A really unique, interesting, little-seen British horror film from the early 70s, Raw Meat (a.k.a. Death Line) sets an odd tone from the start, as we follow civil servant James Manfred (James Cossins) on a tour through the seedy London strip club scene. Manfred eventually descends down into the Russell Square tube station.
A short while later, two student lovers, surly American Alex (David Ladd) and sweet English beauty Patricia (Sharon Gurney), exit the last train onto the platform and come across Manfred's body lying comatose on the steps. David assumes the man's a drunk and wants to leave him be ("Back home we just step over these people"), but kind-hearted Patricia wants to help him. Thinking he might be a diabetic, Patricia has Alex search the man's wallet for a health card. After cursorily scanning the man's I.D. ("James Manfred, O.B.E."), the couple head up to ground level in search of help. A reluctant Alex returns below with a local bobby, only to find Manfred's body has disappeared.
This is my manor, and the villains in it are mine.
Well, you're welcome to them, old thing. So why don't you just run along and arrest a few...
Missing persons are my concern,too.
Oh, yes...Missing dentists, missing greengrocers..but this particular missing person, as far as you're concerned, Inspector, is no longer missing.
I don't see him around anywhere...do you?
What a droll fellow you are. The Manfred case is closed. It was never opened. Clear?
If someone is reported missing in my manor, that's my business.
Your dainty little footsteps are echoing in places where one is well advised to tread lightly.
Are you threatening me?
How very perceptive.
Then, in a bravura sequence (courtesy of director Gary Sherman and cinematographer Alex Thomson), we're shown exactly what has happened to Manfred. In a masterful example of visual storytelling, the camera creeps down into the bowels of the Underground, and - to the constant sound of dripping water - does a long, slow pan around a subterranean charnel house, with corpses in various states of butchery hanging from the walls, the pallid, unconscious body of Manfred slumped in a corner.
This is the lair of "the Man" (Hugh Armstrong) and his dying, pregnant "Woman" (June Turner), the last descendants of subway workers buried in a rock slide in the 1880s and forgotten by a callous government. The Man and Woman are a sorry lot, riddled with open sores, malnutrition, plague and anemia. They're also cannibals, and James Manfred O.B.E. is the next item on the menu. It's a grisly scene rendered poignant by the Man's clear distress over his mate's deteriorating condition.
The camera then pulls out of their fetid chamber to the abandoned station site and it's walled-in entrance, as the soundtrack swells with an audio flashback of the original work crew being buried alive.
The death of his mate and their unborn child sends the grief-stricken Man on a rampage, as he violently dispatches three subway workers. Alex and Patricia get pulled back into the case when the couple are returning home after a night out. Patricia forgets her books in the train, Alex dashes back in to get them but the train doors shut before he can get back out. No sooner has Patricia cheerfully waved goodbye then a large, scabby hand closes over her mouth.
Frustrated by the lack of action by Calhoun and Rogers, a worried Alex must take matters into his own hands and descend into the Man's lair before Patricia becomes the murderous, miserable wretch's next mate...
While the Man becomes less of a monster and more of a pathetic, pitiable remnant of a terrible tragedy, taking away some of the scare factor, the movie compensates with a very witty screenplay and a fine eye for gross, grotty detail. Pleasence gets one of the best roles of his career as the eccentric, barb-tongued inspector, and he plays it for all its worth. The scene where he trades verbal jabs with Lee is terrific.
Top acting honors of course go to Pleasence (I'd pay good money to see further adventures featuring Inspector Calhoun and company) and Hugh Armstrong, who totally commits to the role of the Man. It's the sight of his shuffling, mournful figure, incessantly shouting "Mind the doors" (the only English he knows, heard constantly throughout his life amid the tube tunnels), that remains etched in one's mind. A special treat for fans of British horror, Raw Meat deserves to be more widely seen, and I recommend it highly to the less squeamish out there, looking for something offbeat and original in the horror genre.