I think it was the American Raw Meat title that made me want to see this movie when I was a kid. Around the time I saw it, or saw some of it, I should stress, I wasn’t yet into horror movies, which makes me wonder now what was it about that title that grabbed my attention? Did I think it was a monster movie? Possibly, since I don’t remember the TV Guide describing it as a cannibal film. The description could have been vague enough to pique my curiosity, but not explicit enough to turn me off. Cannibal movies don’t do a damn thing for me, in fact the idea of a person killing and eating another person turns me off. Plus cannibal movies generally exceed my gore threshold, which is the main reason I’m just not a fan of Lucio Fulci’s zombie movies. At any rate, I started watching it and the instant I saw the gory remains of people I checked out and never looked back.
It wasn’t until the early to mid-2000s when the movie popped back up on my radar in the form of MGM’s 2003 DVD. For some reason I had the idea of wanting to revisit it. I bought the DVD and got about thirty or forty-minutes in when, once again, I checked out. Not because of the gore this time, but because the damn movie was boring me to tears.
Here we are in 2017 and there’s a blu-ray in existence and for some reason here I am again wanting to see it. Why do I expect this time to be any different? Well, since I last saw it I’ve had a change of opinion about more than a few movies I once loathed, or was indifferent to, in my younger years. Nostalgia is also a big factor, since I can still remember when I first saw it, so that’s also driving me now more than ever. In fact the older I get the more nostalgic I become towards just about anything I saw when I was a kid up to my mid-twenties and I’m currently in my late forties. So, in a few days, I’ll let you all know what I think about this movie at the ripe “old age” of forty-eight.
In London in 1892 when their version of our subway, known to U.K. residents as the Tube, was being built a tragic collapse occurred trapping several men and women. Unable to help and presuming them dead construction went on, but that part of the Tube was never finished and subsequently ignored for centuries. The movie follows three pairs of characters, two of which cross paths early on, but it’s not until the final act when all three are finally caught in the same web.
The first pair are collegians Alex Campbell (David Ladd) and Patricia Wilson (Sharon Gurney), she’s British, he’s American and kind of a dick, because one night after returning home on the Tube they encounter a man half dead, or half-unconscious, depending on which of the couple you want to believe, on a stairwell. His I.D. says he’s James Manfred, OBE (the late James Cossins), a civil servant, who will be missed, if he disappears, and he’s in the process of disappearing right now. Earlier we saw him wondering the London Underground looking for some sexual action from a hooker. He only got a kick in the sack. But “something” happened to him to get him half- dead on that stairwell. I mentioned earlier Alex is kind of a dick, he assumes the guy is a drunk and in New York you normally step over these types and move on. Patricia, thank God, has some sympathy and demands they have a look at him. Up top she even has to pressure him again to get him to notify a cop. Both men go back down, but by the time they get there he’s gone. Life goes on.
The next couple is Inspector Calhoun (the late Donald Pleasence) and Detective Sergeant Rogers (the late Norman Rossington) who are charged with finding out where James Manfred has disappeared to. Like I said a civil servant goes missing and people notice. There have been a few “disappearances” from the Russell Square area of the underground, with the last sightings of the victims being right in that vicinity.
And last, but certainly not least by any means, is the final couple, two, seriously diseased looking tramps, at least that’s what you could construe upon first sight, but their origins go deeper than that. Neither one can speak, guttural sounds are all they can make, and the female (June Turner) appears to be dying. That man who was unconscious is now seen to be dead (look close on some of those scenes because the actor occasionally blinks), and in the company of these two in some hidden lair deep within the tunnels of the Tube. It gets worse . . . Manfred’s body is in a room with other corpses, some hanging on hooks and all in a state that would have you chewing back your puke if you were really there experiencing all this. There are body parts visible too. The female dies and the Man (the late Hugh Armstrong) grieves. One can assume this was a loved one. He takes her to a room full of other corpses, but these are stacked nicely on shelves, and there’s a lot, some looking mummified.
Those men and women presumed dead in that 1892 tunnel collapse never died, they lived, but unable to get out the only natural thing they could do was to cannibalize the dead when hunger struck, and here these people lived and bred and created their own society, each generation devolving more and more into cannibalistic inbreeds. Obviously at some point we can assume they found their way out and looked at us “normals” as food, hence the occasional “disappearance” from the Underground. The movie’s focus is on the last two surviving members, and with the woman now dead, this Man is now the last.
