Raw Meat (original title Deathline) prefigures much of the ideas of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and some scenes from American Werewolf in London, but is less effective than either, being a variable, sometimes good English variant of the 1970's horror style.
It begins as a bowler-hatted gent cruises Soho. In a tube station, he accosts a whore, but is rejected. Later, a passing young couple see him sprawled apparently dead on the stairs. Alex (David Ladd) is American, and just wants to ignore the gent: drunks like him are common in New York. His English girlfriend Patricia (Sharon Gurney) is scandalised: This is London, not New York, and we care for people! (Well, maybe back thenů) She gets Alex to raise the alarm, and the next day Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasance) finds that the gent hasn't turned up for an important governmental meeting. Meanwhile, in a dark, corpse-strewn lair, an unkempt creature billed as The Man (Hugh Armstrong) mourns the death of a similarly decrepit woman, his pregnant mate. He is now the last of his kind: a group abandoned in the tunnels when the tube was built, who have become human vermin. It's not long before the couple meet up with The Man again...
The idea of an underclass living in the tube tunnels is a great one, but Raw Meat works better as an allegory than it does as a realistic story. It's been claimed that Raw Meat is an allegory about how we run our society: Alex's uncaring capitalism versus Patricia's liberalism, but though that element is present in the film, it's not explored in enough depth, and never becomes central.
The Man becomes a sympathetic character as we get to know him, in the manner of the Frankenstein monster, or the Phantom of the Opera, but he has too little character to be really interesting. When he kidnaps Patricia, it's supposedly because he wants her to replace The Woman, but this is really just an excuse for him not to kill her. The Man himself is often unconvincing: it's not likely he would have been able to continue to kill without being noticed; especially as Patricia tells us how unusual it is at this time. He can overpower three big guys, but is himself single-handedly overpowered by the American. The lack of other people on the underground is also noticeable: the couple twice seem to be the only people on the whole tube. Also, although the underground dwellers were originally trapped down there, The Man seems able to get onto platforms. Why doesn't he just go up to the surface?
While the American Alex is the most active, hero-like character, he remains annoying. Patricia seems to have more to her, she is the film's conscience, but doesn't get enough screen-time to really develop. Donald Pleasance is the best actor by far, and his Calhoun is the stand-out of the piece, getting lots of good best lines, many of which are genuinely funny. But he's not much of a detective, and generally only appears on the scene after the action is over.
US distributor American International imposed the Raw Meat title on American prints, and the trailer suggests a family of cannibals rather than one. There remains much that's interesting here, much that's asking to be used and remade. The central idea would probably work better today, given the fragmented state of society, and the general lack of interest in the poor. 7/10
Adrian Horrocks (March 2005)
This film is a rarity in numerous senses, not least that this a British cannibal film (a minuscule sub-genre if ever there was one!). Beginning with its original 'X' certificate (which brings back fond memories) this release on the Carlton Video label will be a welcome addition to the collections of many UK horror film fans. Occasionally lacking pace but always intriguing, Deathline relates the story of a series of mysterious murders that take place around Russell Square underground station. Police discover that survivors from a roof collapse during construction on an abandoned part of the line are living below ground, originally forced to eat one another and are now widening their culinary choice to include unsuspecting tube travellers.
The prolonged introduction is immediately lifted by the appearance of the late Donald Pleasence as the irascible police inspector who is as preoccupied by the use of tea bags over loose tea as he is in the grisly events in hand. In one of his best performances, Pleasence is the epitome of the irreverent, opinionated but clever workhorse of a disillusioned police force in the pre-politically correct early 1970s. Events take a somewhat large leap of logic and talk of a missing politician suddenly revolves around old plans of disused tunnels and tales of trapped tube workmen and women.
The surviving cannibal is far from the repulsive maniacs of countless Italian shockers, portrayed as a pitiful victim of circumstance, simply attempting to stay alive. Behind the make up, Hugh Armstrong gives a moving performance as the cannibal. There is real pathos when he attempts to communicate his emotions as he repeats only the half-remembered phrase "Mind the doors!". The two young leads are merely adequate in their roles but Christopher Lee delivers a memorable cameo as a sinister senior civil servant.
Grue fans will need to be patient for the brief and infrequent moments of gore but when they do appear the special effects are very realistic in showing the remains of countless victims and limbs at various levels of decay. What I didn't expect to find, but did, in this little British horror were the striking similarities with the landmark Texas Chainsaw Massacre. One scene that is virtually identical and creates exactly the same tone as found in Texas is when the heroine is captured by the cannibal and taken to his lair, where the woman screams uncontrollably and pulls away in terror. What is particularly interesting is that in Texas the murderer, Leatherface, intends to kill the girl to use her skin but doesn't do so immediately, thus sustaining her ordeal; whereas in Deathline the cannibal wants to keep his captive alive to mate with, but leaves her locked up and thus puts her in exactly the same position - unaware of her fate. The whole thing, thematically, seems like a template for Tobe Hooper's classic, and as Deathline predates Texas by two years (and was released in the US under the title Raw Meat) I wouldn't be surprised to find that this had more than a passing influence on it. 6/10
Rob Dyer (September 1996)
American Werewolf in London
Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The
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