“Mind the Doors” – Rediscovering ‘Death Line’ (UK 1972 – 87 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - January 30, 2014
“Mind the Doors” – Rediscovering ‘Death Line’ (UK 1972 – 87 mins)

Known in the US under the more sensational title ‘Raw Meat’, the wonderfully grim and atmospheric ‘Death Line’, is a true one-off in Seventies horror. A dark and sometimes gruesome tale, but with a degree of heart, the movie has retained a minor cult following over the years, and rightfully deserves rediscovery for fans of British fright films.

Trapped underground as a result of a cave-in during the Victorian construction era, cannibalistic offspring of the survivors have for years been preying on the public. Now the last surviving cannibal is venturing further above ground in order to find his prey. When a chief civil servant becomes the latest to disappear between the Holborn and Russell Square tube network, Scotland Yard begin to investigate. Additional help comes in the form of a young student and her obnoxious American boyfriend. As this young couple get nearer to the truth, they receive more than they bargained for, from the last of the cannibalistic dwellers lurking beneath.

Acting icon Donald Pleasence, had one of his best roles here as Calhoun, the brash, short-tempered Scotland Yard Inspector, shouting at his staff and berating the public, as he doggedly goes about his investigation. David Ladd and Sharon Gurney play the young student couple who are caught up in the grisly goings-on, with Ladd’s annoying Alex forever slating Gurney’s sympathetic Patricia, for trying to help one of the victims.

Prolific, square-jawed character actor Norman Rossington, is good as Pleasence’s colleague, detective Rogers, while horror legend Christopher Lee, does a brief one-scene cameo as an MI5 officer. Hugh Armstrong does an admirable job as the last of the underground cannibals, billed simply as ‘The Man’. Other support comes from Clive Swift’s inspector Richardson, who explains how the workers first became entombed below ground. There’s also the recognisable James Cossins as the creepy civil servant who meets an untimely end, and the familiar face of Ron Pember, as a cheery tube worker.

American director Gary Sherman does a great job in only his second feature. Sherman went on to make the excellent ‘Dead and Buried’ (’81), another controversial and well made horror, only this time with a shocking, final twist. His later works include the exploitation favourite; ‘Vice Squad’ (’82) and ok sequel; ‘Poltergeist III’ (’88).
The long, tracking shot of the cannibal’s underground dwelling, is extremely well filmed, showing in great detail their lonely, depressive existence. The claustrophobic atmosphere of dripping pipes, rummaging rats and rotting corpses, gives the viewer a more realistic picture of their solitary survival.

There are a few grisly moments including a much censored broom impaling, and a shovel- over-the-head scene. But what sets the film apart from others of its type, are the moments below ground which are shot with a degree of sadness, rather than pure exploitation. You begin to feel some empathy for this creature, as he sees the bleakness of his ‘peoples’ imminent extinction, becoming more apparent.

A terrific late night gem, ‘Death Line’ is a gripping, well made movie. With its British clichés of cups of tea, darts-playing cops, and urban pubs, there is much to enjoy. There are a few pacing problems at times, but overall this largely forgotten horror is well worth catching the last train for!

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