Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 27 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: Gary Sherman
Written by: Gary Sherman
Starring: Donald Pleasance, Norman Rossington, David Ladd, Sharon Gurney, High Armstrong, June Turner, Clive Swift, James Cossins & Christopher Lee
Subways are naturally creepy places. The idea of being on a train that could stop at any moment and leave you trapped underground is a bit unnerving to say the least. It’s no surprise that a handful of horror films have used this setting to their advantage (e.g. THE TUNNEL, CREEP and THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN), but RAW MEAT (a.k.a. DEATH LINE) seems to be the very first one to throw this concept out there. Whether or not it fully succeeds as a freaky horror film is another story entirely.
A passing couple stumble upon an OBE inspector lying unconscious in a subway station. While Alex (the American boyfriend) claims that the man is simply drunk, Patricia fears that the man is dying. Once above ground, she brings news of the unconscious inspector to the attention of a nearby constable. By the time the small group return to the tunnels, the man has disappeared. The drunken Calhoun is an unprofessional jerk who immediately suspects that Alex has something to do with the OBE inspector’s disappearance. Meanwhile, something lurks beneath the streets of London. Something that’s dangerous and very hungry.
The quality that immediately sticks out of RAW MEAT is how grimy and dirty it feels. Part of this comes from the naturally spooky setting of a deserted subway tunnel, but the other part comes from the fact that we happen to be dealing with subterranean cannibals who feast the flesh of unlucky passengers. For an early 70’s movie, this is surprisingly graphic in its gore. We don’t see an overabundance of violence (in fact, I only counted one real on-screen kill), but we do see the aftermath of half-eaten bodies and decomposing corpses strewn around the cannibals’ lair. However, these flesh-eating humanoids aren’t exactly given a ton of screen time as Donald Pleasance steals the show. His performance as the drunken inspector with an attitude is something special to behold.
Pleasance’s character also serves as the only halfway fleshed-out protagonist as well. David Ladd is unlikable as the one-note American boyfriend. Sharon Gurney is convincing enough as a girlfriend who’s genuinely concerned about her boyfriend’s lack of empathy towards a man lying on the subway steps. The excuse is given that Ladd’s character is from New York, so I guess that’s reason enough? Christopher Lee also pops up for a quick one-scene cameo as an MI6 agent and I wish his character had a bigger part in this movie. A threat-laden conversation between himself and Pleasance is cinematic gold!
The biggest problem in RAW MEAT comes in the pacing. The film never seems to fully take off. Three different plotlines are being juggled. There’s Pleasance investigating the disappearance. Then there’s the couple squabbling amongst themselves and facing relationship issues in the aftermath of the subway incident. Finally, there’s the cannibal plot that mainly focuses on a sobbing, dirty Hugh Armstrong (simply referred to in the credits as The Man) who occasionally attacks someone and yells, “Mind the doors!” Though it runs at under 90 minutes, RAW MEAT doesn’t seem to know how to execute these three plot-lines into something interesting or scary. As a result, this entire film feels like the first act of a better movie that we don’t get to see. When the trio of stories finally intersect in the finale (thanks to one remarkably stupid character decision), there simply isn’t enough pay-off to justify all the build-up that we’ve had to sit through up to that point.
RAW MEAT has commendable qualities. The film packs a dirty, grimy atmosphere, even if not much happens in the actual story. There’s a fun performance from Pleasance, who seems to be playing Dr. Loomis before he actually played Dr. Loomis. The gore that we do see is surprisingly graphic for the early-70’s. However, it feels like there’s a better movie lying somewhere in RAW MEAT that we didn’t get to see. If this entire film had been centered around Donald Pleasance and Christopher Lee tracking down subway-dwelling cannibals, then this might be an overlooked genre classic. Instead, this is an okay horror flick that has some merits and almost an equal amount of problems.