Black Mirror Traces Its DNA Back To A Groundbreaking Made-For-TV BBC Movie

"Black Mirror" holds a fascinating place in the television cultural landscape. I remember the days when the Channel 4 sci-fi anthology series had just dropped on Netflix, prior to the streaming service developing new seasons of their own. Everyone was excited to watch a new take on "The Twilight Zone" for a more cynical generation, and it was largely warranted.

The episode "15 Million Merits" showed a terrifying reality in which you never get to shut off your advertisements, whereas "Be Right Back" showcased the horrors of trying to recapture a human soul in a synthetic husk. Once Netflix took over, the show tackled even more of our techno-dystopian fears, such as Uber ratings as life currency, electronic prisons, and digital footprint blackmail.

While the series has been likened to a more haunting update on classic anthology horror, "Black Mirror" creator Charlie Brooker was largely influenced by a BBC film. A film so unsettling, it inspired "the night the country didn't sleep" on September 23, 1984.

Threads was a harrowing precursor to the dystopian series

In a 2016 cover story from GQ, Brooker talked how the inspirations for "Black Mirror" could be seen in all forms of television, but it was the infamous BBC film "Threads" that the series creator thought was the most apt comparison:

"There's an episode [of 'The Twilight Zone'] called 'It's a Good Life,' where Billy Mumy plays an all-powerful 6-year-old boy, which is absolutely terrifying. It could be about Kim Jong-un. [But "Black Mirror" is also influenced by] one-off things that the BBC used to do, like 'Threads,' which was about a nuclear war."

The '84 BBC apocalyptic chiller, which /Film's Lee Adams breaks down in spectacular detail here, shows the horrifying effects of nuclear warfare through the lens of the unsuspecting people living in the city of Sheffield. The feature is so tough to watch because its stark realism is presented as if you were watching raw documentary footage. 

Where "Black Mirror" has lost some of its luster, partly due to the frightening absurdities of our own reality, "Threads" is still extremely impactful due to its lack of frills. The episode of "Black Mirror" that best captures the muted dread of Mick Jackson's film is "The National Anthem," which strips the story down to its most horrifying basics. It's cold, it's miserable, and it shows how far we've come to let something like this actually happen. "Threads" grasps on to the very real fear of witnessing a nuclear holocaust devastate our entire way of life, much like how "Black Mirror" feels just real enough to get under our skin. And those fears aren't going away anytime soon.

Every season of "Black Mirror" is currently streaming on Netflix.