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RAW MEAT

This subway tunnel-set shocker is one of the most respected British horror films of the seventies, and the acclaim is largely justified. The film is not without flaws, however!

The Package
     The director of this 1972 film, originally titled DEATH LINE (and retitled RAW MEAT by American International Pictures, a title retained on the MGM DVD), was Gary Sherman, who went on to bigger, though not necessarily better, films like DEAD AND BURIED, POLTERGEIST III and LISA, and is reportedly developing a RAW MEAT remake set in Chicago.
     Horror buffs will be pleased to see Donald Pleasance and Christopher Lee together in the same film, although Leeís role appears to have been included solely for marquee value, and Pleasance, although he has a great deal of screen time, doesnít have much to do.

The Story
     Disembarking from a subway one night, Patricia notices a (seemingly) passed-out man. She gets her boyfriend Alex to alert security officers to the comatose manís plight, but by the time they return to the stairway the body has disappeared.
     A prominent politician and his mistress have recently vanished in the area, and Alex and Patricia become suspects in the disappearances. But the inquisitive Inspector Calhoun is moved to study the history of the subway line, and discovers that a cave-in a hundred years earlier killed several tunnel workers. Might some of those workers have survived underground by eating the flesh of their dead companions?
     That is indeed the case, as a savage man lives in the subway tunnels together with a pregnant woman. Their companions have all died and their flesh stripped clean, leaving these two with no recourse but to cannibalize unwitting subway patrons. But around this point the woman savage dies, leaving the man alone...and desperate.
     Two subway workers lose their lives at the hands of the savage man. He then tries to make a new mate for himself by kidnapping an attractive woman--who, it just so happens, is Patricia. Alex follows her, leading to a nasty showdown in the savage manís lair.

The Direction
     What makes this film a standout is the highly atmospheric direction by Gary Sherman. Directorial highlights include two lengthy and unnerving pans around the savage manís lair, and a mid-film sequence of shockingly frank brutality. The man, played by Hugh Armstrong, is both a pitiable character with entirely human motivations and a repellent monster. Sherman handles this creature so well I find it puzzling that so much of the rest of the film is as misguided as it is.
     Take the central character played by Donald Pleasance. Heís onscreen for most of the film yet has very little to do. Much of the first twenty minutes is taken up with him pontificating behind a desk, and in the end he only turns up after the climactic showdown.
     Itís odd what Sherman and screenwriter Ceri Jones choose to include. An overly lengthy sequence in a bookstore serves to a). show us where a pivotal character works, and b). make the point that heís being tailed by police, yet is otherwise completely unnecessary. The film is packed with superfluous elements like this one, which lessen its power considerably. But still, Shermanís handling of the human monster and his tortured universe is without peer in horror cinema.

 
Vital Statistics

RAW MEAT (a.k.a. DEATH LINE)
Harbor Productions, Inc.

Director: Gary Sherman
Producer: Paul Maslansky
Screenplay: Ceri Jones
Cinematography: Alex Thomson
Editing: Geoffrey Foot
Cast: Donald Pleasance, David Ladd, Norman Rossington, Sharon Gurney, Christopher Lee, Hugh Armstrong, Jane Turner, Clive Swift, James Cossins, Heather Stoney, Hugh Dickson, Jack Woolgar, Ron Pember, Colin McCormack

     

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