Death Line (1972)

Comments Off on Death Line (1972) 01 August 2017


Studio: Blue Underground

Theatrical Release: September 1973 (USA)

Blu Ray Release: June 27, 2017

Director: Gary Sherman


Review by James Klein

It amazes me that Death Line (aka Raw Meat, the more exploitative U.S. title) has never gotten the recognition it has always deserved. I remember reading about the film years and years ago in a John McCarty book about splatter movies (I believe it was The Official Guide to Splatter Movies which has actually two volumes) which had always intrigued me. While the title Raw Meat sounds like a more gruesome, Texas Chainsaw Massacre-inspired title, the film Death Line is a masterfully directed, tense, sad and at times humorous tale of a cannibalistic underground dweller trying to survive underneath Britain’s subway system. 

Right from the opening credits, Death Line begins in an offbeat way with its booming music by Will Malone and Jeremy Rose playing over out of focus shots of the English tube (that’s subway for you dummies). Our main protagonists, Alex and Patricia are on their way back to their apartment after a night on the town who come upon an unconscious man laying on subway steps. When the couple run off to get a conductor, they return to find the unconscious man gone. 

Interrogated by the police, lead by the grumpy, sarcastic Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasance in maybe one of my all-time favorite roles) and his meek sidekick Detective Rogers (Norman Rossington from A Hard’s Day Night ) Alex is drilled about this missing man until the Inspector dismisses Alex (“Get a haircut!”). The Inspector is investigating a series of disappearances at the Russell Square tube station whose only witness / suspect is the young, naive Alex and his kind-hearted girlfriend Patricia. Calhoun soon uncovers an entire hidden subway station left to rot after a cave-in trapped a bunch of people many years ago. Thought to be dead, these people repopulated until a plague wiped most of them out. Only The Man (Hugh Armstrong from The Beastmaster) is still alive, now a hideous monster who lives off human flesh. 

I am finding it hard to write this review on Death Line as I absolutely loved this film and want to give this film the respect it deserves. It’s easier to trash a movie but when there is a film I truly love and admire and I want you readers to seek out, I cannot find the right words to convince one to seek out this wonderfully odd flick. I will give it a shot though.

First off…Donald Pleasance. It’s no surprise when I say what a great performance he gives but his fidgety, rude, ball-busting, tea-drinking Inspector had me cracking up thru most of the film. While the Inspector seems to get the best out of everyone, his one scene where he is put down by possible suspect Mi5 agent Stratton-Villiers (Christopher Lee in a memorable cameo) is a scene-stealer and one of my favorite moments. Just to see these two actors have a scene together is worth seeking out this movie alone. Director Gary Sherman shoots this sequence using cutaways showing the Inspector getting smaller and smaller in size as he’s put down. The fact that Death Line almost forces the viewer to sympathize with the Inspector even when he continues to be wrong on his hunches while being unfazed by his ineptness is something that one nowadays would only see in perhaps a Coen Brother’s film. 

The other performances are just as good: Norman Rossington, David Ladd (Alex), Sharon Gurney (Patricia) and Hugh Armstrong all deliver tremendous performances that just elevate this fantastic film onto a higher pedestal. Armstrong specifically gives a heartfelt but yet terrifying performance as The Man, especially when he says his good-byes to his female companion who dies in his arms. 

Gary Sherman – top-notch directing! Sherman builds so much suspense with his long tracking shots and sudden jump scares, that I felt like I was watching a Hitchcock film. While Sherman went on to direct films that were forgettable (Lisa) campy schlock (Vice Squad) and downright bad (Poltergeist III), Sherman was at his peak with his film debut. His seven minute tracking shot is horrifying and yet jaw-dropping as we see the remains of several victims along with The Man’s living conditions throughout the underground. While Sherman loves his long shots, his tight close up of Patricia as she is taken from behind by The Man near the film’s conclusion is one of the best jump scares in any horror film. 

Blue Underground scores high points with this new blu ray release. This DVD / blu ray combo pack comes with a brand new 2K restoration which looks absolutely flawless. Most impressive is the shadow detail where blacks never look murky or grainy. Having been shot using mostly flashlights and natural lighting during the subway scenes, these moments could have been a disaster if a lesser company put out Death Line. Thankfully the boys and girls at Blue Underground know what the hell they are doing and knocked this baby out of the park. My only gripe: no new 5.1 sound mix. We are given a DTS 2.0 sound mix that’s good but I personally would have loved to hear the sounds of The Man or subway trains throughout my rear speakers. 

The special features are pretty packed. There is an entertaining audio commentary track by Sherman, producer Paul Maslansky, and assistant director Lewis More O’ Ferrall. They speak about the issues of changing the film’s title, the fight over the long tracking shot, the kindness of Donald Pleasance, and much more. It’s a great listen for sure. There are interviews with Sherman and Executive Producers Jay Kanter & Alan Ladd Jr, a separate interview with the now late Hugh Armstrong, and an interview with Maslansky and star David Ladd. For fans of trailers, there is the Death Line trailer and the Raw Meat trailer along with TV spots and radio spots. There is even a booklet inside, a rarity for blu ray’s lately. 

Every time I have watched Death Line, I like it more and more and cannot get over how masterfully directed it is. I love the story of this underground cannibal whose both sympathetic and yet terrifying. The performances are great, especially by Pleasance. The music, cinematography, editing (a nice, tight 87 minutes)…yeah you all need to see this one. Without a doubt this will be one of my favorite blu ray releases this year. 

Movie and blu ray Rating: ★★★★½

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