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Nuclear war, Steve Guttenberg, and other horrors
December 13, 2008 8:43 PM   Subscribe

Just over 25 years ago, ABC broadcast the most watched made-for-television movie of all time. You probably remember where you were when you saw it. [last link possibly NSFW]
posted by Joe Beese (199 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Threads was scarier and less Bruckheimer-ish.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:52 PM on December 13, 2008 [10 favorites]


I was sitting here when I saw it.
posted by gman at 8:55 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is Threads the British one with the really creepy future ending? That was a lot better than The Day After, if it was.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:59 PM on December 13, 2008


I was dead 25 years ago. Very insensitive.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:59 PM on December 13, 2008


i was drunk when i watched it - well, there just isn't any other way i want to see the end of the world than drunk
posted by pyramid termite at 8:59 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


"two sworn enemies standing waist-deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five."

awesome.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:04 PM on December 13, 2008 [4 favorites]


I was in an airplane leaving Chicago when it was first aired; it'd be years before I'd see it fully through. I remember sitting in the plane thinking that people on the ground were watching it right then, half wishing I could see it, half glad I wasn't.

The Wiki article has great background on the production and the surrounding controversies. People are starting to forget all the stuff that happened right around that fall: Korean Air 007, the barracks bombing in Lebanon, Reagan talking about the 'evil empire'. And the stuff we didn't hear about until later: the Able Archer exercise that the Soviets at one point thought might not be an exercise, or Lt. Col. Petrov who decided not to start a nuclear war.



(Am I going to post the YouTube video in that other thread? You bet I am.)
posted by gimonca at 9:04 PM on December 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


I didn't.

In high school, every teacher wanted us to watch it all, as they deemed it important television. I got so annoyed at the hype that I spent the night reading in my room while my parents watched it. The next day, I was made to feel like the worst American ever due to my little TV boycott, and that is a title I relish to this day.
posted by spinifex23 at 9:05 PM on December 13, 2008 [8 favorites]


Would NORAD/US authorities even bother alerting the public? Seems like they would only alert those who were signed on as some kind of continuance program--everyone else would have to fend for themselves if there was a general nuclear weapons release.

Also, did anyone watch the whole movie recently? I can't help but wondering if they included a Wilhelm Scream.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:08 PM on December 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


I was scared outta my mind when I saw this back inna day.

I'd love to see this movie done again with modern CGI.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 9:11 PM on December 13, 2008


I'm 23, so I was sitting at my desk when I watched the clips of this movie on youtube.
posted by !Jim at 9:20 PM on December 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


The whole movie.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:21 PM on December 13, 2008 [19 favorites]


I remember that movie being a very weird phenomenon. I was a little kid when it aired, and my parents didn't let me watch it. But there was tremendous pressure on people to watch it. It was "important," and you had a patriotic and moral duty to see it. I remember, for instance, that my Hebrew school sent a letter home to parents saying that we should all watch it, and then there was some sort of special event scheduled to discuss it the next day. I remember feeling left out because I couldn't take part in the discussion. I guess that in the era of Roots and Holocaust, Americans really believed that a television mini-series could be a significant educational experience/ cultural event. That whole idea seems a little quaint now.
posted by craichead at 9:30 PM on December 13, 2008 [8 favorites]


I saw this and it blew my 10-year-old mind. Scared the shit out of me for months, if not years, afterwards. I even remember jumping in my parents' bed one night, which is not what a 10-year-old boy normall does.
posted by zardoz at 9:30 PM on December 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


Threads is much better, and a much more accurate (and frightening) depiction of what nuclear war would have been like at that point in history.

The link I provided above goes to the entire 108 minute film via Google Video.
posted by chakalakasp at 9:35 PM on December 13, 2008 [37 favorites]


There is some stock footage from declassified government films of actual nuclear blasts starting around 4:40 in the clip, including this "classic".

Nuclear war sucks.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:37 PM on December 13, 2008


25 years ago today I was in Grenada, and Castro had threatened retaliation for our kicking their asses, so I was walking around heavily armed and paranoid. I would gladly have watched this movie, but when we invaded the island, someone did have the foresight to bring a VHS player and monitor, but they lacked the foresight to bring more than one movie. And what was the one movie that we had available to watch for more than 60 days? Flashdance. I will never ever get Jennifer Beals out of my brain now.

So, I totally missed 'The Day After' when it aired. I do recall people arriving on the island talking about it, and I remember thinking, 'Well, if there's gonna be a nuclear war, now would be a good time, seeing as I'm stuck on an island not far from the coast of Brazil with absolutely nothing worth nuking except (in Nancy reagan's mind anyway) the cannabis fields in the northern areas of the island.

I did finally see 'The Day After'...this year. About three or four months ago I guess. I liked it, but I wasn't awestruck at its quality or anything. But sure, it's about nineteen billion times better than Flashdance, and I wish I'd been able to watch it when it was new. ;)
posted by jamstigator at 9:50 PM on December 13, 2008 [10 favorites]


"On the night of its television broadcast (Sunday, November 20, 1983), ABC and many of its local TV stations opened several 1-800 hotlines with counselors standing by to calm jittery viewers. During the original broadcast, there were no commercial breaks after the nuclear attack. ABC also aired a live and very heated debate, hosted by Nightline's Ted Koppel, featuring scientist Carl Sagan and conservative writer William F. Buckley, Jr.. Sagan argued against nuclear proliferation, while Buckley promoted the concept of nuclear deterrence. During the debate, Sagan discussed the concept of nuclear winter and made his famous analogy, equating the arms race to "two sworn enemies standing waist-deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five."


I have been trying forever to find a copy of this. Prefferably online. Found nothing.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 9:52 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I remember everyone making a big deal about it -- our teachers at school, my parents. Watch it with your kids, they were instructed. And then the panel discussion afterward, with Carl Sagan describing nuclear winter. And then the next day in school, talking about it in our classes. It was a big media event.

Subsequently, I had trouble falling asleep many nights for years afterward, thinking about where the nukes would likely fall around out area, and what my chances of surviving were, why our world was so stupid, etc.

I hate that fucking movie. Take it away, please. (I'm only half-kidding.)
posted by not_on_display at 9:54 PM on December 13, 2008 [5 favorites]


Anyone know what the instrumental at the beginning of the movie is? It sounds too orchestral to be original, and it's a really nice piece. As twoleftfeet points out, whole movie is here, if you want to help me name the tune ...
posted by WCityMike at 9:55 PM on December 13, 2008


Threads is awesome, and maybe even more awesome when you stop to consider that its director went on to make movies like this. I mean, look, we've ALL gotta eat, but if you told me just after I MST3K'd my way through Volcano that it was the same guy as Threads, I'd have thought you were fucking with me for sure. My cynical side says that he's made...um...questionable films afterward because -- talented as he is -- he's just a working guy like everybody else; my less cynical side says he's sought out lighter projects because, holy shit, if I'd lived in the world of that movie every day for months, I might want to make Volcano, too. Then maybe something with Adam Sandler. For real.

The Day After is kinda goofy.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:56 PM on December 13, 2008


I was in high school when this aired. I enjoyed it OK, but I liked the Nigthline show that followed the ending of it. I remember Carl Sagan saying something along the lines that the show was all well and good, but nobody would've been able to survive the nuclear winter that surely would have followed such massive bombing. Ted Koppel responded with something along the lines of, "I'm sure that the viewers are already depressed enough, Carl, they don't need this to make themselves feel worse."
posted by NoMich at 9:57 PM on December 13, 2008


Wow, 1983? That means that, when a teacher assigned us the task of watching this broadcast, complete with homework questions to answer, I must already have been in my early teens.

... but once the nukes blew, I felt much, much younger.
posted by Elsa at 10:03 PM on December 13, 2008


Senor Cardgage »» I have been trying forever to find a copy of this. Prefferably online. Found nothing.

It's got an Amazon listing, even though that doesn't offer sellers or anything.
posted by WCityMike at 10:05 PM on December 13, 2008


Is this it?
posted by teraflop at 10:07 PM on December 13, 2008 [9 favorites]


It actually shouldn't be that hard to track down. I noticed a DVD a few years ago on the shelf of a Borders -- a bargain $6.99 (or roundabout) deal. I don't know what its copyright status is, and that may well have been a public domain type release (it sure looked like one); point being, though, I'm sure if nothing else that you can find it on eBay or at half.com or something like that.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:10 PM on December 13, 2008


(Oh, disregard that -- I thought you were talking about The Day After, not the Nightline special.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:12 PM on December 13, 2008


You don't make a 12 year old kid watch this. You just don't, and then expect them to be anything but fatalistic about the world and their own lives within it. It seriously messed me up for a very long time, and I blame the adults who should have known better than to put something like this on the backs of little kids.
posted by Senator at 10:13 PM on December 13, 2008 [7 favorites]


It wasn't as a big an event, but I remember Special Bulletin, which came out the same year, being a really effective film. Given recent history, maybe it's due for a remake.
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 10:20 PM on December 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


...including this "classic". Nuclear war sucks.

And here's Col. Manning: first burned, then disintegrated. What kind of sin could a man commit in a single lifetime...?

/crooooooow
posted by unregistered_animagus at 10:22 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I barely remember this being on. But, 1980 to 1994 is pretty a much a blank for me.
posted by marxchivist at 10:28 PM on December 13, 2008


Trivia item: The Day After was directed by Nicholas Meyer, who also directed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The mushroom cloud effects were created by injecting dye into a tank of water -- the same tank used to create the Mutara Nebula.

Nov 2003 article on Lawrence, Kansas, the iconic American town which served as the backdrop for the story.
posted by brownpau at 10:28 PM on December 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


BTW -- does anyone, anywhere still have "Special Bulliten" available? Anywhere? I've scoured the net, but nothing.
posted by chakalakasp at 10:34 PM on December 13, 2008


a frighteningly real explosion and iconic "mushroom cloud" created by injecting oil-based paints and inks downward into a water tank with a piston, filmed at high speed with the camera mounted upside down

Heh, I was wondering how they did that, it looked awesome.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:35 PM on December 13, 2008


And for that matter -- even more so -- does anyone remember and can anyone locate "Countdown To Looking Glass"? This was, as far as my childhood's mind can remember, and extremely scary movie about the world inching toward armageddon. The entire movie is done in the style of a fake newscast.
posted by chakalakasp at 10:39 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'll echo Combustible Edison Lighthouse... after all these years I still remember the intrigue and impact of Special Bulletin, whereas The Day After was meh and goofy and false (esp. compared with Threads, which shocked me deeply when I saw it).
posted by Auden at 10:40 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


WCityMike, regarding the music:
That opening part of the score was adapted by David Raskin from Virgil Thomson's score for The River (see/hear it here).
posted by girlhacker at 10:41 PM on December 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


1979, I was in grade 7 (12 years old) and my classmates and I spent some of the last day at school talking about what our parents had planned to do, if there was a nuclear war, where they'd hide, what they'd take, this in country Australia. The Day After was a very natural progression from that kind of atmosphere.
posted by b33j at 10:43 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh god, I was just a little kid when this was on TV, but it terrified me. I didn't understand it. I just knew that it was something BAD and it COULD HAPPEN.

