Wednesday, June 21, 2017

DEATH LINE (AKA RAW MEAT) (1973) (Blu-ray Review)

2-Disc Limited Collector's Edition DVD/BD Combo 

Label: Blue Underground

Release Date: June 27th 2017 
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 87 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono, Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono with Optional English subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Gary Sherman
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Norman Rossington, David Ladd, Sharon Gurney, Hugh Armstrong, Christopher Lee

Beneath Modern London Lives a Tribe of Once Humans. Neither Men nor Women... They are the Raw Meat of the Human Race! 

Death Line (1972) is the British film debut from American director Gary Sherman whom would go onto to direct the macabre Dead And Buried (1981), a first class suspense horror film featuring an amazing performance from Jack Alberts (Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) (1971), he also directed the much maligned Poltergeist III (1988), but before all that there was the British horror-thriller Death Line, also known as Raw Meat in the U.S. where distributor American International Pictures chopped it up and retitled it hoping to attract a grindhouse audience. 

As the film begins there's a pervy old chap in a bowler hat looking at porn in the red light district before propositioning a hooker down in the London Underground subway, he offers cash for ass but instead gets a knee to the balls for his troubles. As the prostitute runs off the now-aching horny bastard is attacked by a snarling unseen figure, he's knocked unconscious where he is found by young American college student Alex (David Ladd, Wild Geese) and his British girlfriend (Sharon Gurney, Crucible of Horror). The young couple argue a bit about whether the old chap needs aid or is just passed out drunk, but they report it to a policeman only to discover that his body has gone missing by the time they return. It turns out that the victim is a local politician of some importance. We're then introduced to what is quite possibly my favorite performance from Donald Pleasence as the sharp tongued, tea sipping Inspector Calhoun, a lively performance that, in my opinion, outshines his portrayal of Dr. Loomis from Halloween (1978) by a country mile, a dry-witted and colorful character.

Calhoun condescendingly interrogates Alex, coming off as a sly prick who's having a great deal of fun at the expense of the long-haired American, commenting that he should get a haircut. Noticeably, Ladd cannot match the character and intensity that the veteran actor Pleasence brings to the role, he's looks like a deer caught in headlights and the scene suffers for it a bit. Later in the film Pleasence spars with a more worthy opponent, none other than Christopher Lee (Prince of Darkness), in a brief cameo as MI-5 agent Statton-Villiers, the brief but memorable appearance offers some snippy banter back and forth between the two horror icons, it great fun even if it tossed in there as a bit of marquee value for the adverts. 

As people continue to go missing on this particular stretch of the Tube we discover that murders are being committed by a diseased cannibal man that lives in an abandoned part of the subway tunnels. He's the lone surviving descendant of a group of miners that were trapped in the tunnel after it collapsed during construction back in the 1800's.  Apparently these unlucky bastards not only survived but procreated and flourished for nearly a century through a strict regiment of incest, murder and cannibalism. So, I thought to myself, while they've been able to escape the tunnels to occasionally wander out for some fresh meat from time to time, 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 long turned a blind eye to more than our fair share of inconsistencies in the name of horror, am I right?

The film has some very nice cinematography, including a long tracking shot within the living space of the cannibal, known only as "the man", played by Hugh Armstrong (The Beastmaster), set to the creepy sound of dripping water as the camera slowly pans 360 degree around the room revealing numerous mutilated, half-eaten corpses of victims, including our horny perv from the start of the film. The maggot ridden corpses are rotting, some of their facial features having been chewed off and eaten, it's strong, macabre stuff. It's an eerie sight as the camera reveals the man crying over the body his very recently dead companion, and I was struck by how much pathos Armstrong brought to the role, he's half sickening, and half pathetic, you actually feel some sympathy for this monster. 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 imagery from the man's lair of the corpses is on par with anything from TCM. The image of the bearded cannibal man stalking the dark tunnels with a gas lantern in hand is a chilling sight indeed, occasionally mumbling or calling out the only words he seems to know, "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, creepy touch, one of many. 