The late Christopher Lee puts in a five-minute cameo as MI5 investigator, Stratton-Villiers, whom Calhoun unwittingly bumps into while checking out Manfred’s apartment. It’s clear neither like one another.
Still grieving “The Man,” as he’s referred to in the end credits, re-appears in the Tube either looking for “food,” or eager to take out is grieving anger upon anyone he bumps into, perhaps, both, and three workmen end up being victims. Obviously there’s gore in this flick, but it’s not overdone. Aside from the bodies seen in the beginning, one workman takes a shovel to the head, as in The Man wielded it like an ax; another is impaled on a broomstick; another is beaten to death. Well, they couldn’t have been food since they’re left where they fell. These bodies give Calhoun more insight into the perp, like he’s pretty damn strong, had to be to impale a dude on a broom handle, and through the blood he left behind (the three men were able to beat him up a bit before he got the drop on him) its revealed he’s got septicemic plague! Now it makes sense what his mate probably died of. But he’s only contagious if he bites you, the medical examiner tells Calhoun.
In the final act The Man stumbles upon Alex and Patricia in the Tube and takes Patricia. It looks like he was going to use her for food, but decides to try and bond with her, which just doesn’t work. When pressured to communicate all he can say is “Mind the doors.” He also tries to rape her later on.
His end comes not at the hands of any gunshot you would expect Calhoun or Alex to wield, but from the plague he has. Alex having some idea what might be happening ventured into the Tube after Patricia failed to come home and finds her just as she’s being molested. He stomps on the cannibal pretty good, and the man retreats back to where he shelved his mate and dies on top of her. By this time Calhoun and the cops have also ventured into the closed off section of the tunnels and found the collegians, not to mention the dead cannibal cemetery room, their living quarters and where they prepared all their “food.”
This movie is unique in that the cannibal isn’t entirely the “bad guy.” Technically, yes, he is, but he’s the “bad guy” the same way a cheetah is when it runs down and kills an antelope. And he’s performance is sympathetic enough you can understand his grief after his mate dies and feel sort of sorry for him those couple of times he’s actually beaten up by the people he’s trying to accost and/or kill.
Never underestimate the power a remastered film (in this case a “2K remaster from the original uncensored camera negative”) can have on changing your opinion on a once frowned upon, or indifferent to, movie. It was that, and, maybe, I was just in the mood for it this time, but I found myself appreciating the movie, even liking it, for the first time in my life. That would make two films of Director Gary Sherman I now adore. His Dead & Buried (1981) is probably the most unique take on “zombies” ever to exist. God, I need to review that one at some point too.
Death Line made its debut on disc (DVD) here in the States back in 2003 from MGM under the American re-title, Raw Meat; it was the uncut version. As I understand it Gary Sherman hated the American title, which is why this blu-ray sports the original Death Line one. It’s finally set to hit blu-ray on June 27th from genre distributor Blue Underground in a limited DVD/Blu-ray combo edition (only 3,000 units pressed). You can order it here on Amazon, or on Blue Underground’s site.
REVERSE COVER ART (BELOW)
INSIDE & BOOKLET (BELOW)
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.85:1 high definition widescreen—2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo—English SDH, French, Spanish subs (REGION FREE)
The 2K remaster looks gorgeous!
Extras Included . . .
- Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Gary Sherman, Producer Paul Maslansky, and Assistant Director Lewis More O’Ferrall
- Tales From The Tube: Interview with Co-Writer/Director Gary Sherman and Executive Producers Jay Kanter & Alan Ladd Jr. (18:51)
- From The Depths: Interview with Star David Ladd and Producer Paul Maslansky (12:41)
- Mind The Doors: Interview with Star Hugh Armstrong (15:36)
- Poster & Still Gallery (110 photos)
- DEATH LINE Trailer
- RAW MEAT Trailer
- RAW MEAT TV Spots
- RAW MEAT Radio Spots
- Collectible Booklet featuring new writing by authors Michael Gingold and Christopher Gullo
Blue Underground has put together an excellent batch of extras. I had no idea Hugh Armstrong was dead until the end credits on his featurette came up. He died last year. The commentary is great too. The morgue they filmed in was real with a real morgue attendant in the shot in the back! Lots of fun anecdotes about Donald Pleasence too. Had fun listening to it.
If you’re looking for a night’s entertainment with a similar theme as Death Line, might I suggest Christopher Smith’s Creep (2004) and the Clive Barker adapted The Midnight Meat Train (2008). And if you’re looking for something more literary check out the 1982 novel Creepers by Robert Craig. Have fun and for God’s sake mind those fuckin’ doors!