Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Raw Meat (1972)

Since I'm currently unemployed, in theory you can look forward to more reviews of stuff that I've accumulated on DVD as I plow through titles I already own. So in that spirit, I rewatched the 1972 British horror movie Raw Meat, also known as Death Line. The 'Death Line' referred to is whatever subway line runs through the Russell Square underground station in London, where an upperclass twit, after a long day of perusing strip clubs and porn shops, is attacked by an unseen brute in the movie's opening sequence.

It turns out that the 'monster' of the movie is the last remnant of an underground mini-society of Brits trapped underground after a cave-in eighty years earlier while digging the subway lines; as such he's a vitamin-deficient cannibal whose only grasp of English is the phrase "Mind the Doors!" in one of the movie's best bits of truly bitter black comedy.

This underground dweller is a classic example of one of the most interesting themes in horror, the 'return of the repressed', those elements of the past, supressed through time or societal ignorance, that come back to plague the innocent and the not-so-innocent alike. This is a horror movie with a conscience, one that is ultimately as much tragedy as anything else as we're made to sympathize with the plight of this most piteous brute, consigned to a living hell. The scope of his hellish existence is conveyed to us in one masterful long, uncut tracking shot that pans through the clammy underground rooms he and his fellow subterraneans have lived in for decades, killing the occasional surface-dweller when food ran short. It's a masterful stroke in an otherwise small-scale movie.

The movie's other masterful stroke was in hiring Donald Pleasence as the police inspector looking into all the mysterious deaths around this one subway stop, and in obviously letting Pleasence cut loose with a juicy performance that's one of his best. He's a surly, working-class detective with a quick retort handy at any moment, a healthy contempt for the powers that be, and little respect for the two hippie-ish youngsters who get enmeshed in the case. These two, a pair of longhairs stuck in the movie as its juvenile leads, drag the movie back down into conventionality. Aside from them, however, the movie is a well-made, nasty little piece of work worth the time if you're a fan of the genre. Better than C.H.U.D., in other words.



Sam Juliano said...

I admit I have not seen RAW MEAT, but your conveyance of the film's storyline does make it most intriguing. Donald Pleasance is a truly marvelous actor, and he had an unforgettable voice. Just for his role alone, the film would be worth it. But it does sound like you need a strong stomach, although its more threadbare than the like stuff like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, which I see is one you rate highly. I agree.

Jeff McMahon said...

It's hard for me to judge how strong of a stomach you need to watch any given movie, as I personally have never seen a horror movie that has disturbed my own innards. While Raw Meat has its share of gore in two or three scenes, the bulk of the movie is actually more about character and atmosphere. If you can handle Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you can handle this one. (Cannibal Holocaust obviously goes to greater extremes than either movie, as TCM suggests more gore than it actually has).

Sam Juliano said...

Jeff: Sometimes the most disturbing movies are the ones that spring from naturalistic situations. Hence, I am more numbingly horrified by a film like HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER than I am from many of the usual suspects.
The good thing about your obvious knowledge and appreciation for this genre is that you can take more than most, or at least not be too surprised or revulsed.