this information is interred to us from the continuing ticker tape that remains unmoved and jolt-ingly loud. Capital punishment is re-instated and money is deemed worthless so food becomes the new currency. Except nothing is growing. The sunlight eventually returns but the devastated ozone layer leads to blindness and radiation diseases.
Ten years after the bomb Ruth is still alive but now decrepit and blind. The survivors work the fields and wear rags as life has return to the Medieval ages. With no real education children speak broken English or remain dumb. Later Ruth’s daughter ends up becoming pregnant. In a makeshift hospital, all alone the young girl gives birth. She looks down at the sheet and is about to scream in horror as the film freeze frames on her face.
‘Threads’ coldness and it’s mundane qualities are what make the film so terrifying. Setting it in a British town that the majority of us can relate to instantly makes the situations that much more relatable. The sequence of events after the bomb are well considered and seem as though that’s what would happen in a nuclear winter. This isn’t a ‘Snowpiercer’ post natural disaster world with shoot outs, revolutions and Chris Evans. This is rags, mud, panic, humanity slowly coughing itself to death and slowly fading out all because of it’s own actions.
Directed by Mick Jackson who would go on to make bilge like ‘The Bodyguard’ and ‘Volcano’ this will remain his masterpiece. ‘Threads’ is a devastatingly underrated classic that will certainly have you longing to watch a Simpsons marathon when it’s finished. I found that the best way to cheer myself up. Be warned though this is a film that will stay with you for the rest of your life. From around twenty minutes minutes in I became panicked and that feeling didn’t leave until long after it finished.
Approach with caution.
Below is a special Newsnight debate that aired after ‘Threads’ was first broadcast.