Was there a scene where a little boy sees the remains of a charred dog? I don't remember anything else about the film, but for some reason that image leaps out at me as being from the movie.

The only mad-for-TV film that scarred me more as a very young child was Adam.
posted by Windigo at 10:45 PM on December 13, 2008


@WCityMike - It's an instrumental rendition of the hymn How Firm a Foundation, a traditional tune Meyer picked specifically for its strong "good ol' American heartland" associations.
posted by brownpau at 10:46 PM on December 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


I read the text of Joe Beese's post without looking at the links and thought it was talking about Lace. "Which one of you bitches is my mother started World War III?"
posted by infinitewindow at 10:47 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Huh, not great quality, but this appears to be the full movie of Special Bulletin.
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 10:48 PM on December 13, 2008 [4 favorites]


I apologize.
posted by lore at 10:51 PM on December 13, 2008 [25 favorites]


I don't recall being very impressed. Oh, I don't mean to sound blase, but there was a solid two-week's worth of hype about this beforehand -- even trotting out Mr. Rogers to advise parents if kids could watch it and how to discuss it if they do, etc. It just didn't live up to the buzz. And I'm suspicious how much of that buzz was legitimate and how much was PR. Reminded me of going to see "Earthquake" in the theatre -- sat the an hour and a half of soap opera for a few minutes of "special effects". I recall being far more impressed by some company who (right around this time) released a series of short nuclear simulations using well-known cities; showing where ground zero would likely be in (say) Chicago and how far out it would radiate, etc.
posted by RavinDave at 10:55 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


You probably remember where you were...

I was living in Brussels where, as far as I'm aware, it didn't air. And I didn't have a TV, so I wouldn't have known, I guess, even if it did air. At any rate, I never saw it

Viewing the linked YT clip, I noticed how *seventies* the clothes and hairstyles still looked in 1983. Hell, there were two afros in that brief clip alone.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:02 PM on December 13, 2008


It seems maybe silly now, but it was very scary then. I was in my first year of college when I watched this movie. After several years of Very Serious high school cold war no-nukes activism. I thought that nuclear war was a real possibility. We were perhaps not wrong.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:02 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Special Bulletin
posted by Snyder at 11:11 PM on December 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


I remember watching the movie with my father and my sisters. It wasn't especially scary, because I used to have nightmares, usually when I was sick, about nuclear war anyway. Joyce Nelson, in her book the Perfect Machine, critiques the Day After, saying it's really a pro-war piece. Although America is at risk of nuclear attack, the country will survive, in large part because of the strength of the American people. One of the scenes I really remember from the movie is a man, covered in ash, offering an orange, in the ruins of his own home, to total strangers.

I think I also watched Threads with my father and my sisters (my mother usually watched television by herself). Unlike the Day After, Thread disturbed me. I've only been able to watch it once or twice since then. And that movie has always remained disturbing. It is not an enjoyable, entertaining or redeeming experience watching that movie.

Peter Watkins "The War Game" is also an intensely realistic, and intensely frightening portrayal of nuclear war.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:13 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nope, didn't see it. I worked nights and barely saw any television in the 80's, and from what I can tell, it was for the best.
posted by 2sheets at 11:13 PM on December 13, 2008


Google Video also has a copy of Peter Watkins' 1965 TV film, The War Game, which the BBC refused to broadcast for 20 years.
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 11:13 PM on December 13, 2008 [7 favorites]


I remember watching this with a little trepidation, having been a kid living in a major city during the Cuban missile crisis. Memories of stockpiled canned food, peering down the cold, dark concrete throat of a neighbor's underground fallout shelter, the air raid siren tests, the teacher who had us make little paper tents to put on our heads during the duck and cover exercises 'to protect us from the fallout'....

Um, a little something on the lighter side....

During Operation Plumbbob a cap on a U. S. underground test installation may have been first into the void.... "Six times the escape velocity from the earth.": Manhole covers in space....
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 11:16 PM on December 13, 2008


Coundtown to Looking Glass
posted by Snyder at 11:19 PM on December 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


I remember reading that they also pitched a version of The Day After as a sitcom for the next season but decided not to move forward with it. I clearly remember seeing this in the newspaper around that time, but I can find no reference to that on the Internet to prove me right.
posted by stevil at 11:23 PM on December 13, 2008


(obligatory Threads post from me begins)

When I watched The Day After in undergrad a few years back, the only really scary moment was near the end, and it was a cheap scare: the face of a horribly scarred man dying from radiation poisoning suddenly jumps into frame after he wakes from a nightmare. Scary, and a little creepy, but ultimately not a lasting psychological scar.

On the other hand, I can't even count the number of times Threads inflicted horrific wounds on my psyche. Maybe I should count the woman attempting to nurse a blackened lump that used to be her baby. Or perhaps the scene where a father drinks the last of a bottle of whiskey, believing he would die that night. Or maybe the one where a woman's family is killed by thieves in a bomb shelter while she's out foraging for food. Or the part where a mother is exposed to lethal doses of radiation because she had the gall to try searching for her son in the rubble of their own house. This all happens in the immediate aftermath of the blast, and I can think of more moments besides that horrified me. Let's not even speak of the events afterward, which paint a picture of humanity so grim that I basically don't want to think about it.

Threads is absolutely a redeeming experience because, as one commentator put it, it is the most powerful argument against nuclear war ever to be put to celluloid.
posted by chrominance at 11:28 PM on December 13, 2008 [12 favorites]


Also, I have never even attempted to watch Testament because I honestly don't think I could take it at this point. I really don't need another week of lying awake, sweating bullets in my bed and waiting for the world to end.
posted by chrominance at 11:29 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Some of the shots in that clip show the air raid sirens going off and people going crazy running. Growing up in Sweden in the 80:s (and close to a huge mill that had the potential for chemical spills), there were air raid siren tests at 4pm once a month for most of my childhood. I believe they still test them, and the fallout shelter is still there and in decent repair as far as I know.

Are there still air raid sirens in the U.S., though? I live in the D.C. area, and I know where a fallout shelter is (in a local church), but I can't ever recall seeing or hearing air raid sirens anywhere.
posted by gemmy at 11:33 PM on December 13, 2008


Strange. 25 years ago I was 8. I don't remember this at all. If my parents watched it, I guess I was doing something else. I remember watching the Bears win the Super Bowl the following January, and I know for a fact I watched a lot of afternoon cartoons, but this movie is not ringing a bell at all.
posted by snwod at 11:36 PM on December 13, 2008


Are there still air raid sirens in the U.S., though? I live in the D.C. area, and I know where a fallout shelter is (in a local church), but I can't ever recall seeing or hearing air raid sirens anywhere.

First Wednesday of every month at noon they test the sirens here in Berkeley. So, uh, if you're going to launch nuclear weapons at Berkeley you should probably do it on the first Wednesday of the month at noon.
posted by lore at 11:44 PM on December 13, 2008


"The making of the film (the Day After) was to date the most worthwhile thing I ever got to do in my life," Meyer asserts. "Any movie that the President of the United States winds up saying changed his mind about the idea of a winnable nuclear war is not an insignificant achievement. The Reagan administration came in thinking about 'acceptable numbers' of nuclear casualties. (Reagan's memoirs reveal) what he had to say about the effects of what 'The Day After' had on his thinking.

"When he signed the Intermediate Range Weapons Agreement at Reykjavik (in 1986) with Gorbachev, I got a telegram from his administration that said, 'Don't think your movie didn't have any part of this, because it did.'
" Via
posted by KokuRyu at 12:00 AM on December 14, 2008 [7 favorites]


Actually, I lived in KS and my mom wouldn't let me watch it because I had enough nightmares about nuclear war in the 80s. Since then, I've actually met several people who were in the movie as extras. I still haven't watched it all the way through, though.

The better movie shot partially in Lawrence, KS, is Carnival of Souls, closely followed by CSA. Ride With the Devil wasn't shot there, but was based there.

Here's some links from a Lawrence, KS, perspective on the film:

Remembering the "Day After
"
Watching the movie on the 25th anniversary: 1, 2.
Photos from filming.
People article from 1983.
Fallout from The Day After, 2003 article.
posted by sleepy pete at 12:02 AM on December 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


When this was shown in the UK it was alluded to as "the American Threads"

Now can you see why Brits have that air of superiority?
posted by fullerine at 12:05 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was in high school, but don't recall watching it. Vaguely remember the media dustup about it, though.

It's amazing - to me - that so many of my peers at that time thought that the world would end any day now in a nuclear war.
posted by davidmsc at 12:06 AM on December 14, 2008


The Day of the Triffids is the most chilling post-apocalyptic TV to come out of Britain.

Can't sleep, plants will eat me.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 12:10 AM on December 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


It's amazing - to me - that so many of my peers at that time thought that the world would end any day now in a nuclear war.

Well, the weapons existed. Certainly wasn't outside the realm of possibilty. Still isn't, matter of fact.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:20 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Now can you see why Brits have that air of superiority?

Actually, I thought that was because of Benny Hill.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:21 AM on December 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Are there still air raid sirens in the U.S., though?

In this part of the country, we have these things called "tornadoes", so the sirens do double duty.
posted by gimonca at 12:24 AM on December 14, 2008


I was only 12 and my parents wouldn't let me watch it...I remember being pissed because EVERYONE else go to watch it. I'm still a bit miffed I think...but then, I barely got to watch the V miniseries, which aired around the same time. These were two of the larger media events of my childhood (along with King Kong in 3-D). I recently saw V again and wasn't as disappointed as I thought I'd be (as opposed to how shocked I was at the homoeroticism in Lee Majors' "The Last Chase"). If only I could watch "Space Giants" today (with Goldar and Silvar....though I can't remember if this is the same show where, when shot with a laser, the bad guys--pseudo-ninja-types--would turn into oozing purple jelly).
posted by whatgorilla at 12:24 AM on December 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Are there still air raid sirens in the U.S., though? I live in the D.C. area, and I know where a fallout shelter is (in a local church), but I can't ever recall seeing or hearing air raid sirens anywhere.


Every Tuesday at noon in San Francisco. If you are accustomed to going to lunch around that time, it induces a sort of Pavlovian response.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:26 AM on December 14, 2008


I was 12, at private school, an atheist pretending to be Methodist, in small-town Kansas. The hype was huge. I skipped it. I saw Threads first but it was a little too ridiculously, shallowly depressing. Another movie of the era I skipped was The Silent Scream which was as breathlessly promoted in that context. Maybe the helplessness before nuclear war convinced the Christians to focus so narrowly on abortion, something simple they could do something about. And maybe the idea that larger social structures amounting to less than nothing, the rural libertarian ideal, found more fertile ground in the cold war context than in today's world of bailouts and terrorism.

By the time I saw The Day After I'd already long been playing The Morrow Project (and Twilight 2000) where part of the game setup is to buy a road atlas and plot out the effect of nuclear strikes on various cities by various Soviet nuclear weapons, accounting for warhead strength, missile accuract, and wind direction. Nothing to be gained from the Day After.

