Death Line

rawmeat.jpgHere’s the bad news: it’s not as good as Dead & Buried. But it’s still pretty good. Director Gary Sherman’s 1972 feature, known in the U.S. as Raw Meat, is a spooky subway movie that takes place in the London Underground but features images of tunnelled emptiness that should send at least a mild shiver of recognition down the spine of any big-city dweller without the coin to take taxicabs every damn place under the sun. Like Dead & Buried, it involves a cop in over his head, but this time the cop — played in typically amiable style by Donald Pleasence — isn’t in any real danger. Instead, the protagonists are a hip young couple (their shared pad displays poster tributes to Hendrix and Che Guevara) who trip over an unconscious man on their way up the subway stairs after the last train departs the station. She wants to find help; he doesn’t want to get involved. And before a constable can be summoned, the body disappears.

Said disappearance winds up having something to do with plague-ridden cannibals (OK, it’s really just one cannibal now) who’ve lived beneath London for a century following an underground disaster. This is a low-key, low-budget picture, suggesting a link between the tradition of Hammer Horror quality (Christopher Lee even makes an appearance in what amounts to a cameo) and the gory slasher and stalker films that arrived with a vengeance after Halloween‘s debut. (Donald Pleasence plus creepy electronic score. Hmmmm.) But the Sherman style is very much in evidence, starting with a gorgeous color-saturated opening credit sequence in which London imagery racks in and out of focus before the type appears on screen. (If I were making a film today, I’d steal this idea.) And about an hour in, there’s a virtuoso tracking shot that starts with a languid 360-degree pan and goes from there — tracking backward through a window and establishing one of the film’s several chief locations before closing with a slow zoom.

Pretty striking stuff — although the MGM DVD, at least, is so dark that occasionally action seems to vanish in the corners — but simultaneously very s-l-o-w. There’s only so much you can do with a single plague-ridden cannibal living all by himself underground, and it comes as a relief when Sherman cuts away from said cannibal’s grunting, shambling antics to the aboveground investigation led by the cranky, tea-swilling Pleasence, who seems as impatient with hip young couples, diplomats, and smug MI5 types as he is with mysterious killers. Good stuff.

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