1972’s cannibal-based horror Death Line (also known in the US as Raw Meat) has been something of a cult favourite among horror fans for years; fans who will be pleased to learn that it has been given a nice re-release treatment by Network with a brand new restoration – and a few extras thrown in, to boot.
For the uninitiated: is Death Line worth tracking down and adding to your collection? It’s a bit of a hard one to answer as Death Line won’t be for everyone, despite its impressive cast and nice horror movie setting on the London Underground. Its offbeat feel, Donald Pleasance’s partly comedic performance, and its sleazy score can make for an at times puzzling viewing experience. But that’s what cult cinema is all about; a unique tone and feel to make it stand out to a certain type of film fan. Not just your average, casual cinema goer.
After finding a man lying dead on the stairs in an underground train station, a young couple decide to notify the police. Of course, the investigation is due to take a sinister turn but that’s not before tea-loving Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasance) makes some enquiries, goes to the pub and has a few too many, makes some more enquiries and eventually discovers that descendants of the survivors of a cave-in have been attacking and eating London’s subway riders to survive living in the dark, cold and damp of the London Underground.
After discovering the dead body, young couple Alex and Patricia (David Ladd and Sharon Gurney) are also interested in what’s happening and so get drawn into the investigation. The more the film goes on, the more we find out about this group of inbred cannibals and how many victims there have been, what is hidden in the place they have called home for many years, and whether Calhoun and his team can stop this reign of terror.
Donald Pleasance heads the cast in a strange but enjoyable performance as the cockney (?) detective inspector. He is clearly attempting to play one of those eccentric-but-actually-a-genius, Sherlock Holmes-type cops; and to be fair he is entertaining enough as he works his way to the final discovery of what lies in those old tunnels.
Also putting in fine performances are David Ladd and Sharon Gurney. Patricia’s eagerness to find out the truth behind the attack(s) puts a strain on their relationship, with Alex stepping up to be her hero eventually. They are a decent pair with good chemistry and Gurney makes quite an alluring female lead. Also notable is Christopher Lee’s short but sweet appearance as MI5 officer, Stratton-Villers. The legendary Sir makes the most of his tiny role by being as enthusiastic as possible and, as you’d expect from an MI5 agent, seems to know more than he is letting on.
Another highlight of Death Line has to be the sleazy 70s soundtrack from Will Malone and Jeremy Rose. The big funky bass line that greets you on the title screen is enough to get you nodding your head for longer than is necessary before you press play. There’s also some nice, gory imagery that’s built up over the course of the film as we discover what’s hidden beneath the tunnels, courtesy of Oscar-nominated cinematographer Alex Thompson. It’s good that you get hints of what’s there throughout, in moments of scenes, and don’t just have everything thrown at you in the final moments. If you are putting it within the cannibal genre, this makes it stand out among the classics of that genre, as it’s not just in-your-face gore. Just hints and snapshots of what’s been going on down there since the early 1900s.
So, an acquired taste it may be. Death Line (Raw Meat) has enough entertaining, creepy and exciting moments to make it decidedly deserving of its ‘Cult Classic’ tag despite never quite reaching the level of some of its fellow 70s horror classics. But it does share its place with 2004s Creep as ‘Best Horror Film Set on the London Underground‘, which can only be a good thing.
Extras for this release include Mind the Doors, an interview with actor Hugh Armstrong who played The Man, the main Cannibal in Death Line and who sadly passed away in 2016. Also included is a stills/image gallery and the theatrical trailer. There is also a limited edition, collectable booklet written by film academic Laura Mayne to go nicely with this release.
Network presents the UK Blu-ray debut of Death Line, out now.