Donald Pleasence gives such a uniquely eccentric performance as Inspector Calhoun in this low-budget Brit horror from the early 1970s - filmed in and around a disused Tube station one freezing cold November - he’s almost as memorable as Death Line’s extraordinary premise, one guaranteed to have chilled television viewers catching this on late-night broadcasts during the following decade. Thanks to Network/Blue Umbrella’s decision to source this newly restored 2K edition from the original camera negative, viewers can now go back and enjoy the film once again in pristine condition; the underground sequences are completely grain-free and look stunning.
Death Line - retitled Raw Meat in America, to accentuate its cannibalistic undertone - starts with a highly distinctive sequence (evocatively scored by heavy metal producer Wil Malone) in which we see the bowler-hatted James Cossins visiting a strip club and subsequently attempting to procure sex for money in the Tube station. When a female student (Sharon Gurney) and her American boyfriend (David Ladd) board the last train of the night, they discover Cossins - now revealed to be cabinet minister James Manfred, OBE - unconscious and possibly the victim of an attack. But once they’ve reported the incident, the body has disappeared, and so Pleasence and his sidekick, the amiably dry Norman Rossington as D.S. Rogers, are brought in to investigate.
This isn’t just a grim and gruesome British answer to the rising tide of low-budget, explicit American horror flicks, though - although the make-up effects are pretty gruesome, it has to be said. Rather, there’s an attempt made to understand and even empathise with Hugh Armstrong’s near-mute troglodyte, and from around the half-hour mark we’re treated to occasionally rather long excursions into his underground lair, which unfortunately break up the pace of D.I. Calhoun’s investigation as much as they add atmosphere to the narrative. Writer and director Gary Sherman at least succeeds in creating a film that bothers to flesh out its antagonist, and this also pre-empts the similarly-themed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre by a couple of years.
As is often the case with vintage British films of a particular budget and ambition, it’s the actors who draw you back to it. Donald Pleasence is given free rein to pretty much play Calhoun as he pleases, and if the portrayal is somewhat fanciful, it’s also incredibly engaging. Meanwhile, Christopher Lee turns up for a single scene to bring a bit of balancing gravity to proceedings, while Hugh Dickson is terrifically understated as Dr. Bacon and even Clive Swift adds a little unconventionality.
Beyond the trailer there’s only a rather sweet quarter-hour interview with Armstrong to bulk the release out, but between the feature and its wonderful restoration there’s more than enough here to tempt the discerning Blu-ray consumer.
Extras: trailer, Hugh Armstrong interview
DEATH LINE (aka RAW MEAT) / DIRECTOR: GARY SHERMAN / SCREENPLAY: GARY SHERMAN / STARRING: DONALD PLEASENCE, NORMAN ROSSINGTON, DAVID LADD, SHARON GURNEY, HUGH ARMSTRONG, CHRISTOPHER LEE / CERT: 18 / RELEASE DATE: 27TH AUGUST 2018