Now I like to see TDA to see parts of my alma mater. Go Jayhawks.
posted by fleacircus at 12:28 AM on December 14, 2008


Day After trivia! The actor who played the Asian doctor at the U of Kansas was the same guy from this famous detergent commercial. Ancient Chinese secret, huh?
posted by gimonca at 12:32 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I was ten years old, and my parents wouldn't let me watch it. I was really disappointed at the time, but now I'm glad they didn't.

Around that time, I was very interested in nuclear weapons anyway; I used to get books from the school library that had the pictures and statistics for stuff like Minutemen and Tridents and all that jazz. I read lots of books about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I could tell you how many rads did what to you, the shadows blasted onto sidewalks from the flash and heat . . .

In retrospect, knowing what I do about the human psyche and the ways in which we cope, that I probably had internalized the fear of nuclear holocaust, and I was trying to find ways in which my ten-year-old self could cope with something so horrific. It was the 80's--this was in the forefront of popular culture, the cold war was in our face. Songs like Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Two Tribes" was on MTV, "The Day After" on network TV, and schools were still doing air-raid drills, getting under the desks and balling up.

The scary thing is that now, there are still a bunch of dudes sitting in bunkers under silos in the midwest, and ever once in a while, the red lights come on and they have to remove their keys from their necks and put them in a keyhole and turn them . . . not knowing whether it's a drill or not . . .

. . . and we don't talk about that anymore, because we have other things to worry about.

Cf. Stanislav Petrov, 20 things that might have started nuclear war.
posted by exlotuseater at 12:34 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


On Monday, August 30, 1982, ABC shut down Rusty's IGA supermarket in Lawrence's Hillcrest Shopping Center from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. to shoot a scene representing the rush to grocery stores for provisions when a nuclear attack appears likely. While the crew was shooting, a local man and his infant son walked up to the supermarket. Apparently, they had not gotten the word that ABC was filming a movie there. The man saw the complete chaos inside his neighborhood grocery, over 100 extras rushing about, pushing and shoving and hoarding food, and ran back into his car in fear.
posted by gimonca at 12:35 AM on December 14, 2008


I didn't see this but I didn't have to either.
you see, if this aired during prime-time I was probably already sleeping in germany, dreaming peacefully of my assured instant death thanks to the massive target that were those US-pershing rockets stationed a few kilometers away from where I lived. oh yeah, the german navy command facility was just a few minutes in the other direction, so I probably would have been pulverized from two sides and if that all wasn't enough the flotilla stationed down in our harbor probably really did put us on all the russian maps for extra sure with syrup on top.

nuclear annihilation? yeah, we'd be dead first, we all knew that. and there wasn't a damn thing we could do about it except watch you clowns do your dance.
posted by krautland at 12:35 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I remember encountering a copy of this in the drama section of the video store where I used to work. I remember, at one point in late 1997, being somewhat surprised at the layer of dirt on the top of the tape case, indicating that no one had touched the tape in some time.
I checked another tape, in the cult/animation section, called When The Wind Blows, and it, too, had the same amount of dust along its top.
That's exactly the point at which I appreciated that the Cold War was indeed truly, honestly, indisputably over.
posted by Graygorey at 12:35 AM on December 14, 2008 [7 favorites]


It re-ran on the SciFi Channel a few times in the late 90s.

I turned it on for sci-fi related hijinx (Nick Meyer! Stephen Furst as a young student! John Lithgow!), and ended up being unable to sleep for days.

I still haven't seen Threads. I don't think I ever will. I know it exists, and that's enough for me.
posted by Katemonkey at 12:51 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Haters on this thread are shooting fish in a barrel by calling out this movie on its hokey quality, or the fact that Threads is a better film. Yes, the movie is hokey and sorta cheap-looking (it was a TV movie, after all) and quite dated. Yes, Threads is better and even more terrifying.

The important thing about this movie is what happened afterwards. People all over the United States talked about it. Everyone was talking about it, it was one of the lead stories on the evening news and made newspaper headlines. Politicians had to (or maybe wanted to) speak about the movie and make speeches about it. I may be wrong, but I thing this film scared people enough that it lent a lot more legitimacy to the idea that we really shouldn't ever ever use nuclear weapons, and btw, Russia, hey, guys, why can't we all just get along?

The Day After didn't eliminate nuclear weapons by any means, but I'll be willing to bet it did change the world in some fundamental - though impossible to truly measure - way.
posted by zardoz at 12:54 AM on December 14, 2008 [6 favorites]


Lawrence, Kansas is the shit. Hellz yeah. Threads is cool too. 40 years of the White Album, that's what I'm about tonight. Fuck all that fearmongering, let's spread the love people.
posted by Curry at 12:54 AM on December 14, 2008


No one had mentioned On the Beach so far, so I thought I would.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:58 AM on December 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


Actually, I thought that was because of Benny Hill.

When Snoop Dogg first appeared on British TV, he was really excited by the fact that the studio where the piece was filmed had also been responsible for producing some of the Benny Hill shows.

"Benny Hill is my homeboy", reported Snoop.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:21 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


In high school, every teacher wanted us to watch it all, as they deemed it important television. I got so annoyed at the hype that I spent the night reading in my room while my parents watched it. The next day, I was made to feel like the worst American ever due to my little TV boycott, and that is a title I relish to this day.

Me too. I was a junior in high school at the time, and I remember that EVERYONE was talking about it the next day. I've never seen it, and at this point, I don't think I ever will. I've had enough nuclear nightmares, thank you, and at this point, don't feel like adding to the tally.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:33 AM on December 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


I did, however see When the Wind Blows, which is one of the most depressing things I've ever watched. The utter futility and helplessness portrayed in that animated movie haunts me to this day.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:36 AM on December 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


I was in high school in Salina, Kansas, a two-hour drive from the movie's "ground zero," when it was broadcast. For those of us living in Kansas (at least those in my circle of friends), the events in the movie seemed so much more real and eerie because we were able to recognize the locations.

I remember talking about the movie at school, in class discussions. The threat of nuclear annihilation seemed so ever-present in those days, and it's hard to describe the pit-of-the-stomach feeling of dread that it evoked.
posted by amyms at 1:37 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Another vote here for: nope. Saw Threads. Still scarred. Ta.

Now that I actually love apocalypse tv and films, though, I'm sort of tempted.

(downloaded On The Beach once.... but got the poxy Brian Brown romantic tele-movie. Nice shots of Flinders St station though.)
posted by pompomtom at 1:56 AM on December 14, 2008


I remember this movie and all the hype leading up to it. It freaked me out at the time, that is for sure. And yeah, that whole living with the feeling of impending doom via nuclear destruction was real and palpable. I remember, only a year or two later when I'd just got my driver's licence, taking a road trip to the Gold Coast by myself at about midnight and just imagining what I would do if, as I could see so clearly in my imagination, the mushroom clouds appeared and I was so very far away from family at the time. That was my favourite way of freaking myself on night journeys (that and the spectre of large animals or people just leaping out in front of my car with no warning).
posted by h00py at 2:06 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


When this came out we had the Reagan Administration trumpeting about how a Nuclear War was "winnable" - and General Al Haig (note: still not dead!) even went so far as to help as advisor on the film Red Dawn in which a Montana high school footbal team defeat a communist invasion of the United States. Republican idiocy is not only a disease of recent vintage.
posted by zaelic at 3:03 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Threads memories - melting milk bottles and the woman peeing in fear as the bomb goes off
posted by A189Nut at 3:06 AM on December 14, 2008


Remember clearly watching this show, age 10.

By myself. Freaked me the Hell out, as you can imagine.

It's interesting to be the last generational representative of the Cold War. It's a funny thing to describe to people I know 10 years younger.

Now they have "terrorism" to think about, instead of "global thermonuclear war."

Meet the new boss, same as the old.
posted by gcbv at 3:16 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


This might be a better askme than comment, but this discussion is reminding me of a book that i read in elementary school that screwed me up for a good long time, but I can't remember much about it. I remember early on the protagonist steals a video game or something similar, and then I think there is a nuclear war either before or after guilt leads him to try and return it. Okay, that's insanely vague, but if any one knows what I'm talking about I'd love to know.

He also perhaps makes a video game where he has to program delays in order to make the computer seem fallable, but that might be a different book. In fact I'm almost sure that it's different and I'd also like to know which book that is.
posted by flaterik at 3:28 AM on December 14, 2008


I tried to watch Threads a few months ago, managed to watch for five minutes after the nuclear explosion, and then was traumatized by reading the rest of the synopsis on wikipedia. The synopsis alone was scarier than all of The Day After.

My boyfriend has a tendency to mix up The Day After and The Day After Tomorrow, which makes for some interesting conversations.
posted by dinty_moore at 3:57 AM on December 14, 2008


I didn't see The Day After, but in 1986 there was a Captain America villain whose son got so messed up by finding out about nuclear weapons that he went into a coma caused by "nuclear psychosis" and the villain decided to disarm the planet so his son would wake up.

Captain America stopped him, thanks in part to the timely intervention of Wolverine, who had been put onto the case by a mentally disabled giant radioactive mutant.

Pretty much the same thing, really.
posted by Shepherd at 4:03 AM on December 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Like Combustible Edison Lighthouse and a couple other people, the low-budget, underhyped Special Bulletin had a much bigger impact on me. I was well prepared to watch The Day After by my teachers etc, but just happened to be watching TV when Special Bulletin came on. I figured out that it wasn't real newscast within a few minutes but it was still riveting.

Now, thanks to the link to the whole video I've seen it again after ...wow, 25 years. And if anything, it's even more eerie. It is a precursor of all the Disaster As It Happens TV news reporting you've ever seen in the last couple of decades: Bosnia (my God, the Sarajevo Olympics took place a year after this movie!), the Gulf War (anyone remember Arthur Kent the NBC reporter who got the nickname Scud Stud?) and all subsequent wars, 9/11 of course, Anderson Cooper reporting on Katrina, and most recently, Dubai. It is quite brilliantly done, with a lot of fine understated acting. Near the end (spoiler) when the female reporter says "...is the radiation coming? Does anyone know?" I lost it, as I did in 1983.
posted by thread_makimaki at 4:04 AM on December 14, 2008


Wikipedia synposis of Threads: Ruth rushes outside the house, but her father catches her and brings her back just before a strike hits Sheffield (the map in the council bomb-shelter later reveals the ground-zero to be north and east of the city on the M1 near junction 34).

That's where the Meadowhall shopping mall is. I was Christmas shopping there yesterday and heartily approve.
posted by vbfg at 4:05 AM on December 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


It wasn't as a big an event, but I remember Special Bulletin, which came out the same year, being a really effective film.

I saw a replay of Special Bulletin on my little black and white TV in my room when I was about 12, and I never forgot it. I can clearly remember details from it more clearly than I remember my first girlfriend, even though I haven't seen it since then. Way better than The Day After, although I never saw that until a few years ago (I was too young to watch it when it was originally broadcast). The Day After is completely cheesy and unrealistic. It was almost like propaganda to make people think nuclear war would be less horrible than it really would be. For one thing, Steve Gutenberg would be fucking dead way before he heroically dies slowly enough for the plot to move along. Holling from Northern Exposure and his family would have maybe lasted a day.
posted by DecemberBoy at 4:58 AM on December 14, 2008


Maybe if I'd watched this when I was ten, Megaton would still be there today.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 5:00 AM on December 14, 2008 [7 favorites]


I had to think, but yeah, we lived outside a small town in Michigan, and we only got two channels on TV--ABC was one of them. We had a 21" color TV, later to be nick-named Alky-vision for its propensity to lose its grip on horizontality and verticality along with a sick, greenish cast to the image.

