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School of Shock: John Krish on railway scare film THE FINISHING LINE

22/06/2013 19:33 by Kier-La Janisse


Last fall I was teaching a course at The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies on classroom safety films, and after a last minute realization that my fuzzy copy of APACHES wouldn’t cut it on a big screen, my scramble for a replacement led me to John Krish’s ghastly-great railway horror THE FINISHING LINE. Equal parts surreal and scary, I was frankly surprised I hadn’t heard of it when plumbing the catalogue of British Public Information Films for a FANGO article the previous summer. While APACHES has been called ‘The FINAL DESTINATION’ of safety films, THE FINISHING LINE has more balls and more bodies than most PIFs I’ve seen combined. And that’s saying something.

Krish came to direct the 1977 shocker after a long and varied career in the biz; while primarily a documentarian for a diverse array of governmental and corporate producers (placing him at odds with his contemporaries in the post-war Free Cinema Movement), Krish’s genre efforts included sci-fi B-picture THE UNEARTHLY STRANGER (1963) as well as the opening credit sequence for TV’s THE AVENGERS (1961-69) along with children’s films (THE SALVAGE GANG, 1958) and the boldly subversive, recently-unearthed POW drama CAPTURED (1959). At least four of his films went on to be banned, for various reasons discussed below.

It was with some irony that Krish came to work for British Transport on THE FINISHING LINE; they’d fired him decades earlier over a production dispute on THE ELEPHANT WILL NEVER FORGET (1953), a remarkable documentary about the last days of London’s streetcars that went on to become their most acclaimed and beloved film.

THE FINISHING LINE is equally memorable, but its lingering place in the British psyche is more associated with nausea than tearful sentimentality.  In what has been likened to a Python-esque satire (Krish objects to the comparision), THE FINISHING LINE portrays a fantastical ‘sports day’ along a functioning railway line, where schoolchildren participate in a sanctioned barrage of dangerous games including ‘Fence-breaking’, ‘Stone-throwing’, ‘Last Across’ and – most dire of all – ‘The Great Tunnel Walk’. The end result of all of these games is child fatalities, and Krish doesn’t shy away from showing the bloodied bodies of the fallen players. From today’s perspective, it’s a miracle this ever got made, much less funded by a government organization. But I can bet if you saw this film as a kid, there was no way in hell you’d find yourself near a railway line anytime soon.

Upon a recent visit to the UK, I went with filmmaker and sometime FANGO scribe Sean Hogan to Krish’s home in West London, where the 90-year old filmmaker welcomed us for a sit-down interview.


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