There’s something pretty grisly going on under London in the Tube tunnels between Holborn and Russell Square. When a top civil servant becomes the latest to disappear down there, Scotland Yard start to take the matter seriously. Helping them are a young couple who get nearer to the horrors underground than they would wish. (source)
Raw Meat (1973, dir. Gary Sherman) is also known in the UK as Death Line. One of these titles is probably an apt fit to the story, and one is more of a sensationalist buzz-title which doesn’t sell the film very well, or very accurately. I challenge you to guess which is which!
Set in above ground and underground London, Raw Meat is a horror tale that can be sectioned into three perspectives – we split our time between a young couple who find a body on the stairs in the London Tube subway system, the police who are investigating the crime, and some mysterious subterranean Tube-dwellers. The story is pretty simple – something creepy happens, and we see the aftermath and investigation. It’s a quiet and unassuming film, and although it’s creepy, it’s not terribly frightening. It takes a while to get to the action, and you need to sit through quite a few quaint British-isms (e.g. discussions of tea rations) before you get there. But on the way, you’re treated to some nice performances from Donald Pleasance as a well-meaning yet hilariously sarcastic police investigator, and David Ladd and Sharon Gurney as the young couple who are bamboozled by the disappearance of the man in the Tube. Christopher Lee also shows up briefly, but is criminally underused.
Raw Meat is a compelling film. The idea of an underground, potentially cannibalistic or diseased society left to survive on their own terms is fascinating, and could certainly be viewed through a political lens. Unfortunately, we don’t learn too much about these people, and they’re mainly seen as brute aggressors. That is, until the end, where you experience some empathy for them, almost in the style of David Lynch’s The Elephant Man (1980); although I’m sure John Merrick never got up to these kinds of shenanigans. The ending is in fact quite heartbreaking and moving, even though we know relatively little about these underground people. I can only imagine the impact that the ending might have had, if there were some more character development.
The good news is, when the action happens in Raw Meat, it contains some surprisingly realistic practical effects that don’t look like your typical brand of 1970s cheese. This is partnered with some very nice direction by Gary Sherman. There is one particular moment where we are treated to a slow panning shot, revealing the gore of some dead and decaying bodies and the subterranean environment of the underground society, which is surprisingly elegant and beautiful. A scene featuring Christopher Lee also contains some notably great cinematography (by Alex Thomson). In terms of the music, the film is scored by Wil Malone, but some scenes reminded me of those old, educational MS-DOS computer games we used to play in primary school in the early 90s. I can’t remember which ones, but it was a nice nostalgia trip nonetheless.
If you’re interested in watching Raw Meat for a bloody gore-fest, you will likely be disappointed. It’s a little bit more thoughtful than that. Ultimately, Raw Meat isn’t a fantastic film, but it’s not terrible either. It’s a fairly slow film, apart from the active moments which can be few and far between, but yet it demands that you pay attention to it. It’s spooky and weird. It’s noteworthy that Raw Meat is often referred to as a cult film, and is quoted as being one of director Guillermo Del Toro’s favourite films of all time. I can’t say that I see the appeal 100%, but it’s not a bad film. It’s also worthy to note that I’ve spent quite a bit of time on the London Tube, and I never saw any cannibals down there.
Watch the trailer here!
Bonus fun: Check out this fantastic post over at Spectacular Optical, where you can find out a little bit more about the political underpinnings of the film, and some photos of sites in London where the film was shot.