Wednesday, October 13, 2010

DVD Review: Raw Meat (1972)

RAW MEAT (1973)

"Beneath Modern London Lives a Tribe of Once Humans. Neither Men Nor Women.... They Are the Raw Meat of the Human Race?"
MGM Home Entertainment

RATED: Unrated
DIRECTOR: Gary Sherman
CAST: Donald Pleasence (Inspector Calhoun), Norman Riossington (Detective Searrgeant Rogers), David Ladd (Alex Campbell), Sharon Gurney (Patricia Wilson), Christopher Lee (Statton-Villiers, MI-5)

SUMMARY: People are disappearing in the Tube tunnels underneath London. When a prominent politician goes missing they call in Scotland Yard's Inspector Calhoun. What he discovers is that the lone survivor of a family of tunnel dwelling cannibals is on the loose and prowling the tunnels in search of RAW MEAT.

FILM: This is one of those films that I've heard about for years from connoisseurs of obscure horror. It definitely has a cult following though I don't think it's widely known or appreciated by most genre fans. RAW MEAT is the British film debut from American director Gary Sherman whom would go onto to direct DEAD & BURIED (1981), a first class suspense horror film featuring an amazing performance from Jack Alberts whom you will know as Grandpa Joe from WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971). Also known as DEATH LINE in the UK, the title was changed to RAW MEAT in the U.S. in an attempt to market it as more of a 70's Grindhouse style film.

As the film begins we see a pervy old chap in a bowler hat propositioning a hooker as he gets a knee to the balls for his troubles. Shortly thereafter the horny bastard is attacked by a snarling figure and is knocked unconscious. A young American college student Alex (David Ladd) and his British girlfriend are on their way home and discover his unconscious body on the stairs of the Underground. They report this to a policeman only to discover that his body has gone missing when they return to the scene. It turns out that the victim is a  local politician and Scotland Yard is called in to investigate. We're then introduced to quite possibly my favorite performance from Donald Pleasence as the sharp tongued, tea sipping Inspector Calhoun. It's a lively performance that outshines his portrayal of Dr. Loomis from HALLOWEEN (1978).  As Calhoun condescendingly interrogates Alex he comes across as a sly prick who's having a great deal of fun at the expense of the long-haired American. Novice actor Ladd just cannot match the character and intensity that veteran actor Pleasence brings to the role, he's like a deer in headlights and the scene suffers for it. Later in the film Pleasence spars with a more worthy opponent, none other than Christopher Lee, in a cameo as MI-5 agent Statton-Villiers. It's a brief but memorable appearance with some snippy banter back and forth between the two horror icons.

Bodies continue to pile up and it is discovered that murders are being committed by a diseased cannibal man that lives in an abandoned part of the subway. He's the lone surviving descendant of a group of miners that were trapped in the tunnel after it collapsed during construction of the Tube in the 1800's.  Apparently these unlucky folks not only survived but procreated and flourished for over a century through a strict regiment of incest and cannibalism. While they've been able to escape the tunnels to occasionally slaughter fresh victims no one along the way figured out to escape to the surface and perhaps stop fucking and eating each other? Okay, so there are a few leaps of logic one must overcome to buy into this scenario, but we as horror folk have turned a blind eye to more than our fair share of inconsistencies in the name of horror, am I right?

There's a great continuous tracking shot in the film within the living space of the cannibal set to the creepy sound of dripping water as the camera slowly pans 360 degree around the room and  reveals numerous mutilated bodies of victims including our horny perv from the start of the film. The maggot ridden corpses are rotting, their facial features having been chewed off and eaten, real grotesque stuff. It's an eerie, disturbing sight as the camera reveals the man crying over the body his dead companion. For a film from 1972 this must have been quite startling sight to theatre goers who had yet to see THE EXORCIST (1973) or THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974). The image of the bearded cannibal man stalking the dark tunnels with gas lantern in hand is a chilling sight indeed. Occasionally mumbling the only words he knows, "Mind the doors", a refrain that he has apparently picked up from the automated PA system on each of the subway cars, it's a nice touch.

I love this film, but that is not to say it's without flaws; its a bit pacey in places and the characters of Alex  (David Ladd) really got on my nerves. If he had disappeared from the film after the initial interrogation I wouldn't have minded. Pleasence and Hugh Armstrong as the cannibal man carry this film for me, particularly Pleasence's iconic performance.

DVD: RAW MEAT is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with mono audio and English language subtitles. It's a good looking print with good depth of blacks though not the crispest image you've ever seen. The mono soundtrack is adequate but I think a newly created 5.1 surround mix could have greatly enhanced the viewing experience and immersed you in the cavernous setting. It's one of those bare bones MGM editions and includes only a theatrical trailer as supplemental material, sometimes just having the film is enough, but after seeing the 2-disc edition of DEAD & BURIED from Blue Underground it really is a bit of a shame that more effort was not put into this release.

VERDICT: My buddy Zachary says RAW MEAT is like THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) set in a subway, and I don't think that's too far off the mark. This is a great watch and I strongly recommend it. A great debut from director Gary Sherman, definitely check out his follow-up film DEAD & BURIED (1981). ***1/2 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)