But it was in fine shape, "The Day After" was about the only thing on and the kids were aged 4 and 1, so they were likely already in bed. I thought it was sensationalist and overhyped. As part of the generation for whom protection from radiation included such sage advice as kneeling on the basement floor of the elementary school, I thought this was just one more piece of cold-war hyperbole and propaganda designed to keep the masses in fear. In retrospect, I don't think I was wrong.
posted by beelzbubba at 5:30 AM on December 14, 2008


After growing up in the "Duck and Cover" era I was totally impressed that ducking under the dashboard of a Volvo provided Jason Robards complete protection from a nuclear blast.
posted by Gungho at 5:31 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was 8 when this came out, and I remember not being allowed to watch it, but sneaking out of my room and catching a glimpse around the corner of it, just at the scene where the US gets nuked. Needless to say, I was freaked out and had trouble sleeping that night. I still have never watched the entire thing, but the mention of the title alone brings back memories.
posted by Chocomog at 5:51 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


If you make it to (almost) the end of the Wiki page, you'll see this:

Reagan wrote in his diary that the film "left me greatly depressed." and that it changed his mind on the prevailing policy on a "nuclear war" [2] In 1987 during the era of Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika reforms, the film was shown on Soviet television. During the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty at Reykjavik, Meyer received a telegram from the Reagan Administration that said, 'Don't think your movie didn't have any part of this, because it did.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 6:00 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was twelve. My parents didn't let me watch it, for fear of nightmares, worry, etc.

So, instead, I developed quite the appitite for all things nuclear war--books, magazine articles, etc. It faded after a few years.

A few years ago, I noticed "The Day After" was on...the SciFi Channel. At the time, it made me happy to think that is where that particular scenario landed (yes, I know better).

Still haven't watched the whole thing, more from fear of cheesey made-for-TV movies.
posted by MrGuilt at 6:14 AM on December 14, 2008


You don't make a 12 year old kid watch this. You just don't, and then expect them to be anything but fatalistic about the world and their own lives within it.

We watched it in class.

Then again, it was a Catholic school, so they were messing with our heads in many more profound ways already. This was more like window dressing.
posted by rokusan at 6:18 AM on December 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


I was dead 25 years ago.

You either very interesting beliefs you have on the nature of existence, or some sort of time-travel apparatus.
posted by rokusan at 6:19 AM on December 14, 2008


You either very interesting beliefs you have....

Wow, do ever I stutter before coffee I do.
posted by rokusan at 6:36 AM on December 14, 2008


I watched it when it aired. It just added to the already existing nightmares. I still remember a reoccurring dream I had growing up where I was standing at my bus stop and I look up to see a concussive wave coming towards me and a cloud in the distance.

I agree that it's weird having grown up during the Cold War and now trying to explain that to people who didn't. My oldest daughter is 17. I've tried to explain what it was like, but have found it's not really possible to explain why I still take comfort in the fact that I live within the immediate blast zone of a naval air base, an international airport, and several other tactical sites that guarantee that I'd not live to see much apart from a bright light.
posted by elfgirl at 6:40 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I feel fine.
posted by woodway at 6:54 AM on December 14, 2008


Reagan wrote in his diary that the film "left me greatly depressed." and that it changed his mind on the prevailing policy on a "nuclear war" [2] In 1987 during the era of Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika reforms, the film was shown on Soviet television. During the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty at Reykjavik, Meyer received a telegram from the Reagan Administration that said, 'Don't think your movie didn't have any part of this, because it did.

You know, not to sound bitter or to take anything away from the impact of this movie, but the idea that -- at a time when nuclear war with the Soviets seemed a very real threat, and the number of scientists who had very intelligent things to say about the dangers of proliferation and the potential horrors of a nuclear conflict was enormous, and many of them were quite vocal -- the idea that, at that time, the president of the United States of America needed to watch a fucking TV movie just to fucking grasp what was so obvious to so many, and what had been so obvious to so many for so long, is a much more terrifying thing than anything depicted in The Day After OR Threads. Jesus wept.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:14 AM on December 14, 2008 [27 favorites]


Huh. I JUST had an out-of-context nuclear holocaust dream/nightmare. Apparently, if you drink enough beer with Sudaped, you can tap into the collective unconscious!

Or I'm playing too much Fallout 3, whatever.
posted by The Whelk at 7:15 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I saw this in my early 20s in Canada. I was very impressed at the time - not that it was so surprising but that it actually showed you "If the nukes go off, even in a limited engaged, huge numbers of people will die miserably."

You'd have to be simply nuts to believe that this is a pro-war film - watching Jason Robarts and his family slowly die of radiation sickness is heart-wrenching. In fact, what impressed me was that it was such an anti-war film, I was very surprised that it was allowed to be shown on TV. It doesn't surprise me that nothing like this ever happened again.

I personally think every teenager in America should see this movie. I've talked to so many Americans who think dropping an atom bomb would be ultra-cool - really I have.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:21 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


You either very interesting beliefs you have on the nature of existence, or some sort of time-travel apparatus.

Third option: he wasn't born yet.
posted by gman at 7:22 AM on December 14, 2008


I was 16. I remember not giving a crap, in that way that only 16-year-olds can not give a crap. Still never seen it.
posted by FfejL at 7:34 AM on December 14, 2008


Woops! is an American Post-apocalyptic sitcom that aired on the FOX network from September 27 to December 6, 1992. The series centered around the six survivors of a world nuclear holocaust. The six of them live together in an abandoned farm house while trying to survive and re-establish civilization.

Hilarity ensued.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 7:35 AM on December 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Wow, 25 years already?

I was a junior in high school and it gave me nightmares for years. I also think this was my first realization that all those "duck and cover" drills were a bunch of bullshit.
posted by NoraCharles at 7:38 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Being from Lawrence, it was exciting that our sleepy little college town would be the center of so much attention. A friend of mine shaved his head to play one of the extras. In any case, while it scared the bejesus out of me 25 years ago, after a recent viewing I couldn't shake the visceral reaction of it being a little hokey.
posted by drstrangelove at 7:57 AM on December 14, 2008


I was 10 at the time, and my parents wouldn't let me watch it. I hated that at the time, because lots of my friends watched it, but in hindsight, as a parent, it was probably the right thing to do, especially since I grew up in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, so we'd've been fried pretty quickly in a real nuclear strike.

My favorite memory of that time, though, is that my (now-late) grandmother watched it, freaked out, and called my aunt (her daughter), worried sick. Because my aunt, you see, lived in Kansas. So my aunt had to explain that it was just a movie and nothing had actually happened in Kansas. My grandmother was mentally healthy at the time, just prone to overreaction.
posted by cerebus19 at 8:01 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm sure I saw this, but I have no memory. Testament which came out the year after, however, is forever seared in my brain. The mom (Jane Alexander) weeping as she listened to the last phone message that her husband left on the answering machine (that he was going to be late getting home) before removing the batteries. Washing her youngest son in the sink as blood poured from his anus. Sitting in the car with the kids trying to commit suicide. I can't even bear the thought of trying to watch that movie again; it was all my fears of of a doomed earth wrapped up into a very personal package. God, there was a lot of national angst in the early eighties.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:03 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Everybody here seems to have been twelve when this came out. I guess that's a pretty impressionable age. I think my daughter was ten or twelve when I'd had one too many drinks and told her my depressing view of Man's future on our planet. She said "Daddy, why are you telling me this?"

I was a grownup when this came out, so watching it, as I did, was no big revelation.

Reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road is a hell of a lot more horrific (it portrays an ashy Nuclear Winter post-apocalyptic America with bands of roving cannibals.)
posted by kozad at 8:08 AM on December 14, 2008


The whole bit about Reagan making plans for a winnable nuclear war is pretty scary. He was talking that shi* but at the time most people just thought it was bluster to intimidate the Soviets. In fact he was as crazy as he said he was.
posted by caddis at 8:14 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


a frighteningly real explosion and iconic "mushroom cloud" created by injecting oil-based paints and inks downward into a water tank with a piston, filmed at high speed with the camera mounted upside down

Heh, I was wondering how they did that, it looked awesome.


IIRC, they were denied use of the military footage of actual nuclear test clouds that they wanted to use, so they had to improvise.

Yeah, on some levels 'Threads' was better. Yeah, 'Day After' was soap-operatic at the beginning. People should keep in mind that the makers of 'Day After' had to push against all sorts of pressures from all sorts of places, government pressure, network execs, political pressure, just to get the damn thing made. They had to run the gauntlet of pundits on TV telling them they were cowards or traitors, network censors kvetching about violence in prime time, and a Reagan-era viewing audience that could reject the whole thing and switch to a different movie-of-the-week.

It turns up on cable every once in a while now, and every time I run into it, I'm a little more appreciative of what was accomplished.
posted by gimonca at 8:14 AM on December 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


I was ten. Like others, for fear of nightmares, I wasn't allowed to watch it. But it was still in the atmosphere; the fear pervaded and trickled down, even to fifth graders.

So much so, that 30 years later, I had to write a short film featuring a frightening, world-ending scenario for teens, and it was nuclear bombs all the way, baby. All nuclear fallout all the time. I thought it was mind-bendingly scary.

My producer nudged me for a rewrite and said, "Teenagers aren't afraid of nukes anymore. Try terrorism."
posted by headspace at 8:16 AM on December 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


I was 9 when this came out and didn't know about it until today. Windigo mentioned the movie Adam, which came out the same year as The Day After, but for some reason I was allowed to watch that. It completely terrified me because it wasn't an abstraction, like nuclear war. I panicked every time we went to Sears. I wasn't allowed to watch Escape from Sobibor, which has nothing to do with nuclear war, but apparently was really frightening? Anyone know why?
posted by desjardins at 8:19 AM on December 14, 2008


I was twenty and had a baby and watched it with my mother and that baby in Charleston and we thought it was sort of overdone and ridiculous although I remember thinking, well, fuck that, I didn't ever want to go to Kansas anyway and now I'm definitely not going to bother. At that point Charleston still had a navy base and an air force base and was like number six or something on the nuclear hit list, so we knew we were toast when the bombs began to drop. My friends and I were all fatalistic about the end of the world, which we figured was imminent and considered ourselves sophisticated enough to laugh darkly at the more ridiculous parts of the movie, like the aforementioned magic Volvo dashboard o' lead. The eighties were a weird time.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:29 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nicholas Meyer wrote The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and wrote and directed Time After Time.

