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August 26, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #34 - Raw Meat

If you plan on reading the rest of this review - in which I will talk about what's most definitely my favorite underground cannibals in the London underground movie of the 1970s - I strongly recommend scrolling down to the bottom of this post and clicking play to hear what's most definitely one of the most funktastic horror themes of all-time.  Believe me, it'll set the mood.  Then come back up here, of course.

Now that we've established that, and now that you've been soothed by some pulsating tones and a tangy cymbal, let's talk about Raw Meat, aka Death Line.  The directorial debut of Gary Sherman - who went on to direct two other midnight movie faves of mine (Dead and Buried & Vice Squad) - tells the tale of an American student and his girlfriend who insist upon being inside London's tube stations late at night.  They forget to mind the gap, however, and this gap happens to be inhabited by those underground cannibals I mentioned above.
Also involved in the plot is an eccentric tea-loving Inspector, played by Donald Pleasence, assisted by a detective sergeant played by Norman Rossington.  While I love Pleasence in almost everything, I feel very comfortable saying that this is the most fun I've ever seen him having on screen.  It's a goofy persona - offset by a cameo by the great Christopher Lee as a mustached rival MI5 agent - that allows Pleasence plenty of opportunities to ham it up.  There's a lot of comedy involving his character, and it adds a lot of charm to the film.

The meat of the film - pun intended - comes in the methodical and sweeping scenes where we follow the hungry residents of the underground caverns; modern day cave dwellers who have to trap their food to stay alive.  These segments are filled with silence, as the camera slowly tracks the scenery and uncovers the grisly scenes of their crimes.  The images captured are bloody and graphic, setting a dark tone for the film.  (Click here for a prime example that I think is a little too graphic to throw up on this PG-13 site).
The rest of the movie follows that American student and his girlfriend, who are relatively oblivious to the possibilities below them.  They're entitled people in an entitled land - the type of people who don't want to see The French Connection because it's "too violent" - who have no idea that there's anything unsettling living below them.  The duo - played by David Ladd and Sharon Gurney - aren't the most interesting characters (though Gurney's huge hair is fantastic) but their part of the story is essential to set up the doubt in Pleasence's inspector's mind.

As the film slowly moves to its final act (if there is a complaint that can be made against Raw Meat, it's the film's pacing) the paths of the Inspector, the teens, and the cannibals - of course - cross paths.  The finale, like the earlier scenes in the underground, builds quietly and slowly to a likeable final moment. 
Raw Meat is an odd duck in the '70s horror scene.  It's not Hammer, it's not Amicus, and it's not Hollywood or grindhouse.  But there's a charm in it that catches my eye, which starts with that groovy theme and spreads through Pleasence and Lee's performances and the underground darkness.  I can't entirely defend the film as a horror masterpiece, but I always find some kind of connection with its unique chills and laughs.  As far as '70s Cult movies go, this one's my funky brethren.

And, just in case you need it after that awesome theme, here's the trailer


Anonymous said...

I can't believe I've never heard of this one, thanks for bringing it to my attention!!!
Dreaded Dreams
Petunia Scareum

Chris Regan said...

Great review, I agree Pleasance is fantastic in it!

Emily Louise Church said...

Never heard of this movie before, looks epic.

By the way if you follow my blog you'll have to unfollow and refollow for my posts to show in your dashboard. Just changed over to my own URL.