There’s a pretty damn interesting chestnut from from 80’s-era nuclear nightmare films available on Youtube — 1983’s “Special Bulletin.” (The link is below.) I was surprised I hadn’t heard of it. I think most 80’s kids remember ABC’s “The Day After.” That infamous television movie was a cultural touchstone that scared a generation of kids. “Special Bulletin” was produced by NBC the same year, actually preceding “The Day After” by nine months. Instead of a world-ending war with Russia, the feature-length special imagined a single incident of nuclear terrorism in Charleston, South Carolina. (I myself had no idea that Charleston was the strategic military nexus that the movie explains it to be.)
“Special Bulletin” was filmed as a “War of the Worlds”-type narrative, consisting exclusively of faux news coverage, and it’s pretty damned good. (It won a handful of Emmys.) It’s just as frightening today — or maybe more so, given the increased threat of precisely this kind of terrorism from stateless groups.
The acting is mostly good, the directing successfully captures the feel of live news coverage, and the absence of a musical score further lends the movie a sense of realism. The story has a few surprises for us, too — the plot setup is creative and interesting, and much more thought went in the the teleplay than I would have expected. The film asks some difficult questions about the role of the media in affecting the outcome of high-profile crimes like the one depicted. (Would such questions be more or less relevant in the age of camera-phones, uploaded ISIS executions and Facebook Live? I’m not sure.)
I was also quite impressed with some of “Special Bulletin’s” thriller elements. (I’d say more, but I will avoid spoilers for anyone who wants to watch it below.)
One thing that detracts from the format’s realism is the fact that some of this movie’s actors are easily recognizable from other roles in the 80’s (although it’s fun spotting them as an 80’s movie fan).
Most viewers my age, for example, will recognize Ed Flanders and Lane Smith. The utterly sexy female reporter who arrives on location at Charleston Harbor is Roxanne Hart, who later played Brenda in “Highlander” (1986). (She’s still quite beautiful, guys, and she’s still making movies.) Most jarring of all, however, is a prominent role played by David Clennon, who any fan of horror-science fiction will recognize as Palmer from John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece, “The Thing.” This is still fun, though — he has that same disarrayed hair. Was it his trademark back in the day?