Lawrence was sacked in May 1856 by a pro-slavery vigilante posse during the "Bleeding Kansas" fighting between pro- and anti-slavery groups prompted by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Confederate guerrilla William Quantrill attacked Lawrence in August 1863 and killed most of the male population and burned down a quarter of the town.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:38 AM on December 14, 2008


If only I could watch "Space Giants" today (with Goldar and Silvar....though I can't remember if this is the same show where, when shot with a laser, the bad guys--pseudo-ninja-types--would turn into oozing purple jelly).

posted by whatgorilla


OMG, this is a blast from the past. Yes, the evil LugoMen, henchmen of the archvillain Rodak, turned into a goo when laser-shot.

I was in my late teens when The Day After was aired, but it impressed me the same way that Jaws had nearly a decade earlier. Namely, I can no longer go swimming in the ocean without a lurking apprehension that something down there might be about to take my leg off. And I cannot go grocery shopping without buying "just a little extra" for storage, just in case of a nuclear war.
posted by darkstar at 8:39 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Escape from Sobibor was about the only successful escape from a Nazi extermination camp. It was indeed depressing, as many of the prisoners who escaped died either in the fields outside that were mined, or were killed by Poles after making it to safety.
posted by ltracey at 8:40 AM on December 14, 2008


The current global economic follies, if they go deep and long enough, are going to reshuffle the deck in terms of global power, and the ability to deal collectively with crises and rogue states has likely been diminished.

So yeah, it's appropriate that people are reminded that the technical potential for nuclear war still exists. Recent developments in smaller tactical nuclear weapons means that today's commanders would be more likely to use them. You don't have to be Dr Sagan to realize what that could lead to.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:51 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Threads is the only videotape I still own; don't even have a VCR. But when society ends, that will be playing on my hooked-up TV, not ancient editions of Watch with Mother.

Reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road is a hell of a lot more horrific (it portrays an ashy Nuclear Winter post-apocalyptic America with bands of roving cannibals.)
It portrayed it all too close-up for me to be properly horrified. It's like an extended case-study.
posted by bonaldi at 8:53 AM on December 14, 2008



There is some stock footage from declassified government films of actual nuclear blasts starting around 4:40 in the clip, including this "classic".

Nuclear war sucks.


Let me fix that.

ALL war sucks.
posted by notreally at 8:56 AM on December 14, 2008


Thank you desjardins!

I have brought up Adam to so many people over the years, and only one person remembered it. I am sure I was shown that film in the spirit of keeping me safe from "stranger danger," but I was 5 at the time. It was my first realization that adults could hurt children...the idea just blew my little mind away. I was the sort of little kid that wouldn't go to sleep and would jump on the bed after lights out. Not after seeing that film. I would crawl under the blankets and pull them over my head. Silent as a mouse, because that way the Strangers wouldn't know I was there. There was never a problem with me misbehaving after lights out again.

Hmm, wait a minute...maybe that's why I was shown the show?
posted by Windigo at 9:03 AM on December 14, 2008


I was a high school subfreshman (8th grade was first year of high school for us), and it was required watching. We sat in the family room and watched it on the 21" Sony Trinitron with the rabbit ears, then talked about it for what seemed like weeks afterward. It fit right in with the rest of the Cold War propaganda -- we're all gonna die either from a nuclear blast or some post-blast result (radiation sickness, post-apocalyptic lawlessness, starvation, etc.), and it's all because those damnable Soviets won't give up their nuclear arms (and of course we can't stand down first, because that would be weak and immoral, giving in to the Evil Empire). Add in the nuclear drills in school (right alongside the tornado drills, and we saw firsthand what those could do), countless Soviet or East German fictional villains, and a surfeit of nuclear apocalyptic fantasies in every pop culture medium, and we were very aware of our impending nuclear doom.

I've tried to explain to my teenage daughters what it was like growing up in the Cold War era, and they just can't fathom it. They're well aware of the threat and the theater of terrorism and Homeland Security, but the primary differences are the range of each threat (targeted buildings, flights, ports, or bases vs. targeted cities, immediate and post-strike danger of nuclear vs. conventional or chemical weapons to collateral targets, and realistic resultant morbidity and mortality counts) and the theater involved (in which we're expected to be as afraid of someone with a shoe bomb as we are a nation with ICBMs, or whatever the corresponding term is in Russian). Simply put, they just don't feel as personally threatened as I and many of my peers did.
posted by notashroom at 9:13 AM on December 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


I've just finished watching Threads, and it's turned my brain inside out. Ugh. Fortunately, in an hour I'm going to see Wayne Coyne introduce his film Christmas on Mars; hopefully it will prove an antidote of sorts.

Cormack McCarthy has said in at least one interview that The Road is about the aftermath of an impact event rather than a nuclear war, but I guess the same general principles apply.
posted by hot soup girl at 9:21 AM on December 14, 2008


Thanks, hot soup girl.
posted by kozad at 9:25 AM on December 14, 2008


Windigo mentioned the movie Adam, which came out the same year as The Day After, but for some reason I was allowed to watch that. It completely terrified me because it wasn't an abstraction, like nuclear war. I panicked every time we went to Sears.

Oh God. I have no idea why my parents let me watch Adam. All I remember is the scene where the actor playing John Walsh (Captain Furrillo from "Hill Street Blues"!) gets the phone call that the cops have turned up Adam's remains: He sets down the phone, going slowly from calm to freaking out, and finally manages to say "They found my baby's head" before he breaks down and starts screaming/sobbing into a pillow. It's about the most upsetting thing I can think of that I've ever seen in a movie; I'm getting kind of upset now, thinking about it.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:30 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Now they have "terrorism" to think about, instead of "global thermonuclear war."

Meet the new boss, same as the old.


That's why we have Jericho.
posted by oaf at 9:38 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


have had
posted by oaf at 9:39 AM on December 14, 2008


I was eight years old when this movie came out, in November of 1983.

That Christmas Eve, I heard a radio announcer break in on over some Christmas carols with a special bulletin. He announced that NORAD had detected an unidentified object (maybe it was thirteen) flying toward the United States from the North Pole. Any other Christmas, I might have realized it was Santa Claus. But even at 8 years old I was clued in to the fact that the Russians were likely to send missiles over the North Pole if they ever attacked the US.

My parents couldn't understand why I was so frightened. Of course it was Santa, you know?

I don't know, maybe it was the images of people getting burned, blinded and vaporized in this movie.
posted by natteringnabob at 9:40 AM on December 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Threads' lean towards the stark, brutal aftermath of a nuclear exchange is definitely one of it's strengths, but I wonder if it's almost too much (esp. the very end scene - no, you'll have to watch it, no spoliers.) It's very much a product of it's time, and I'm sure glad I saw it recently, and not when I was a teen in the 1980s. It's fantastic - and the most disturbing, depressing thing I've seen.

Realistic depiction of life during nuclear winter = 2 hours of being punched in the face by a movie. Google it - the whole thing's on Google video - I just don't want to ruin anyone's holidays by linking to it
posted by pellucid at 9:41 AM on December 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


ALL war sucks.

Which is why I think Graveyard of the Fireflies is a more effective anti-movie than either Threads or The Day After.

Although the Japanese were subjected to serious nuclear strikes, the author of the story chose not to focus on that kind of grand event, but on the slower, yet still devastating impact that total war has on the most vulnerable members of a community.

Defending yourself is one thing, but I find it inconceivable than anyone could watch that movie and still support any kind of preemptive strike, a la Iraq.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:41 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's interesting to be the last generational representative of the Cold War. It's a funny thing to describe to people I know 10 years younger.

Now they have "terrorism" to think about, instead of "global thermonuclear war."


Actually, the replacement for global nuclear war is global warming or climate change.

My son is just six years old, and is too young to understand the news. But I imagine that when he does become old enough to understand the concept of climate change, it will be the source of the nightmares. And he will live to see those nightmares come true.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:53 AM on December 14, 2008


I was 9 or 10 and my parents didn't let me watch it, so I went to bed and had nightmares anyway. Everyone had been talking about it, and nuclear fear was such an intrinsic part of life at that time that this movie was just reflecting the zeitgeist, not feeding it anything new (at least it seemed to me).

the idea that, at that time, the president of the United States of America needed to watch a fucking TV movie just to fucking grasp what was so obvious to so many, and what had been so obvious to so many for so long,

Please. The president was the one who created the fear. He knew what he was doing - he revved the engine himself. The cold war was not our focus in the '70s and people got all concerned about feminism, gay rights, environmentalism... Reagan came into the white house and said, get focused: there are COMMIES with BOMBS ready to NAIL you.

I realize there were specific foreign policy events that made it easy to emphasize the cold war, but there was plenty Carter or Nixon could have focused on if they had wanted to create this sort of nationalistic good vs evil frame through which to view everything. They just saw the world as more complex where he made it black and white. That was Reagan's whole enterprise - love america, love buying stuff, hate commies, fear the cold war.

There were bombs around before him and after him, but we really really really cared about it when he was in office and somehow we didn't notice nearly so much at other points. He had some kind of magic touch when it came to scaring the shit out of you with a plastic smile on his face the whole time.
posted by mdn at 9:53 AM on December 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


My only recollection about this movie is the assertion that a Minuteman missile (or the Russian equivalent) has a flight time of 30 minutes. That's wrong, but who cares? We're just as dead.

The fatalism of that era is difficult to forget. I read a lot of science-fiction in my youth and much of it concerned doomsday scenarios. Dome was one of the worst. In that novel, everyone in the world dies from a plague known as KYAGS (short for Kiss Your Ass Goodbye Sucker). After reading that, it hit me that everything we did was essentially futile in the face of death to nuclear fire, engineered plague, or nerve poison.

It's such a relief that can't happen today! Whee!

(Seriously, about the only thing that got me through that period was a little game named Wasteland. Thanks, Michael A. Stackpole!)
posted by Kikkoman at 9:54 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Threads' lean towards the stark, brutal aftermath of a nuclear exchange is definitely one of it's strengths, but I wonder if it's almost too much (esp. the very end scene - no, you'll have to watch it, no spoliers.)

POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOR THREADS

The ending must have been a tough call, because it's venturing out into the realm of the purely speculative in a way that the bulk of the movie does not. I mean, obviously, everything about the aftermath of a nuclear war is speculation (barring actually having one, in which case I highly doubt we'll be discussing movies much anyhow), but you venture into something closer to pure science fiction the farther you move away from what scientists generally agree would happen in the near aftermath of the event. The long-term projections -- particularly as regards the breakdown of society (that society would break down seems like a given; how it would happen and what it would look like on the ground is, however educated, guesswork) -- don't reflect things we know would happen the way we know that, say, people would starve to death and die of radiation poisoning. Although the last act is pretty fucking devastating to watch, the film as a whole may suffer for it in terms of the message it's trying to get across, because it's no longer "here's what will happen", but instead "here is something that could happen." I think that's okay, though...it's a hell of a strong ending, and really, you wouldn't want to be around to see what really would happen by that point regardless (and, as the film shows, you probably wouldn't be, either).
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:00 AM on December 14, 2008


Try out this timeline (hastily assembled, possible errors):

March 6 1983: Kohl/CDU/CSU win West German elections
March 8: Reagan's 'Evil Empire' speech
March 23: Reagan proposes 'Star Wars'
April 1: Greenham Common protestors in Britain form 14-mile human chain
June 9: Thatcher/Conservatives win general election in Britain.
June 17: MX Missile test in California delayed by protests
August: Andropov enters hospital for last time
September 1: Soviets shoot down Korean Air 007
September 26: Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov refuses to respond to nuclear false alarm
October: Half a million protest against nuclear weapons in The Hague, Netherlands; largest of many similar protests across Europe
October 23: USMC Barracks in Beirut bombed; U.S. and France briefly attack sites in Lebanon
October 25: U.S. invades Grenada
November 2-11: NATO Able Archer exercises begin; Soviet forces on high alert
November 13: Cruise missile components delivered in Britain.
[November 20: 'Day After' broadcast]
November 23: Soviets withdraw from intermediate-range arms control talks.
December 8: START arms reduction talks end in Geneva with no date for resumption
January 1984: Pershing II missiles deployed in West Germany
February 9 1984: Andropov dies

Add in dates as you like, and remember that Iran and Iraq were pummelling each other at the same time, and India and Pakistan were giving each other the evil eye in Kashmir, etc. etc.--there were plenty of other hot spots to flare up. Oh, and 'Threads' was in production that same fall of 83, broadcast later in 84. 'Testament' got a theatrical release at the end of 83, broadcast on PBS in 84.
posted by gimonca at 10:03 AM on December 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


The granddaddy of all nuclear apocalypse movies, and for my money the best, is FailSafe.
posted by chlorus at 10:08 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was in school when we saw it. We had an old bomb shelter back at home, and I immediately began to restock it.

There's a scene in the film that has always stood out for me. It's so long since I have seen it that I don't remember the actors. After the bomb hits, a girl panics and runs outside. A man follows her, desperately trying to explain that the entire area is irradiated. She can't see it or feel it, but they are surrounded by a murderous dose of radiation.

We seem them later in the film, at some sort of ceremony, when she collapses; when they carry her out, her dress is stained with blood, obviously flowing freely from her extremities. We see him a moment later, his hair gone and his face leathery. It just seemed horribly sad to me.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:11 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


The granddaddy of all nuclear apocalypse movies, and for my money the best, is FailSafe.

Actually, On The Beach beats it by about five years and, is in my opinion, a better movie.

Fail Safe was good, though.
posted by lordrunningclam at 10:21 AM on December 14, 2008


you wouldn't want to be around to see what really would happen by that point regardless (and, as the film shows, you probably wouldn't be, either).

Jonathan Schell's The Fate of the Earth - as indelible an artifact of the era under discussion as any of these movies - observes that the appropriate point of view from which to examine a nuclear holocaust is that of a corpse. But then, of course, there's nothing to report.

No question that Threads is superior in every way - I highly recommend it for those who can take it. But as another global conflict of the time - VHS vs Betamax - reminds us: market share counts.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:28 AM on December 14, 2008


Jesus, just reading the descriptions of these films is enough to give me nightmares. (I'm too young to have seen any of these when they first aired, but my parents aren't. They just don't discuss it for fear of upsetting me. I had issues as a child.)
posted by sperose at 10:45 AM on December 14, 2008


Anybody remember Amazing Grace and Chuck?
posted by Afroblanco at 10:51 AM on December 14, 2008


This scared the hell out of me, too. I was nine or ten. But Testament was the one that gave me nightmares. American culture was absolutely permeated with nuclear fear. I can't believe any of us ever slept.
posted by damehex at 10:58 AM on December 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


...it was probably the right thing to do, especially since I grew up in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, so we'd've been fried pretty quickly in a real nuclear strike.

I went to visit my uncle at the Pentagon once, while I was in college in the DC area. The only thing that really freaked me out about being there was when he pointed to the open space in the center, visible through the windows, and said, "We call that Ground Zero, because that spot would be where the first nuclear weapon would hit in the event of nuclear war." The fact that I would have been dead before I knew what happened was not particularly comforting.
posted by god hates math at 11:00 AM on December 14, 2008


At sixteen, I was as concerned about my probable eventual death in a nuclear fireball as most of my friends (indeed, at seventeen, my classmates and I were involved in the creation of an award-winning play about it). However, even at sixteen, I thought The Day After was somewhere between Triumph-Of-The-American-Spirit jingoism and melodramatic bosh. If I had known the word "bathos" at the time, I am sure I would have applied it.

Still, at twenty-three I fell in love with and married a Soviet defector, and we joked that we should write letters to our respective governments declaring that we had signed a personal non-aggression pact and authorizing them to reduce defense spending by exactly one person's worth on either side.

And speaking of Wasteland, kikkoman, Steve Jackson Games published a very brief post-apocalypse game in The Space Gamer once upon a time: it was as series of tables each requiring a roll of 1-6. To my recollection, it was something like:

1. Attack Survival Table

1-5: You die in the initial fireball.

6: You survive the first attack. Go to table 2.

2. Fallout Survival Table

1-5: You die from fallout in the weeks following the attack.

6: You survive the fallout. Go to table 3.

3. Societal Breakdown Survival Table

1-5: You die during the looting and murder during the collapse of society.

6: You survive the breakdown of society. Go to table 4.

4. Nuclear Winter Survival Table

1-6: You starve to death during nuclear winter.

posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:05 AM on December 14, 2008 [9 favorites]


Yeah, I think that the take-home from all of this is that movies really can make a difference. After this movie aired, a lot of people (including Reagan!) took the threat of nuclear catastrophe a lot more seriously.

And if you want a more recent example of this phenomenon, look no further than An Inconvenient Truth. A decade ago, many considered environmentalism to be the exclusive territory of 'hippies,' 'liberals,' and other various 'anti-progress' people. Now, it's almost universally recognized that the environment is everybody's problem, especially as it pertains to global warming. Hell, even John McCain made it a part of his platform, and he's a Republican-with-a-capital-R.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:10 AM on December 14, 2008


From the movie's Wikipedia article, in the Production section:

While in Kansas City, Meyer and Papazian toured the Federal Emergency Management Agency offices in Kansas City. When asked what their plans for surviving nuclear war were, a FEMA official replied that they were experimenting with putting evacuation instructions in telephone books in New England. "In about six years, everyone should have them." This meeting led Meyer to later refer to FEMA as "a complete joke."

The more things change, the more they remain the same.
posted by amyms at 11:13 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was in my early 20s and already sick to death of the constant "threat of nuclear war" hype. Cripes, even the Golden Girls dedicated an entire episode to the subject. I watched it, wasn't horrified; the only thing that made an impression was how the survivors had trouble getting un-contaminated food and water. But still, I didn't think it was nearly as disturbing as all the pre-press would have us believe. Threads was better, but it still didn't frighten me. I guess I had already convinced myself that at the last minute, both sides would resolve their differences and the "button" would never be pusehd.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:13 AM on December 14, 2008


I was 7, and my babysitter made us watch it at her boyfriend's house. The Laffy Taffy bribe did not make up for the newfound abandonment issues.
posted by unknowncommand at 11:14 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm fairly certain that surveys of teenager's in the 80's showed that we were more afraid of a nuclear war than of our parent's dying. I know that it was waaaay at the top of my fear list, since my Dad was into the Anti-Nuke movement. We would have watched The Day After together, except that I was babysitting. An excellent movie for scaring the crap out of a 15 yr old alone in a house with two pre-schoolers.
posted by saffry at 11:17 AM on December 14, 2008


No, no, Afroblanco, not An Inconvenient Truth - it was The Day After Tomorrow that woke us up to the dangers of global warming! Not only will New York be under 12 feet of ice, but there will be spring loaded attack wolves wandering freely about.
posted by mygothlaundry at 11:19 AM on December 14, 2008


I was 21, newly graduated from college and relocated to San Francisco. Having parlayed my history and literature degree into my first ever waitressing job, I shared a flat with two other girls and no tv. Reading only the music and book reviews in the Sunday paper (and books) I remember nothing about this movie. (Is that a young John Lithgow in the clip?) I may watch more of it, and Threads sounds intriguing. I've never made it through any of McCarthy, not sure why.

But mainly, thanks OP, you have given me a good idea for a book to give my now 16-year-old son this holiday, "Hiroshima," by John Hersey. Yes. I wrote it down. We were assigned to read it the summer after eighth, I think. I never reread it, but I didn't have to. It has stayed with me since.
posted by emhutchinson at 11:23 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thanks to Gimonca's timeline above, I see that this came out just three months after KAL 007 was shot down. My neighbor was on that flight, so my justified fear of the USSR, Reagan and the effects of the cold war was at an all time high when the movie aired. No sleep for me.
posted by saffry at 11:24 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I turned 11 a few days after The Day After aired. I remember my little brother running off to bed early on and being very upset. For my part, the interview with Sagan was the real highlight of the evening; even at that young age, I could tell the movie was soft-balling things. Threads, as so many have noted, was the real deal (Wikipedia has that airing on PBS two years later which fits with my memories).

I assumed the world would end horribly before I grew up. It was only after the USSR collapsed that that fear began to ebb. I have a family of my own now, but I still have a strong (usually unspoken) internal conviction that humanity really messed up at some point and basically deserves to die out. I wonder if the cold war is the reason why.
posted by stinkycheese at 11:41 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Due to my history of being freaked out by the ghost segments on That's Incredible, my parents did not let me watch The Day After. To this day, I still haven't seen it, mainly because I suspect it's fairly silly and if I'm going to bother with an 80s retro nuclear holocaust film, it's going to be Threads or Testament. Besides, for scary anti-commie futuristic dramas, my heart belongs to Red Dawn (Wolverines, baby!) and the classic miniseries Amerika. Besides, Red Dawn had Harry Dean Stanton and Amerika had Kris Kristofferson and Sam Neill (basically warming up his Commie-playing skills for Hunt for Red October).
In hindsight, my parents' decision was probably a wise move, because a couple of years later, the fundamentalist Christian private school I attended had a special assembly where they showed us all a little move called "A Thief in the Night." My family did not subscribe to these fundamentalist beliefs, but felt this private school was the only safe alternative to the dodgy public school that I would have otherwise attended at the time, where there were a string of incidents of kids being involved in knife fights. Worried about you and your entire family being blown away in a nuclear holocaust is nothing compared to the ongoing emotional trauma of being worried about your family being rounded up and sent to the guillotine for not taking the Mark of the Beast.
In hindsight, I think I might have been better off taking my chances at public school.
posted by Dr. Zira at 11:42 AM on December 14, 2008


Besides, for scary anti-commie futuristic dramas, my heart belongs to Red Dawn (Wolverines, baby!)

Sorry, but I prefer something a little more realistic.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:54 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Has anyone mentioned Miracle Mile yet? Gawd, that was depressing too.
posted by stinkycheese at 12:01 PM on December 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


This is whole thread so strange to me. I was 15 when this movie aired, in high school, taking civics class, in a house with a TV, and I don't remember a single thing about The Day After.

