“Raw Meat” (aka “Death Line”) is a truly unsettling experience, a low budget effort that uses its own limitations to achieve a gritty effect. The aspects of filth and decay in this movie are absolutely unnerving, and while the story remains just this side of unbelievable, the very idea of it was enough to make me a little queasy.
As the film opens, the disappearance of a prominent British government official leads the local inspectors to deduce that there’s something strange about a particular station of the London subway. They notice that several other recent disappearances have occurred in this same location, and their suspicions are shared by a young couple who happen to have seen the missing official before his vanishing act. Donald Pleasance is the inspector who inherits the case, and when he investigates the history of the tube station, he discovers that an attempt to extend the tunnel in the late 1800s had met with disaster: a cave-in that buried a group of male and female workers alive.
The truth is that the cave-in only trapped the people; they survived by eating their own dead and actually kept reproducing. They lived in a dank section of the collapsed tunnel, surrounded by filth and rats, inhabiting what used to be a work station on the dig. The ‘disappearances’ are the work of the last surviving descendant of these cannibals, who has been left to carry on after his female companion (who was pregnant) expires.
There are some truly startling images in this film, including an excruciating unbroken tracking shot that explores a room in the underground lair littered with the dismembered, rotting corpses of the cannibal’s latest victims. But what’s best about it is that the gore isn’t the only thing that’s unsettling; the filmmakers also make great use of sound effects and the motion of the camera. There’s a weird performance by Hugh Armstrong, who plays the cannibal man, and it’s atypical because he’s portrayed as sympathetic as well as menacing. He’s in terrible health, we find out he’s carrying a plague, he’s sad that his lady has died, and yet he’s also likely to split your head open with a shovel.
Donald Pleasance turns in a bravura performance as the police inspector, although the accents were a little difficult to understand; you may want to turn on the subtitles. And what could be bad about a movie in which Christopher Lee turns up, even if it’s only for one scene? There are a few inconsistencies in the plot, the most obvious of which is the fact that the cannibals can somehow exit the tunnel to snatch victims away, so we wonder why they wouldn’t just escape. I also wondered where all the light in this collapsed tunnel was coming from; at one point we see a character finding his way with a flashlight, and his silhouette is starkly projected from the side along a wall. But don’t think about that for too long.
Like the inbred cannibals of the story, “Raw Meat” has remained ‘buried’ for a number of years, only recently becoming readily available on DVD. It’s definitely worth your time; it’s easily become one of my favorite 70s horror flicks, and right up there with “Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)” as one of the most disturbing films in general.