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The Most Macabre Classroom Safety Film Ever

Friday A/V Club: The strange horror of The Finishing Line

I've seen some morbid safety movies in my time, but none is as gruesome as The Finishing Line, a 1977 picture produced by British Transport Films. To demonstrate that it is unsafe to play at the railroad tracks, director John Krish presents a series of formally organized games held at a railroad track, complete with announcers and a band. In other words, it's basically 20 minutes of kids getting killed and mutilated:

As bloody as the film is, the most striking thing about it isn't the violence. It's the rote, matter-of-fact way the adults organize the violence and then calmly tally its results. Most safety films have a paternalist flavor, but this one feels like an absurdist satire of every destructive social institution that the old inflict on the young. It's especially easy to read it as a Metaphor For War, which makes this a particularly good week to watch it.

In addition to being shown in schools, this was broadcast on television, a decision that provoked furious protests. British Transport then withdrew it from circulation; it would be two decades before it had another officially sanctioned screening.

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. If you're especially interested in installments featuring classroom safety films, go here and here.)

Photo Credit: British Transport Films

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  • Libertarian||

    Magnificent. It's as if "A Boy and His Dog" and "Lord of the Flies" had a baby.

  • Longtobefree||

    Yet another reason NOT to copy British policies.

  • Zeb||

    So you want children to be killed by trains?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    You know, I never thought about throwing rocks at trains, but that looked kind of fun.

  • Jesse Walker||

    When I was in elementary school, my entire school was shown a safety film that went on at great length about why we shouldn't throw rocks at trains. I'm pretty sure somewhere between 95 and 100% of the kids in the room had never so much as imagined throwing a rock at a train before we saw the movie.

  • Zeb||

    As long as you throw the rock at the train forward of where you are standing in the trains direction of motion, you should be alright, I think.

  • Crusty Juggler aka "Chad"||

    I once had a job working for a site that was bisected by a Metro-North track. When the plant decided to repair do an unauthorized repair under the bridge, my job was to stand next to the track listening for a train, and when I heard the train I jumped off the track while screaming "TRAIN!" so the gentleman in the culvert under the bridge had time to get away safe. This went on for hours, and it was terrifying.

  • Cloudbuster||

    You have to keep in mind, this was just past the time of Monty Python'sFlying Circus, when it was, if I remember, running aggressively in re-runs. The British public was primed for this sort of humor.

  • Juice||

    Those haircuts tho.

  • Bramblyspam||

    Somehow I'm reminded of No Pressure.

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