Horror Film Review: Death Line (dir by Gary Sherman)

“Mind the doors!”

— The Man (Hugh Armstrong) in Death Line (1972)

Before I get to far into reviewing the unjustly obscure British horror film, Death Line, I want you to take a look at the film poster below.


This is the poster that was used when Death Line was released in the United States.  Now, I have to admit that I like this poster but that’s largely because I’m a lover of old grindhouse and exploitation films.  And this poster is a perfect example of the grindhouse aesthetic.  Of course, it’s not surprising that this poster is largely misleading.

First off, the title has been changed to Raw Meat.  That makes sense when you consider that the film is about a cannibal but it also creates the mistaken impression that this film is primarily about cannibalism.  It’s not.  Actually, Death Line is a film about class differences and government secrecy.  (Though it’s probably best to leave this as a topic for another post, I think it can be argued that almost every film made in the UK is, in some way, about class and secrecy.)

The bearded man is obviously meant to be a stand-in for Death Line‘s cannibal.  Known as the Man and played by Hugh Armstrong, he is the last descendant of a group of Victorian railway workers who were buried alive during the construction of the London underground.  The Man is the product of generations of cross-breeding.  And while the Man is definitely frightening at first, he ultimately emerges as the film’s only truly sympathetic figure.  He’s hardly the intimidating figure pictured above.  Instead, he’s a heart-breakingly pathetic figure who, having grown up in the shadows of the underground, is only capable of uttering three words: “Mind the doors.”  There’s a lengthy scene in which the Man howls in anguish after the death of his wife.  I don’t care if he was a cannibal, it still brought tears to my eyes.

The poster does offer up a glimpse of two men who appear to be searching an underground tunnel.  This image, at the very least, is accurate.  The two men are Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasence) and his partner, Detective Sergeant Rogers (Norman Rossington).  When the Man makes the mistake of attacking, murdering, and eating a member of a Parliament, Calhoun and Rogers are the ones who end up investigating the case.  What’s interesting is that neither Calhoun nor Rogers are presented as being sympathetic characters.  In fact, Calhoun is something as a fascist.  When Christopher Lee tells them to stop investigating the case, Calhoun is less upset over the government cover-up and more angered by the fact that he doesn’t like being told what to do.

There are two other people investigating the case, though neither one of them are present on the poster.  Alex Campbell (David Ladd) is an American college student and, though Alex starts out as sympathetic to the Man, that changes when the Man kidnaps his girlfriend (Sharon Gurney) and tries to make her into his new wife.  Alex serves as a stand-in for the self-righteous activists who, in most films, would be responsible for saving the day.  It’s telling of just how cynical a film Death Line is that Alex ultimately turns out to be even more ineffectual than Calhoun and Rogers.

Finally, the poster offers up a group of half-naked people.  I have no idea who these people are supposed to represent but I’m sure they helped to sell tickets!

As for Death Line, it’s an unjustly obscure film.  Whether you track it down under the original title or the Americanized title of Raw Meat, be sure to watch it.

6 Trailers For A Long-Needed Saturday

I love Saturday and not just because it’s the weekend!   Nor is it just because Saturday is the day that I traditionally go down to either Northpark Mall or the Galleria and spend way too much money on DVDs, book, lingerie, and handbags.  I love Saturday because Saturday is the day that I get to bring you another edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Trailers.

1) Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976)

This trailer rhymes!

2) Raw Meat (1973)

It might not be obvious from the trailer but this is actually a really good, surprisingly somber film.  Director Gary Sherman later went on to make the infamous Vice Squad.

3) The Touchables (1968)

The writer of this film, Donald Cammell, later went on to co-direct Mick Jagger in 1970’s Performance.  As far as I can tell, The Touchables is not available on DVD.  (There is an earlier film called The Touchables that’s available from Something Weird Video but it’s a different movie.)  If anyone knows that this film is available, please let me know as I’ve just recently read a book on Cammell and right now, his films are something of an obsession of mine.

4) Stanley (1972)

“Stanley — a snake that learned that only man kills his own kind…”  All film trailers use to feature pompous narration but the best exploitation trailers managed to take the standards of pompous narration to such an extent that it became a work of postmodern art.  As for Stanley, I actually own this film.  It was on one of those 8-movie compilation DVDs that were all the rage a few years ago.  The copy I saw looked like it had just been transferred off of a beaten-up VHS tape (and it probably was) but the movie still gave me nightmares because I’ve got a thing about snakes.  (By the way, clicking on the above link will lead you not to the copy I watched but to a “special edition” Stanley DVD.  To my best knowledge, the special edition looks a lot better than the copy I own.)

5) Johnny Firecloud (1975)

Johnny Firecloud — a hate story!”  This appears to be one of those films that just asks, ‘What else can go wrong?”  I mean, not only is Johnny Fireclould having to deal with prejudice but the whole thing apparently involves a nuclear war as well.

6) Goldengirl (1979)

Admittedly, I probably wouldn’t have given this trailer a second thought if not for the fact that I’ve gotten into running lately.  Still, this trailer does feature the priceless “You can kiss my feet” scene, a scene that is memorable for a lot of reasons, the least being the look on James Coburn’s face.  And remember, you’ll love Goldengirl “even after you know her secret.”  

 (Interesting sidenote: On Amazon, Goldengirl is only available in VHS form.  You can either spend $126 to get a “never before watched” copy or you can spend $4.90 to get a used copy.)