Expertly using tension and uncertainty to portray real-life horror and destruction, “Threads” plays like a docudrama or a dire warning.
The story of the aftermath of a nuclear attack in Sheffield, England. Let’s dig into 1984’s THREADS, directed by Mick Jackson!
As I See It
Before you say, “But this is a war film,” I can assure you that this is a pure horror film, through and through. Practical makeup effects aside, the sheer terror of the events depicted and their impact on humans is as terrifying and horrific as it comes.
I’ve often said that this genre is good at dealing with the darkness and helping us spooky kids process things normies may just choose to avoid and ignore the reality of, and this film is a prime example of what I’m talking about.
Granted, this could play out like a bit of a propaganda film.
The grandstanding of the dialogue, which plays England as some innocent, peaceful, Switzerland-like neutral party who suffers thanks to the war-mongering of others, isn’t exactly true to history. That stance coming from the original imperialists and colonizers (OK, Spain, the Roman Empire, etc., all vying for that title as well, but no one did it with the panache of Great Britain) is rich and ironic.
England is like the father who created a monster (the United States) and then scolds the boy for their naughty behavior. “I learned it from watching you!”
The threat in the film does hold up to modern times, especially for those who listen to anything Noam Chomsky has been saying for the last however many years, but I don’t believe it is the first bomb threat on America’s minds. The “bomb” they worry about most, rationally, is going to a mall, school, synagogue, etc., and getting killed by a mass shooter.
Unfortunately, we know from cell phone footage what it looks and feels like to be involved in a massive bombing in a metro area, thanks to the negligence in Beirut, Lebanon. Those videos were devastating to watch. And as much as I want to say they did a good job with Threads depicting such destruction, it’s hard to quantify after you’ve seen it happen to real people rather than in a make-believe film.
It is impressive the lengths they went to in order to get it right and make it as realistic as possible with little real-life experience.
Reportedly, Mick Jackson did consult many scientists and specialists, including the iconic educator Carl Sagan. I must concede that diligence shows. Some scenes are very hard to stomach.
Breaking every couple of minutes to show text exposition disturbs the film’s flow, but it also lends to the docudrama feel of it, which gives the bleak ending (how else could it have ended but bleak?) an even darker swallow. Life doesn’t always go on.
I’m not very familiar with BBC actors, especially since I’ve never seen a single episode of Dr. Who, but star Karen Meagher (Ruth) did have a small bit part in the sequel to Danny Boyle’s redefining zombie flick 28 Weeks Later.
Of Gratuitous Nature
It’s a wonder how they got some of these things on TV. Charred and stillborn babies? It is an excellent example of the double standard held for simulated state murder and simulated “artistic” murder, as seen in horror films.
Perhaps violence is only taboo and “nasty” if it is depicted in a non-militaristic format.
You have to respect how dedicated Barry Hines and Mick Jackson were to portraying the logistics of everyday life and what they would look like in a post-explosion life. Things you would not even contemplate during an apocalyptic event, like what do we do with prisoners? Do we just let them walk free and fend for themselves, or do we build makeshift facilities to keep them jailed?
Ripe for a Remake
The reason you can find so many similarities in different decades socially and politically means those issues are either cyclical or never changing. Abortion, World War 3, nuclear war, recessions, and draconian measures to control catastrophe are just some of the things touched on in Threads — and not much has changed in 2023.
No progeny to report.
Where to Watch
Severin films released a Blu-Ray with a bunch of interviews and commentary tracks, including one with Director Mick Jackson, which is moderated by Kier-La Janisse of Miskatonic University. You can stream it on Shudder, Tubi, Hoopla, Kanopy, Mubi, Night Flight, and Filmzie.