For generations they've lingered beneath the streets of London. But now their last survivor has emerged, driven by a desperate hunger for human flesh!
Donald Pleasence stars in this daring horror classic that dishes out heart-stopping jolts and hair-raising thrills. When a prominent politician and a beautiful young woman vanish inside a London subway station, Scotland Yard's Inspector Calhoun (Pleasence) investigates and makes a horrifying discovery. Not only did a group of 19th-century tunnel workers survive a cave-in, but they lived for years in a secret underground enclave by consuming the flesh of their own dead. Now the lone descendant of this grisly tribe has surfaced, prowling the streets of London for fresh victims...and a new mate.
Police procedural horror/thrillers have been a staple for the horror genre since the very beginning, yet I always go into them with a bit of hesitation. To me, it needs to be a perfect balance of thrills (detectives solving the case), and horror (the killer). The best example is the classic, Silence of the Lambs. But far too often, that balance usually skews so far into thriller territory that I tend to lose the horror element. That is exactly my problem with Death Line.
Previously known as Raw Meat in the States, Death Line is a British production starring Donald Pleasence as Inspector Calhoun, a bumbling British detective investigating suspicious deaths in a London subway station. Now, I say he is bumbling because of the fact that he is constantly on the wrong side of the tracks when it comes to the case. Though his different theories are all wrong, Calhoun seems largely unfazed by his every wrong turn. Pleasence's approach to the character is kind of aloof and unfazed, leading me to believe it was meant to be more of a comedic performance, which tonally doesn’t gel with the rest of the movie.
Calhoun's biggest and only lead comes in the form of two witnesses who saw a mysterious dead body on the subway stairs. Alex Campbell (David Ladd) and Patricia Wilson (Sharon Gurney) are those leads, but unfortunately, they feel a bit extra here. They provide very little insight to Calhoun other than the evidence that people are being killed and dragged into the depths of the subway by a mysterious figure they call "The Man" (Hugh Armstrong). We learn this man was part of a digging expedition many years ago, when he and his family were buried deep within the subway station. The family had no choice but to turn to cannibalism to survive. Now, he is the only one still alive, capturing people from the subway to feed his cravings and revive his family. This revelation comes early on in the film and that is for a very specific reason. Unlike most films featuring cannibalism, we are meant to sympathize with this man’s plight and see how necessity and pain fuel his actions. Though this ultimately ends with an unsatisfactory conclusion, I did appreciate the effort to show the pain behind this man.
It all comes down to balance and tone for me with Death Line. We spend far too long with our aloof Inspector Calhoun, who takes the long road to discovering what was right in front of him the whole time. Where was the quintessential old newspaper scene where he does his research and learns the history of our killer? That scene never happens. The reveal comes across as circumstantial, and as a result, it feels perfunctory and tonally off. In the end, I actually found Death Line to be engaging because of the way it deals with cannibalism, despite some tonal inconsistencies.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Blue Underground brings Death Line to Blu-ray in an impressive package that sets itself apart from the rest. We get a white hardcover with a double-sided cover that reveals the original Raw Meat cover art. Inside contains a BD-50 Blu-ray, DVD copy that features the Raw Meat artwork, and a collectible booklet featuring an essay written by Michael Gingold titled Minding the Doors: Getting Down with "Death Line," and a bio about the life of Donald Pleasence written by Christopher Gullo. Once popped in, we are brought straight to the main menu with a clip background.
Death Line takes a ravenous bite out of Blu-ray with a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encode that is better than anyone would expect. Usually when an older film gets a 2K transfer I tend to not pay it any mind, but it definitely seems to have a positive effect here. From the first scene in the subway, you see a serious upgrade in clarity with impressive edge detail and tame grain levels for 1973. Shadow detail is also excellent for its time, boasting black levels that never crush or contain unwanted grain levels.
There are a few drawbacks that come with the territory of a film this age. A few scenes feature a mixed level of edge enhancement. Take the scene with the cameo by Christopher Lee's character for instance. His shot appears to feature much softer edges than the close up of Pleasence. But that is a small gripe in what otherwise is a great transfer that really should be used as a model for Blue Underground’s future 2K restorations.
We are given a tame DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix with Death Line on Blu-ray, that feels more like what Blue Underground has been doing with the majority of their restorations as of lately. As a side note: the packaging actually states that it is DTS-HD MA 1.0 mix, but that is not the case. Speaker separation is fine and everything seems to be mixed at a generous volume. Even the score is well represented. But looking at what other studios, like Shout! Factory, are doing today, I wish there was an additional remastered 5.1 mix.
Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Gary Sherman, Producer Paul Maslansky, and Assistant Director Lewis More O' Ferrall - This was an amusing commentary that gave me more understanding into the inspiration behind the man who was buried deep within the London subway. It also serves as a nice little piece of insight into who Donald Pleasence was as a person, and how he brought his humor to the table here.
Tales from The Tube – Interview with Co-Writer/Director Gary Sherman And Executive Producers Jay Kanter & Alan Ladder Jr (18:51 HD) - A nice little featurette that talks a lot about financing Death Line, and how difficult it was to have a British production distributed in the states.
From the Depths – Interview with Star David Ladd and Producer Paul Maslansky (12:41 HD) - Ladd talks about his experience working on the film, and about how layered the film is, in addition to our killer in the subway.
Mind the Doors – Interview with Star Hugh Armstrong (15:36 HD) - Armstrong talks about how he got into acting after leaving the army. Apparently, he found it necessary to study apes at the local zoo to prepare for the role.
Death Line Trailer (2:05 SD)
Raw Meat Trailer (2:09 SD)
Raw Meat TV Spots (1:50 SD)
Radio Spots (2:00)
Poster & Still Gallery
One of the joys of working as a Blu-ray reviewer is getting the chance to go back and discover an older film you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I enjoyed my time with Death Line despite its flaws. This film breezes by at an expedient 87 min. There is something refreshingly efficient about a film that knows exactly what it is and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Today there would have been a good half hour tacked on with a whole slew of filler scenes. Death Line isn't perfect -- it has tonal issues, and it feels unbalanced at times -- but with a great video transfer and all the Special Features, or if you are a fan of older horror/thrillers and are able to sympathize with the killer rather than the victims, then you will find something here worth checking out.