THREADS (1984) Blu-ray
Director: Mick Jackson
Severin Films

The most realistic, graphic, and disturbing depiction of the effects of nuclear war is back to traumatize a new generation with Severin Film's timely Blu-ray release of THREADS.

When Sheffield youths Ruth (Karen Meagher, 28 WEEKS LATER) and Jimmy (Reece Dinsdale, HAMLET) discover that she is pregnant, they decide to keep the baby and get married despite the misgivings of their conservative parents (Henry Moxon, June Broughton (FUNLAND), David Brierly (voice of DOCTOR WHO'S K9), and Rita May respectively). As they endeavor to set up house, news reports of suspected US intervention in Iran's civil war and the Soviet response has the world on edge about the threat of nuclear war. After an American submarine disappears in the Persian Gulf, American troops are sent to Iran protect US interests. With the threat of armed conflict seeming more imminent as a deadline is set for mutual withdrawal, protests erupt on the streets of Sheffield about US bases in the UK and the city controller Clive Sutton (Harry Beety) is instructed to ready emergency personnel for a possible nuclear strike, take stock of food supplies, and tamp down on known subversives. When the deadline passes, panic sets in as people flee the city and snarl up traffic, shops price gouge, hospitals prepare for casualties, and the emergency personnel gathered in an underground bunker are dealing with issues that should have been resolved weeks in advance. The populace is nevertheless caught off guard when a bomb explodes over Sheffield, destroying the city and radiating outwards with fatalities between twelve and thirty million. Those that are not killed immediately are either severely burned or suffering the early stages of radiation poisoning. Ruth sets out into the streets in search of Jimmy but her journey soon turns into one of survival for herself and the baby she fears might be mutated by radiation exposure.

A thoroughly-researched and relentlessly grim speculative look at the effects of nuclear war produced at a time when it seemed like a very real possibility – making this Blu-ray quite the timely release – THREADS is a relentlessly grim viewing experience that it is hard to believe that the same audiences that got GHOSTWATCH banned in the nineties received this film so positively. Part kitchen sink drama and documentary, with NOVA narrator Paul Vaughn providing factual data that frames the plight of the survivors as realistically hopeless, should be a gut-punch for those who engage in the "bomb 'em back to the stone age" rhetoric while believing it could never happen to themselves. In contrast to other disaster moves, post-apocalyptic and otherwise, no one is spared no matter how sympathetic. Scenes of Ruth and Jimmy wandering through the streets initially have the viewer expecting that they will eventually find one another and spark an optimistic ending until one realizes that these characters have been deployed as audience surrogate to witness the devastation from the maimed and dying to the charred. The already dehumanizing experience becomes more so as the authorities reward those who can work to rebuild with food and withhold from those who cannot, looters and protestors are indiscriminately gunned down, and the nuclear winter drops the temperature below zero. The final quarter of the film leaps ahead a decade, but only to show that lasting effects of nuclear devastation. "You cannot win a nuclear war," cries a protester early on, summarizing its effects and concluding that the supposed winner would only have "conquered a corpse of a country."

Rarely shown in the United States outside of PBS and cable airings in the eighties, THREADS has been available on DVD in the UK but makes its Blu-ray and DVD debut here courtesy of Severin Films in a new restoration from a 2K scan. Shot in 16mm and blown-up to 35mm for international release, the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 pillarboxed fullscreen image is of understandably variable quality with the filmed sequences having a deliberately rough-hewn quality with a fine layer of grain while the instances of stock footage stand out perhaps more so than in earlier versions (although it appears that some of this was always meant to be the case). The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack is clean and the mix itself is not particularly complex, favoring a lack of atmospheric sounds in the devastating aftermath. Optional English SDH subtitles are selectable from your remote's subtitle button although there is no menu option.

Severin Films' David Gregory and writer Kier-La Janisse moderate an audio commentary with director Mick Jackson (THE BODYGUARD) who discusses his beginnings with the BBC, how Peter Watkins' 1965 docu-drama treatment of nuclear war THE WAR GAME had been commissioned by the network but not aired (although it is now widely available), and how THREADS was born out of all of the research he did for his earlier episode of the British science show Q.E.D. titled "A Guide to Armageddon" which was factual while parodying consumer reports shows as it tested various models of fallout shelters and the guidelines of civil defense guide "Protect and Survive" (the British equivalent of our "Duck and Cover"). Jackson notes that the film itself has dated but what it has to say about the damage nuclear weapons can do has not.

In "Audition for the Apocalypse" (9:40), actress Meagher recalls the fear of nuclear war during the period, being able to see research materials including photographs and films of Hiroshima that were not widely available at the time, and says that the film "should be hard to watch." "Shooting the Annihilation" (8:37) is an interview with director of photography Andrew Dunn (GOSFORD PARK) who recalls how the seventeen day shoot was possible due to Jackson's organization and the support of Sheffield whose council was pro-disarmament and provided a block of buildings that were slated for demolition for them to blow up use for all of the various locations throughout England. In "Destruction Designer" (9:44), production designer Christopher Robilliard (BRAMWELL) covers the preparation, the locations – including a block of derelict houses that would be easier to fix up than destroy – pushing rubble around for new setups, and the film's pyrotechnic effects. An interview with film writer Stephen Thrower (30:12) covers some of the same ground as the commentary and provides more contextual information on the US/Soviet conflict, but it is most interesting when he is discussing BBC's handling of the project from Radio Times advertisements well in advance (their design in stark contrast to the usual lightweight layouts), its first airing on BBC2 with a viewership of seven million which lead to a repeat on BBC1. The disc also features the US Trailer (2:23) and the re-release trailer (2:21). (Eric Cotenas)