Didn't see it, wasn't shown it in school, don't remember the controversy or the hype. Don't remember talking to anyone who had seen it. In fact, never even heard a reference to it and how big it was until just a few years ago on the internet. Strange.
posted by Squeak Attack at 12:01 PM on December 14, 2008


Propaganda. Gave me nightmares. A horrible, immoral movie.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:05 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


In Europe and America, there's a growing feeling of hysteria
Conditioned to respond to all the threats
In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets
Mr. Krushchev said we will bury you
I don't subscribe to this point of view
It would be such an ignorant thing to do
If the Russians love their children too

How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer's deadly toy
There is no monopoly in common sense
On either side of the political fence
We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too

There is no historical precedent
To put the words in the mouth of the President
There's no such thing as a winnable war
It's a lie that we don't believe anymore
Mr. Reagan says we will protect you
I don't subscribe to this point of view
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too

We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
What might save us, me, and you
Is if the Russians love their children too
posted by Sailormom at 12:11 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


This all seems so quaint now, as America worries about terrorism and immigrants and especially in light of all the horrible images I've seen in movies since then.

If I ever get a time machine, I'm going back to the 1950s and playing the Saw movies to every good American I can find.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:32 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


When you attend a funeral,
It is sad to think that sooner or
Later those you love will do the same for you.
And you may have thought it tragic,
Not to mention other adjec-
Tives, to think of all the weeping they will do.
But don't you worry.
No more ashes, no more sackcloth.
And an armband made of black cloth
Will some day never more adorn a sleeve.
For if the bomb that drops on you
Gets your friends and neighbors too,
There'll be nobody left behind to grieve.

And we will all go together when we go.
What a comforting fact that is to know.
Universal bereavement,
An inspiring achievement,
Yes, we all will go together when we go.

We will all go together when we go.
All suffuse with an incandescent glow.
No one will have the endurance
To collect on his insurance,
Lloyd's of London will be loaded when they go.

Oh we will all fry together when we fry.
We'll be french fried potatoes by and by.
There will be no more misery
When the world is our rotisserie,
Yes, we will all fry together when we fry.

Down by the old maelstrom,
There'll be a storm before the calm.

And we will all bake together when we bake.
There'll be nobody present at the wake.
With complete participation
In that grand incineration,
Nearly three billion hunks of well-done steak.

Oh we will all char together when we char.
And let there be no moaning of the bar.
Just sing out a Te Deum
When you see that I.C.B.M.,
And the party will be "come as you are."

Oh we will all burn together when we burn.
There'll be no need to stand and wait your turn.
When it's time for the fallout
And Saint Peter calls us all out,
We'll just drop our agendas and adjourn.

You will all go directly to your respective Valhallas.
Go directly, do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dolla's.

And we will all go together when we go.
Ev'ry Hottenhot and ev'ry Eskimo.
When the air becomes uranious,
And we will all go simultaneous.
Yes we all will go together
When we all go together,
Yes we all will go together when we go.
posted by pxe2000 at 12:50 PM on December 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


kittens for breakfast i was about to mention "Miracle Mile". starts off as a weird little romantic comedy and ends with, well, the end.

fucked. up.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:58 PM on December 14, 2008


No one likes us-I don't know why
We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try
But all around, even our old friends put us down
Let's drop the big one and see what happens

We give them money-but are they grateful?
No, they're spiteful and they're hateful
They don't respect us-so let's surprise them
We'll drop the big one and pulverize them

Asia's crowded and Europe's too old
Africa is far too hot
And Canada's too cold
And South America stole our name
Let's drop the big one
There'll be no one left to blame us

We'll save Australia
Don't wanna hurt no kangaroo
We'll build an All American amusement park there
They got surfin', too

Boom goes London and boom Paris
More room for you and more room for me
And every city the whole world round
Will just be another American town
Oh, how peaceful it will be
We'll set everybody free
You'll wear a Japanese kimono
And there'll be Italian shoes for me

They all hate us anyhow
So let's drop the big one now
Let's drop the big one now
posted by Grangousier at 12:59 PM on December 14, 2008


i don't find this quaint so much as reassuring -- OMG TERRORISTS seems kind of trivial compared to OMG END OF THE WORLD.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:02 PM on December 14, 2008


The Day After was mildly scary, and sticks with you for a while, but Testament...
I'm sure I saw this, but I have no memory. Testament which came out the year after, however, is forever seared in my brain. The mom (Jane Alexander) weeping as she listened to the last phone message that her husband left on the answering machine (that he was going to be late getting home) before removing the batteries. Washing her youngest son in the sink as blood poured from his anus. Sitting in the car with the kids trying to commit suicide. I can't even bear the thought of trying to watch that movie again; it was all my fears of of a doomed earth wrapped up into a very personal package. God, there was a lot of national angst in the early eighties.
Testament, from my considered position as an aficionado of post-apocalyptic fiction, is the most effective American anti-nuclear film ever created. "Searing" is an absolutely accurate descriptor: it, more than perhaps any American anti-nuclear document ever produced beside the tremendously underappreciated novel War Day, stripped away the bullshit and the rhetoric to reveal what the true impact and aftermath of a nuclear exchange would mean.

Testament revealed the true face of nuclear weapons, and people who have seen it and can still blithely discuss the use of nuclear weapons in any capacity are lacking some part of the human soul.
posted by scrump at 1:05 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


this might as well be the place to mention I watched "Trinity and Beyond" last night and it was fucking awesome.
posted by saul wright at 1:18 PM on December 14, 2008


I was 11 when this aired and for some reason was already acquainted with the nuclear winter theory, so I pooh-poohed the whole thing and went back to reading Anne McCaffrey novels. Which is not to say that I was immune to the anti-Soviet zeitgeist. I can still remember standing outside waiting for the school bus on my lonely country road and freaking myself out imagining that the car coming down the street was full of Russian kidnappers. Why they would want to kidnap a geeky middle-schooler like me, I don't know, but the fear was delicious.
posted by Biblio at 1:23 PM on December 14, 2008


Dr. Zira:In hindsight, my parents' decision was probably a wise move, because a couple of years later, the fundamentalist Christian private school I attended had a special assembly where they showed us all a little move called "A Thief in the Night."

Ah, I went to one of those too. Congratulations on escaping that worldview.
posted by JHarris at 1:44 PM on December 14, 2008


I did, however see When the Wind Blows, which is one of the most depressing things I've ever watched. The utter futility and helplessness portrayed in that animated movie haunts me to this day.

I was 7 at the time "The Day After" aired, and I don't remember any of the hype around the movie (or the movie itself). But my father was obsessed with nuclear annihilation, so I suspect I was banned from seeing it but my father probably watched. Which is probably how I ended up seeing "When the Wind Blows" 5 years later. To this day, the ending of the movie will pop into my head for no real reason. Actually, I'm glad its being mentioned here, I didn't know what it was called. Just a strange rambling ending that wormed its way into my permanent subconscious.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 1:53 PM on December 14, 2008


Wow. I was about 7 when The Day After aired, and I don't recall anything about it. Just watched it, then went and watched Threads.

The Day After is set very close to where I lived (NW Missouri) at that time. Family lives/lived in towns it references, so it was fascinating. The bomb blast business with the X-ray skeletons and such was silly, but it was a good watch.

Threads had such a documentary feel at times, and went much further into the long-term repercussions. It certainly hits home a bit more, and leaves you feeling more hopeless.

Thanks for helping me send my Sunday afternoon down a black hole. I guess I've blocked out the nuclear fear from my childhood, if indeed I and my parents/community had it.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 3:44 PM on December 14, 2008


I would've been, hm, 12 or so, and I remember not being able to watch it...I snuck a few glimpses, (saw the dog die, argh), and my imagination filled in the rest.

The same year, we had to read the crapfest that was Alas, Babylon (which is basically the plot of Jericho, but more moralizing) and I remember being so angry that it was so inaccurate (no nuclear winter, way too many survivors, and just horribly dated).

Had nuclear nightmares for a long time, mostly about being anxious that I wouldn't die right away. Anytime I think of it, I wonder if I'd have the guts to off myself/family members instead of waiting for radiation or starvation to get us. Will never ever see Testament, since I have a son and do not wish to freak myself the fuck out for good.

Never had nightmares when I lived in NYC because I knew I was instant toast, and was happy about that. Now that I'm back in suburbia, I do feel occasional anxiety.

What would get rid of nuclear fear--complete disarmament? And how in hell could that ever happen? So long as the nukes exist, the fear is there, for me. Soviet Union might not be threatening us officially, but is it in control of its nukes? I worry. I can't imagine a worse weapon supplanting it, because what would be the point, so we seem to be stuck in this standoff until some unimaginable change in human society ends it. How many generations will that take, should we be so lucky?
posted by emjaybee at 4:30 PM on December 14, 2008


I was with my then boyfriend, both of us 15. We 'made out' through the whole thing so I don't remember anything about it except our brief conversation that if this happened we would 'do it,' then immediately go and try and find other people to do it with. We were going to cram a lifetime of sexual experience into that span of time as the bombs dropped. It made a really great make out premise. I felt a little trashy the next day when everyone was so serious about it at school, but in retrospect there's really nothing like an end of the world make-out session at 15.
posted by dog food sugar at 5:24 PM on December 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


I can't imagine a worse weapon supplanting it, because what would be the point, so we seem to be stuck in this standoff until some unimaginable change in human society ends it.

One day I figured out a nice and amusing eschatology. Physicists have contemplated a vacuum metastability event which would essentially erase the universe. No suffering, no pain, no fuss, just a failure of existence. They also contemplate that such an event could be initiated by human artifice - this is one of the further-off concerns associated with the LHC.

Now the correctness of this specific hypothesis isn't important, but let's imagine there is some physical process that can similarly turn off existence like a light switch and let's assume scientific progress continues. One day some Future physicists figure out, as sure as they can be without trying, that if they set up their Really Large Hadron Collider like so and pressed the button, the universe would turn off.

They don't do this; they publish a paper and put some guards around the Really Large Hadron Collider.

But science keeps progressing. Technology continues to become more widespread, cheap, and available. One day you can go Future BitTorrent the plans for your own Desktop Really Large Hadron Collider, and your assembler machine can build it for you.

And that paper's out there.

Anyone who wants it can have a button in front of them that ends the universe. No muss, no fuss, doesn't hurt anyone, and no one's even really aware of it, remember.

You just KNOW some Future /b/tard's gonna press the button. Forget winning the internet, it's defeating the universe. EPIC WIN.

It's also a solution to the Fermi Paradox - we don't observe any other intelligence in the universe because the first intelligent life arising in a universe destroys that universe before any other intelligence evolves or can be observed.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:48 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm completely horrified at how many people here saw this movie as children. Some of my younger students were really disturbed by the dystopian elements of Wall-E, and as a kid I had nightmares for weeks as a result of Waterworld. Apocalypse is a tough idea for adults, and it will completely screw children up. What the hell were your parents thinking?
posted by honeydew at 6:22 PM on December 14, 2008


You don't make a 12 year old kid watch this. You just don't, and then expect them to be anything but fatalistic about the world and their own lives within it.

Maybe, maybe not.

