"The Finishing Line" is a 1977 British safety movie about encouraging kids not to play on train tracks.
That is to say, it's a horrific festival of cruelty, injury, and gory death.
The story (a short one, circa 20 minutes) is a fantasy. An imaginative boy wonders about playing games across railroads, and the film plays it out. What looks like two hundred kids compete in races, rock-throwing contests, and games of walking into onrushing trains. Casualties accumulate, tended by very bland and unmoved adults. A brass band wheezes while judges award points for accomplishments and mayhem. It's like a dark, 1970s British version of Battle Royale (2000).
Simon Mays, skeletal biologist at Historic England, said: “The idea that the Wharram Percy bones are the remains of corpses burnt and dismembered to stop them walking from their graves seems to fit the evidence best. If we are right, then this is the first good archaeological evidence we have for this practice.”
Let's back up. Here's context, some ongoing research into human remains:
When the bones were found in the 1960s the archaeologists thought they were probably older than the village, and belonged to early Romano-British settlers whose remains were disturbed and reburied by the villagers. The truth has proved to be more sinister...
The archaeologists who studied a collection of human bones – including the remains of adults, teenagers and children excavated more than half a century ago, and dated back to the period between the 11th and 14th century – rejected gruesome possibilities including cannibalism in times of famine, or the massacre of outsiders. The cut marks were in the wrong place for butchery, and isotope analysis of the teeth showed that the people came from the same area as the villagers of Wharram Percy in North Yorkshire – a once flourishing village which had been completely deserted by the early 16th century.
And now the new idea:
The archaeologists studied 137 pieces of broken human bones, found in the pits of the village. Their conclusion, published on Monday in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, is that the most plausible explanation for the burn marks and cuts found on the skulls and upper body bones was deliberate mutilation after death. The scientists believe the intention was to keep the dead from walking and spreading disease or attacking the living.
Medieval sources offer various remedies for dealing with the restless dead, believed to be individuals who were evil or cursed in life and still bore a grudge against the living in death. Solutions included digging up and decapitating or burning the skeletons. The condition of the Wharram Percy bones suggests that the bodies were decapitated quite soon after death, when the bones were still soft, and burned.
Not all grave robbery deterrents involved ammunition
How to protect dead bodies from grave robbing? One clever 19th-century solution was the coffin torpedo. The Atlas Obscura article has all kinds of good stuff.
One model was designed to work like this:
Philip. K Clover, a Columbus, Ohio artist, patented an early coffin torpedo in 1878. Clover’s instrument functioned like a small shotgun secured inside the coffin lid in order to “prevent the unauthorized resurrection of dead bodies,” as the inventor put it. If someone tried to remove a buried body, the torpedo would fire out a lethal blast of lead balls when the lid was pried open.
Another had a related yet different approach:
[F]ormer Circleville probate judge Thomas N. Howell, patented a grave torpedo of his own on December 20, 1881. Unlike the Clover torpedo, Howell’s gadget was a shell buried above the coffin and wired to it. This worked like a landmine and would detonate when thieves ran into the wiring.
This, global friends, is how Americans defend their dead:
“Sleep well sweet angel, let no fears of ghouls disturb thy rest, for above thy shrouded form lies a torpedo, ready to make minced meat of anyone who attempts to convey you to the pickling vat,” read an advertisement for the Howell torpedo.