The 13th Floor

Hygiene Horrors: The Nightmarish Lesson of ’70s PSA Short THE FINISHING LINE

THE FINISHING LINE was meant to teach kids about train track safety. The only thing I took away from it was that in England in the 1970s, kids were training for BATTLE ROYALE with trains.

A teacher’s warning about playing on the train tracks echoes through a young boy’s head… right before he fantasizes about killing all his classmates during a field day on the train tracks.

It’s a big event, with parents and teachers and hundreds of kids, along with snack stalls and a band. A doctor and nurse lay out a number of stretchers, ready for the impending disasters.

Four teams compete in four different events on the train tracks: creating a hole in a fence and rushing to the other side; throwing painted rocks at a train with the goal of breaking windows (bonus points for injuring passengers); a free-for-all, LORD OF THE FLIES-style fight across the tracks; and a three-mile death march through a dark train tunnel.

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Unsurprisingly, each event ends with multiple children injured or killed.

The final event, the tunnel walk, kills almost all the children; adults go into the tunnel and pull out dozens of bloody bodies. Without enough stretchers, the kids are laid out ceremoniously on the train tracks.

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What I find most concerning about this film is the fact that a little boy is imagining the whole thing — and seems to be enjoying it. He actually imagines children fighting each other, trying to knock each other down so a train can run them over; he seems to know that children in his fantasy die.

In the first event, the “dig through the fence” round, one little girl from blue team is squished by a train. Not only is no one concerned by the fact that the girl is dead, the team is disqualified because not everyone on the team finished the round. Talk about adding insult to injury…

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Director John Krish pitched THE FINISHING LINE to British Transportation Films as a warning against playing on train tracks and vandalizing trains — both of which were big problems in 1977. The short was made to play on TV, but after just a couple of airings, the resulting controversy caused it to be pulled. Some parents worried that it would traumatize children; others worried it would encourage copycats.

In 1979, the film was withdrawn and replaced with A PSA entitled ROBBIE, a much “softer” film warning against playing on train tracks. But here’s the original film in its horrific entirety:

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