IF YOU’VE ever been on a subway platform you have probably gazed into the blackness of a dank tunnel and wondered if anyone—or, any thing—was living in there. Maybe you even got a chill up your spine when you realized that if anything actually was living in there, it was probably looking back at you. It’s a common theme, but one that is explored with uncommon style in director Gary Sherman‘s excellent 1972 shocker, Death Line (aka Raw Meat).
It’s a remarkable film, one of the very best to emerge from the British horror boom of the 1970s, though surprisingly obscure even among horror fans. But hopefully that’s about to change as Death Line is now available in a first-class Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Blue Underground, fully restored in 2K from an uncensored camera negative and loaded with extras.
As it turns out, there is something living in subway tunnels beneath London: People—the feral, diseased descendants of 19th-century workers who were trapped by a cave-in and left to fend for themselves. And fend they did, living off of the flesh of their own dead until that ran out and they were forced to venture out in search of fresh victims.
Starring Donald Pleasence, David Ladd, Norman Rossington, and Sharon Gurney, and featuring a brief but memorable appearance by Christopher Lee, Death Line follows two parallel plotlines on its way to an unforgettable conclusion. On one side there are the police, led by the wry and world-weary Inspector Calhoun (Pleasence), and on the other, a ferocious but deeply sympathetic tunnel-dweller (Hugh Armstrong) who has just become the last of his kind and is none too happy about it.
Director Gary Sherman, who would go on to direct the similarly effective Dead & Buried (1981), was a successful director of TV commercials when he made his feature debut with Death Line, and it really shows. He tells the story in an economical and highly visual way, as a director of ads would tend to do. But there is also a tremendous exuberance on display, a full embrace of even the most grizzly goings-on, which suggests a first-time filmmaker out to make his mark by playing the material for all it’s worth.
Sherman is aided in this task by a pair of magnificent performances from Pleasence and Armstrong. Horror fans who know and love the late Mr. Pleasence mainly from his appearances in the Halloween films will be surprised to find out just how funny he was; and fans of Frankenstein will likely spot a bit of the Monster in Armstrong’s feral cannibal, a tragic figure “created” by the bad actions of others, who is nevertheless insanely volatile and deadly dangerous.
Dripping with atmosphere and lurid, drive-in charm, Death Line is an outstanding piece of cinema that remains with you long after the last train has left the station.