Today I continue the ever-expanding journey though my Letterboxd Watchlist, stopping off for what promises to be a month-long venture into horror, taking a look at Death Line (aka Raw Meat, 1972) from Gary Sherman, who also directed Dead and Buried (1981), Wanted: Dead or Alive (1987), and Poltergeist III (1988).
Late one night, Patricia (Sharon Gurney) and her American boyfriend Alex (David Ladd), find an unconscious man sprawled out on a staircase at the Russell Square station of the London Underground. Sorting through the man’s wallet, Alex discovers that the man is a well-to-do member of the OBE. Alex wants to leave him there, but Patricia thinks it odd that a such a man would use public transportation. (She’d know why if she’d seen the film’s opening!) When they finally track down a policeman and return to the scene, the man is gone. The local police investigator, Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasance), interrogates Alex unmercifully, but Alex doesn’t know anything other than what he and Patricia observed. We soon learn that several people have gone missing from the Russell Square station, but you know I won’t tell you why or how.
Who’s Responsible for This?
I’m almost positive I read about this movie in Michael Vaughn’s book The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema, but since I loaned my copy out recently, I can’t be sure. (Maybe I need to buy another copy…) I also think Brian Saur has mentioned this one either on his Just the Discs podcast or on the Pure Cinema Podcast.
Death Line (released as Raw Meat in the U.S.) has some incredibly effective moments mixed with others that seem as if they belong in another movie. Many scenes, including a truly horrific seven-minute tour of the killer’s victims, create an atmosphere of creepiness on the level of Night of the Living Dead (1968) or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Yet Donald Pleasance’s mostly comic performance as the manic police inspector doesn't quite work. Perhaps director Gary Sherman wanted to add some levity to what is essentially a very bleak horror picture. Christopher Lee’s brief appearance as an MI5 operative is over before it can get started, making you wonder if the producers simply wanted Lee’s name on the credits.
Would I watch it again?
Yes, but not anytime soon. The good moments in the film far outweigh the bad (or perhaps I shouldn't call them bad, but head-scratching) ones, but I kept thinking the film should’ve been more effective. I would, however, love to hear the audio commentary on the Blue Underground Blu-ray, which may answer some of my questions about the film.
Where can I find it?
Death Line is currently streaming on the Criterion Channel as part of its ‘70s Horror showcase. It’s also available on the aforementioned Region A Blu-ray from Blue Underground and a Region B release (with few extras) from Network.
Photos: IMDb, Fantastic Voyages, Nostalgia Central