I was about 13 when this was broadcast, but I don't remember much of the original broadcast. However, I re-watched it at the age of 17 when my friend and I made a movie about nuclear war for extra credit at our high school. We all watched THE DAY AFTER and THREADS for "research", and then went on to make our film -- the premise was that 9 teenagers had been rounded up and placed in a bomb shelter by aliens who would keep them safe in the shelter if they stayed there, but each kid had 24 hours to decide whether they wanted to stay or to go out and die. My friend came up with the premise, we both worked out the plot, and I wrote the script. We decided that five of the kids would decide to leave, and head out into certain death. (was someone talking about being fatalistic?)

...For a good ten years after this, though, I periodically would have recurring, vivid, detailed dreams about nuclear war -- sometimes as involved as dreaming I was trying to crowd into a bomb shelter while seeing the bomber planes flying over head, and sometimes as simple as dreaming I was watching Jane Pauley give a special report announcing the onset of a nuclear war, and dreaming that I was watching her break down on television. Each time I woke from these dreams with heart pounding, far too afraid to fall back asleep. I also tried seeing TERMINATOR 2 during this time -- you know the scene where Sarah Connor dreams about L.A. being blown up? That basically WAS all my dreams, and it was YEARS before I could watch that film without having to leave the room during that scene. The first time I saw it, in a theater, I had to run out to the lobby and sit out there for 20 minutes fighting off the one and only panic attack I've ever had.

...But then the dreams started fading. I may have had one sometime during the 9/11 aftermath, but I dont' remember -- I think the last one I had was about ten y ears ago. I still didn't watch the whole DAY AFTER link above, but I'm able to watch T2 now, at least.

But getting back to the fatalism of those who grew up under this shadow...I actually saw it differently at the time. I took a course on nuclear war and politics in college, and made the argument in class once that the long-term effects on people of my generation were what was going to save us. Some people would be fatalistic, but others would be scared to death -- we were the first generation to know from the time we were little what the full effects of these bombs would be. And as we grew up, we would always remember that fear, and that fear would be in the back of our minds as we were voting, getting into office, and governing -- and if someone who always remembered that fear got into office, I argued, they would be more likely to reconsider acutally dropping the bomb and would try diplomacy instead. Today I think my theory was kind of naive, but my professor at the time was struck by it and told me it was the first time anyone had ever made a generationally-based argument about the likeihood of nuclear war.

as for those of us who were involved in that film -- we all did pretty okay, and went on to the usual variety of normal lives -- varying degrees of success, varying degrees of life hardships, none of us really got fatalistic that I can tell. And thank God for that.

I'm still not watching these links, though, because I never want to have those dreams again.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:48 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


honeydew, my parents smoked around us from the time we were infants, too. Different times ...

I vaguely remember watching The Day After and not being traumatized at all, just rolling my eyes a what I saw as unwarranted American optimism about surviving a nuclear war. But looking at the YouTube excerpt and the Wiki synopsis, it's rather more grim than I remembered.

I saw Threads huddled on a couch with my friends some months later. I found the whole experience to be incredibly horrific. In addition to the moments others have mentioned, what gutted me was the discovery of the little boy killed in the initial blast, just his leg and foot in a running shoe sticking out of some debris. And even worse, seeing a family with elderly grandparents trying to walk down to their basement as the attack was imminent, where the grandmother, confused and afraid, whimpered and kept asking what was happening. And a later scene, where the same confused elderly woman is retching and slowly dying of radiation sickness.

I was somewhat afraid that a nuclear war could happen, but what was worse was spying on these small moments of human misery and despair. I couldn't watch Threads again, just as I couldn't read (OK, laugh at me) Pet Sematary more than once. It may be artistically valid to show the suffering of an elderly woman, or to vividly describe the aftermath of a toddler being killed by a massive truck, but there are some things I don't want to experience even vicariously more than once.
posted by maudlin at 7:18 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


chakalakasp, I hate you for providing that link. I just watched Threads and I am planning on spending the next hour watching the puppy channel.
posted by honeydew at 8:31 PM on December 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Just the ads for that movie freaked me out beyond belief as a little kid. I somehow crossed that movie with Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called to Say I Love You" in my head and thought the song was about the end of the world. More on that here ...
posted by chinese_fashion at 9:06 PM on December 14, 2008


I saw The Day After on TV when it originally aired, and for a long time it was the most depressing movie I'd ever seen. Shortly afterward I had a nightmare - probably the second most intense one I've ever had - that ended with me and my class crouching under our desks at school while the alarms went off.

Then I watched When The Wind Blows when there was an FPP about it a while back, and that became the most depressing movie I'd ever seen. Shortly afterward I had a nightmare about the last scene with the two old people in their sacks, shuffling to their deaths.

Then I watched Threads when there was an FPP about that, and...well, let's just say that I'm with with the character in Threads who says (I'm paraphrasing here) that if there ever is a full-on nuclear war, I hope the first bomb goes off directly above my head.

Of course, the most depressing movie I've ever seen is Chairman Of The Board.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:33 PM on December 14, 2008


What the hell were your parents thinking?

I watched Threads at school. There was homework so we were required to concentrate on it for a while and not block it out.
posted by vbfg at 11:41 PM on December 14, 2008


Since, as I said above, I didn't see the movie - I feel left out on sharing my nuclear bomb dreams. So, here's my reoccurring dream from those times: I'm on my porch, looking out over the horizon when I see the bombers fly over - within seconds, the far horizon lights up like daylight, and I know the bombs have been dropped over Detroit. Soon after that, a hot wind blows from the same direction - and I can taste the radiation. For the record, it tastes like rust.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:48 PM on December 14, 2008


Nine years old, and my brother and I couldn't wait for the Russians to drop the bomb because we'd escape the blast in our dugout, take our parents' car to the nearby army base, steal ourselves a bunch of guns and ammo and explosives and a cool jeep then head for the hills and pass our days shooting Reds and staying up late. Maybe we'd teach ourselves to fly a helicopter.

And there would girls. Hot, vulnerable girls just begging for our protection from insane Russian rapists. Girls who could cook.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:24 AM on December 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


I merely read the technical literature on bomb yield/radiation sickness as a 6 year old and idly wandered through estimated casualty figures for London, which water treatment plants were likely to be seriously contaminated and what the rad level for my town was guessed to be (it was in Brighton, England, so quite a lot). I think my plan in the event was to be briefly fascinated by an empty post-apolalypic world and watch all of the interesting effects on society, personal heath and culture. I just really wanted to see such a huge change if it happened, and frankly thought the whole thing was fascinating. I may have been an atypical child.

Later on, I then randomly ended up in an specialist post-nuclear strike British Army unit. Just FYI, the plans included a) us not feeding people; b) us not sheltering people; and c) not letting any vehicle slow down below 50 mph while travelling, even if this meant that we had to run over people. Needs must you know. The whole thing just made me think that if there is ever a serious prospect of a nuclear war I should join that unit again as everyone else is screwed. At least we had a lot of NBC suits, food, water and weapons.
posted by jaduncan at 2:56 AM on December 15, 2008 [6 favorites]


I was six when this was originally broadcast and didn't hear about it (and Threads) until I got a MeFi account. The big fear among kids my age was kidnapping and "stranger danger". While I didn't see Adam during its original broadcast, either, the scene Kittens mentions upthread was the talk of the schoolbus for days.
posted by pxe2000 at 5:52 AM on December 15, 2008


I saw a VHS version of The Road Warrior within a couple of months of The Day After. This left me seriously conflicted. On the one hand, The Day After demonstrated that nuclear war was fucked up and terrifying, on the other, the 12 year old me, felt that I'd make a pretty good feral kid, and eventually with some luck and skill, it could be me in the supercharged V8 with the dog.

Now that I think about it, I bet that a lot of the things that are really wrong with my brain come from internal conflicts like this.
posted by quin at 9:43 AM on December 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Back then it took one look at a skeleton and I was sold that it was the most horrific movie ever. It sure didn't help that my parents fed into it by saying "don't watch this. This could happen."

I watched it recently and laughed my ass off at the utter cheese factor.
posted by dasheekeejones at 1:26 PM on December 15, 2008


Lots of great comments here but I just wanted to add that I recently watched a bootleg of Amerika, the miniseries depicting the U.S. under Soviet occupation, which was inspired by the conservative reaction to The Day After: "Nuclear war might sound bad, but imagine how awful life under the Russians would be."

Disappointingly, Amerika turns out not to be very hilariously right-wing. The creators tried to play it middle-of-the-road, and had a few good dramatic ideas that could have made for an interesting 90-minute movie, but are stretched over too many episodes. It's kind of amazing to think of what viewers would put up with in those way-before-Twin Peaks-and-The Sopranos days of slow-paced, low-budget event TV, but Amerika took it to a whole 'nother level of slow. It performed poorly. I couldn't finish it.

Some of what's cool about it includes Sam Neill as a KGB operative with mixed feelings of unease about an occupation that could fall apart at any moment; and the creepy dystopian feeling of watching regular Americans collaborate with the ruling Russkie bureaucracy. You get to see Lara Flynn Boyle, 17, as a talented modern dancer trapped in a world where the Soviet-run arts committees frown on such individuality and prefer ballet performances of Tchaikovsky. And it's clever how they have people marching down the street flying Abraham Lincoln and Lenin banners.

Not so clever is how the writers account for the Soviet conquest of the U.S., a feat that is even less believable than in Red Dawn. We only hear vaguely that Americans just sort of gave up out of political apathy, and let the Reds subjugate us, if only for the hell of it.

In one of the silliest scenes, a riot at a punk rock show turns out to be a KGB operation planned by Sam Neill to manage and redirect young peoples' otherwise threatening sense of rebellion.
posted by johngoren at 2:33 PM on December 15, 2008


Ok, I just watched "Threads" and seeing the what nuclear bombs/fallout did to those English people's faces was just horrifying. It was so bad it messed up their faces before the bombs even dropped.

Oh, wait.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:52 PM on December 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I watched Threads after following the link posted by chakalakasp. (Thanks!)

What kind of bothered me the most about that particular film was the complete and total defeat of the human spirit. There was no hope at all, even years after the bombs. I just would like to think that somehow - some way- the human spirit would rekindle itself, no matter how badly it was extinguished.
posted by NoraCharles at 4:21 PM on December 15, 2008


NoraCharles: I think that's one of the reasons why I can appreciate Testament more than most of the other nuclear war movies. It is impossible to watch (for reasons Secret Life of Gravy mentioned), and I would never want to see it again, but it has its moments of redemption -- the final scene, the bonds that the main family makes with others who were abandoned by the bomb, and the relationships the characters have with their community made the grim subject matter a bit more bearable.
posted by pxe2000 at 4:45 PM on December 15, 2008


Disappointingly, Amerika turns out not to be very hilariously right-wing.

I laughed when they showed a map of the partitioned U.S. in the background, and it looked dimly like a diagram of the Bell System breakup. One of the northeastern zones was even called "Ameritech".
posted by gimonca at 7:20 PM on December 15, 2008


>There was no hope at all, even years after the bombs.

It was Thatcher's Britain... there wasn't a lot of hope before the bombs.
posted by pompomtom at 7:39 PM on December 15, 2008


John Varley, The Manhattan Phone Book (Abridged)
posted by Chrysostom at 12:09 PM on December 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


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