DEATH LINE (aka RAW MEAT)Blue Underground Blu Ray/DVD combo (DEATH LINE ,K.L. Productions/released by Rank (U.K.)1972; A.I.P,1973 as RAW MEAT ). color. 87 minutes. Region Free. $39.98 https://www.amazon.com/Death-Line-Limited-Combo-Blu-ray/dp/B06ZZZN1TS/
The 1970s was a time when horror films were changing. Hammer Films biggest hits were their t.v. based comedies,while their final pairing of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee was the barely released THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA . Traditional horror was on it’s way out ,as major studios would soon be pouring millions into the type of films that smaller studios used to make .,among them THE EXORCIST (W.B.). Still ,there were still several intelligent and interesting British horrors made although they too got minimal releases outside of the U.K.,such as THE WICKER MAN (British Lion)and DEATHLINE (K.L.Productions,released by J.Arthur Rank in the U.K. ,aka RAW MEAT via A.I.P. in the U.S.).
When people start vanishing in the London subway system ,the police ,led by Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasence ,seemingly having a grand time in the role) is put in charge of the investigation. What he discovers involves a cave in from the late 19th century and cannibalism.
The film was writer /director Gary Sherman’s debut feature (he had made a short film in 1966 called THE LEGEND OF BO DIDDLEY). Sherman had the original story idea which was expanded by Ceri Jones into the screenplay. Producer Paul Maslansky had previously backed Michael Reeves debut features (CASTLE OF THE LVING DEAD (1964 Italy,released by Tigon in the U.K. and Woollner Brothers in the U.S. IN 1965;and SHE BEAST (1966 Italy,released by Europix in the U.S. in 1967)as well as John Hough’s debut SUDDEN TERROR(1970,MGM- EMI,NATIONAL GENERAL in the U.S. 1971),so he was a producer willing to take a chance on a creative novice.
J.Arthur Rank Film distributed the film in the U.K. where it had some success as a co-bill to the Mark Lester starrer NIGHT HAIR CHILD . However, in the U.S., it was re-titled as RAW MEAT in 1973,with a misleading poster that made it seemed that the underground was swarming with a group of near naked zombies,and the film did sluggish business.
When it was released to television in the early 1980s ,it was in dark murky prints and edited for broadcast. It seemed to have been completely over looked in the U.S. VHS release marketplace, only getting a bare bones (get it?) DVD release by MGM in 2003.
The film has been cleaned up and given a new 1080p transfer from a 2k master,restoring it to a Wide-screen 1.85:1 / 16×9 ratio . The film has some grain,due to it’s low budget but the miracle that the lighting crew did on lighting vast areas of the subway with little lighting equipment is addressed in the commentary track.
Indeed, the commentary track is one of the most fun and informative that I have heard in some time. It involves director Sherman, producer Maslansky, and a.d. Lewis More O’Ferrall discussing the genesis of the film ,its cast, shooting and distribution. There recollections are quite vivid for a project that they worked on some 46 years years ago,and you can sense the affection that they have for the project.
One interesting bit was the cameo by Christopher Lee . It was hard to shoot a dialogue scene between he and Pleasence due to their height difference and so the director used it to his advantage ,for they shot the men in separate takes, and the camera edged higher on Pleasence to show that he was being diminished by his bowler hatted superior, Stratton-Villiers, MI5 (Lee).
Also discussed is Norman Rossington (best known to American viewers for his role as The Beatles ‘ manager Norm in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT(U.A.,1964) but in the U.K. he was a very well regarded and well known performer.
Actor Hugh Armstrong is rightfully given credit for his exceptional sympathy that can switch to savagery quickly in the role of “The Man”. I doubt he ever forgot his dialogue, as his lines consisted of the one phrase :”Minddadoors” (Mind The Doors,which was often shouted as the doors on the railway carriages closed) .That he can put so many different feelings and emphasis on that one phrase is a credit to his acting skill.
The film script had to be submitted to the London Underground for approval ,and so a false script was provided and given approval. The film’s U.K. release poster also caused some stir with the London Underground as well.
Interestingly, Marlon Brando was attached to the production but dropped out when his son Christian became ill.
Back to the BLUE UNDERGROUND release. The sound DTS-HD Mono / Dolby Digital Mono .It is perfectly adequate and quite clear,with no need to play around with shifting speakers.
Tales From The Tube – is a short video Interview with Co-Writer/Director Gary Sherman and Executive Producers Jay Kanter & Alan Ladd Jr.
From The Depths – another short video Interview with Star David Ladd (grandson of the legendary Alan) and Producer Paul Maslansky.
Mind The Doors -An Interview With Hugh Armstrong. The charming gentleman talks about how he became an actor and his role in DEATH LINE, which involved a lot of improvisation.
If that isn’t enough for you ,there is a marvelous bonus collectible booklet written by Michael Gingold of Fangoria as well as author Christopher Gallo (THE FILMS OF DONALD PLEASENCE http://www.bearmanormedia.com/the-films-of-donald-pleasence-softcover-edition-by-christopher-gullo).
The DVD cover can be reversed ,as one side is for DEATHLINE and the other is the RAW MEAT poster.
DEATH LINE was screened at Lincoln Center as part of their Horror Series in 2002, and director Guillermo Del Toro declared it to be one of his all time favorites. That is a pretty major endorsement for the film.
I think that if you pick up this BLUE UNDERGROUND release of DEATH LINE, that it may become one of your favorites as well.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNVVjYhketY
Kevin G Shinnick