I love this film, but that is not to say it's without flaws, it's a bit pacey in places, and Ladd's portrayal of Alex really gnawed on my nerves, not because the character was annoying, but Ladd is so damn wooden. If he had disappeared altogether from the film after the initial interrogation, or had fallen prey to the cannibal man, I wouldn't have minded at all. However, Pleasence as the piss and vinegar Calhoun, and Armstrong as the sympathetic cannibal man carry the film for me, even if the finale is a bit short and wraps up too quickly. Calhoun is also ably assisted by Detective Sergeant Rogers (Norman Rossington, Hard Day's Night) who pairs well with the sardonic detective, and Sharon Gurney is cute as a button as Alex's better half, who must fight for her life when she is later abducted by "the man" and taken to his tunnel lair, offering up some nice inner strength and blood curdling screams. 

Audio/Video: Death Line (aka Raw Meat) arrives on Blu-ray from Blue Underground fully restored in 2K from the original uncensored camera negative, exclusive to this release, framed in the original widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1, looking gorgeous all the way around. Film grain is finely managed, looking filmic and natural, more so than on the problematic 2003 DVD. The movie is dark as Hell in some scenes, the scenes in the cannibal lair were always dark and unsightly, burdened by heavy grain, but the details and shadow detail are crisper and clearer here, they look great. Colors are strong, muted by design with lots of browns, but there's some nice candy-colored lensing during the opening credit sequences that pop nicely. Audio is capably handled by an English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono 2.0 track, it's not dynamic but is crisp and clean, well-balanced and the snaky burlesque main theme from composers Wil Malone and Jeremy Rose sounds great, optional English subtitles are included. 

Onto the disc extras Blue Underground do not skimp, we get a brand new commentary from co-writer/director Gary Sherman, Producer Paul Maslansky, and Assistant Director Lewis More O’Ferrall moderated by David Gregory. It goes into great detail about the origins and making of the film, beginning with original director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) dropping out of the project to work for Roger Corman. It's a great track loaded with fun facts and trivia fans of the movie will love.  There are also three NEW interview featurettes with Star David Ladd and Producer Paul Maslansky (13 min), Co-Writer/Director Gary Sherman and Executive Producers Jay Kanter and Alan Ladd Jr. (19 min), and Star Hugh Armstrong (16 min), plus trailers, TV spots, radio spots and a gallery of various posters, the US press book, lobby cards,  stills, and a gallery of home video releases through the years from various territories.

This release comes housed in Criterion-style clear keepcase, which BU tend to use for their prestige release, it comes with a reversible sleeve of artwork featuring the Death Line image of "the man" walking through the tunnel, in addition to that sweet, though very misleading, Raw Meat poster art used by AIP to advertise the American cut, I prefer this option, it's a fun, vibrant painting. We also get a glossy 20-page collectible booklet featuring new writing by former Fangoria editor Michael Gingold, an appreciation of director Gary Sherman and the film, and a Donald Pleasence bio from Christopher Gullo, author of The Films of Donald Pleasence. The booklet also features images from the film and poster artwork. This is a 2-disc DVD/BD set, the DVD offering the same feature and extras is standard definition, with each disc having separate Death Line/Raw Meat artwork.

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Gary Sherman, Producer Paul Maslansky, and Assistant Director Lewis More O’Ferrall
- Tales From The Tube – Interview with Co-Writer/Director Gary Sherman and Executive Producers Jay Kanter and Alan Ladd Jr. (19 min) HD 
- From The Depths – Interview with Star David Ladd and Producer Paul Maslansky (13 min) HD 
- Mind The Doors – Interview with Star Hugh Armstrong (16 min) HD 
- DEATH LINE Trailer (2 min) 
- RAW MEAT Trailer (2 min) 
- 3 RAW MEAT TV Spots (2 min) 
- 2 RAW MEAT Radio Spots (2 min) 
- Poster and Still Gallery
- BONUS 20-pg.Collectible Booklet featuring new writing by authors Michael Gingold and Christopher Gullo

Death Line (1972) is terrific and terrifying film from Gary Sherman (Dead and Buried), the brand new (and long overdue) 2K restoration from Blue Underground is phenomenal and loaded with great new extras. This 70's carnage classic has never looked better on home video and I hope it gets some renewed notice for the fantastic fright film that it is, highly recommended.