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Raw Meat

Raw Meat
MGM Home Entertainment
1972 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 88 min. / Death Line / Street Date August 26, 2003 / 14.95
Starring Donald Pleasence, Norman Rossington, David Ladd, Sharon Gurney, Hugh Armstrong, June Turner, Christopher Lee
Cinematography Alex Thomson
Art Direction Dennis Gordon-Orr
Film Editor Geoffrey Foot
Original Music Jeremy Rose, Malone Wil
Written by Ceri Jones from a story by Gary Sherman
Produced by Paul Maslansky
Directed by Gary Sherman

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Known equally well under the less garish title Death Line, Raw Meat has been a highly over-praised horror thriller for twenty years. Lauded in reference books like the Hardy Encyclopedia of Horror Movies, rumors persisted that it was a Guignol masterpiece apart from and superior to the general line of commercial exploitation.

Surprisingly serious in its conception, Raw Meat is well directed and acted and doesn't show frayed edges the way other low budget horror films frequently do - as with the celebrated The Sorcerers, for instance. But good intentions aside, it's also not going to be a particularly satisfying experience for anyone except a die-hard horror fan looking for vintage cannibal gore.


When an important personage disappears in a London Underground station, Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasance) and Detective Rogers (Norman Rossington) are warned off the case by M.I.5 agent Stratton-Villiers (Christopher Lee). Calhoun's only clue is the testimony of a young couple, Patricia Wilson (Sharon Gurney) and American Alex Campbell (David Ladd). More unexplained bloody murders take place in the same station. The culprit is a man lost to local history (Hugh Armstrong), a savage survivor of tunnel workers buried eighty years before, living as a secret underground society.

CBS' 60 Minutes once aired a famous story once on the myriad catacombs and tunnels under New York City. The urban myths about giant alligators may have been false, but their investigators did find hundreds of homeless people living in entire abandoned systems of tunnels and passages practically forgotten by modern-day subway riders. Rent-free in the heart of Manhattan, but a lousy view.

Raw Meat strains credibility to suggest that dozens of workers given up for dead in 1892 could have survived and procreated for four or five generations in the underground world, like H.G. Wells' Morlocks of The Time Machine. Now only two are alive, filthy and diseased, covered with open sores. The Man (Armstrong) snatches unwary late-night travellers, hangs them on hooks in a rat-infested gallery, and eats them. While working among all this carnage, he ministers tenderly to his pregnant, dying wife (June Turner).

Commuters have apparently been disappearing regularly at this particular Underground stop for eighty years, but only now does anyone take any notice; the pre-C.H.U.D. cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers have been going about their business all this time. The last two survivors have lost the gift of speech; his only understandable words are "Mind the doors," the common call heard in the stations as trains prepare to leave.

Raw Meat has been lauded on several counts. It's directed with more than a little sensitivity, with a much-praised single-take sequence that introduces the underground world. It starts with the detail of rats around a half-eaten hand, slowly pans across mutilated corpses, and goes past the awful spectacle of The Man trying to comfort The Woman to reveal a large underground room where parts of the original tunnelers still stick out of the rubble of a cave-in. Finally, it comes full circle back to the hand and the rat.

Less compelling is the thematic baggage heaped onto Raw Meat's thin story. The pair of cannibals are an alternate mini-society struggling beneath our own. Betrayed and abandoned by capitalists in 1892 (the money ran out, so the company just declared them lost and moved on), they've been a feral counterculture ever since. That reading is obvious but barely more than an extrapolation of the film's shaky concept. The monstrous couple are sometimes intercut with the modern young couple, students chided for cohabiting and suspected of being on drugs. The intercutting compares the two couples, but we there are no particular conclusions to be made.

Genre reviewers almost always mention the contrast between the survivor's savagery and his gentleness. If there's a coherent sub-message to Raw Meat, it's that these monsters are the basic human unit - benign and sweet to their loved ones, and hostile barbarians to outsiders.

Although not the pointless padding of a film like Scream and Scream Again, the police procedurals dominate the running time and don't really add to the story. Instead of walking through the role, Donald Pleasance creates an endearingly cute inspector with plenty of bits of business with tea bags and darts. He's likeable and serious, especially his interactions with subordinate Norman Rossington (the Beatles' manager in A Hard Days' Night). If the movie were really about him, it would be 100% successful. But it's not, so his scenes really don't contribute much except a convincing background.

One time-wasting diversion gives Christopher Lee a good moment as a snooty government agent for Pleasance to get angry with. Lee shows up in so many one-scene cameo roles in horror films that we're no longer disappointed that his parts aren't longer - that's what he does. Pleasance and Rossington discover that the VIP victim was a secret porn-meister, another plot theme that goes nowhere, except to fulfill the commercial demand that all upperclass types be corrupt.

Some maintenance workers are attacked near the end, and then the script suddenly reverts to Monogram form by having our young heroine kidnapped and held as the savage man's potential new companion. Her intrepid boyfriend bulls his way into the tunnels ahead of the police, and we're set up for a final confrontation. Nothing much has really happened in the story, and the finale is equally downplayed. As a production, it's a great job waiting for a good script to be plugged in.

Director Sherman's work is exemplary, far outclassing Gordon Hessler and the stable of so-called "stylists" bumbling about in the Hammer films of this time. The police procedural scenes have weight and balance, and his camera's explorations of the underground world are truly impressive. The violence is well shot, and even if the film doesn't work up much suspense or dread, it does have atmosphere. When we hold on a deep tunnel with men slowly making their way in the darkness, it doesn't play like padding.

The camerawork is very good, especially in the underground chambers where the presence of lighting of any kind naturally has credibility problems. The set decoration and slaughterhouse detail are effective without being too exploitative; the makeup of the feral couple is truly repulsive. Call it a Guignol freak show with restraint. When The Man attacks a bunch of rats, he kills one by biting its head off, and spitting it out. Along with the drool and pus that leak out of this unlikely leading character, that really sells us on Raw Meat being a horror original. Not particularly successful ... but original.

Producer Paul Maslansky is the most interesting participant in the show. He started out with novice director Michael Reeves and spent the 60s and 70s stumbling from one clever-sounding project to another without ever having a breakthrough success : Castle of the Living Dead, The She Beast, Race with the Devil, Damnation Alley, Circle of Iron, Hard Times. He finally made the big time with a genuine horror, the Police Academy series. Such is life. Director Sherman kicked around without a solid hit either. Dead and Buried has its devotees (I liked it, it was scary) but his 1990 lowbudget suspenser Lisa was a major snooze. Actor David Ladd is the son of Alan and the brother of Alan Ladd Jr. (Thanks John and Martin) who ran MGM for several years.

MGM's budget DVD of Raw Meat is not part of its Midnite Movies line but it continues their general high level of quality. The few horror fans who have seen censored, reamed 16mm prints or indecipherable greymarket VHS tapes of this film will be startled at the terrific image and sound - this must be from the original elements. The film has preserved as if it had been buried for thirty years in a nice dry subway tunnel.

The film is unrated, suggesting that the American distributor A.I.P. might have trimmed it for an R rating originally, and this version is uncut. The whole presentation is indicative of a quality show and not some grindhouse exploitation quickie. Like I say, Raw Meat is no classic, but it certainly has class.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Raw Meat rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 14, 2004

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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