Raw Meat is Murder: Going down the tubes beneath London in Gary Sherman’s “Death Line”

By on November 15, 2018

Gary Sherman’s 1972 British horror film Death Line — distributed in the U.S. in 1973 as Raw Meat — stars Donald Pleasence as “Inspector Calhoun” of Scotland Yard who discovers that descendants of 19th century tunnel workers in the London Underground are surviving on the flesh of their own dead.

This certifiably sicko cult classic — often acknowledged as one of the first films to feature cannibalism, and sometimes called the UK equivalent to Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) — is now streaming in Night Flight’s Blue Underground collection on Night Flight Plus!

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Upon its release in London in December 1972, Cecil Watson of London’s Daily Mail wrote: “We spend an inordinate time in the madman’s dark, dank and bloody lair peering through the murk at the most revolting sights imaginable and wondering how such a sick and sick-making film came to be made.”

The plot plucks us down in London’s Russell Square station, as two university students — “Patricia Wilson” (the comely Sharon Gurney) and her American exchange student boyfriend “Alex Campbell” (David Ladd) — find an unconscious man, “James Manfred” (James Cossins), who has collapsed in a London Underground stairwell.

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They inform the local police, and return to find that the man has vanished.

Inspector Calhoun (Pleasance) and “Detective Sgt. Rogers” (Norman Rossington) are assigned to look into the man’s disappearance.

Calhoun questions the couple, growing suspicious and finding fault with their story, even suggesting they may have robbed the victim themselves.

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Calhoun learns of an urban legend surrounding a group of Victorian railway workers who survived an 1892 cave-in while constructing tunnels below London. He learns how the last surviving descendants of these workers survived through incestuous inbreeding and cannibalism.

Later, Patricia goes missing and when she fails to show up at the flat they share, Alex turns to Calhoun again for help. Against the orders of a station master, their search in the decrepit London Underground leads them to find evidence of dead miners who died over a hundred years earlier.

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Meanwhile, Patricia awakens in an underground cave and fights off a handsy plague-ravaged cannibal — Hugh Armstrong stars as “The Man” — fleeing from him by running deeper into the tunnels below.

Eventually, she realizes the poor flesh-eating cave dweller isn’t all that bad and when her boyfiend Alex confronts the man, she begs him not to hurt The Man.

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Calhoun — Pleasance contributed much of his own dialogue — and his Scotland Yard associates continue searching an abandoned section of tunnel where they discover a room where dead bodies are laid out in bunk beds.

The legendary Christopher Lee also appears as the arrogant bowler hat-wearing, mustachioed M-15 Agent “Stratton-Villiers.” He agreed to work for scale simply because he wanted to appear in a movie with Donald Pleasance.

Read more about Death Line (a.k.a. Raw Meat) below.

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First-time feature filmmaker Gary Sherman made his directorial debut with Death Line in 1972 after previously working as an art director and cinematographer and winning awards for his documentary The Legend of Bo Diddley.

Although there have been many American films based on Wisconsin serial killer and real-life cannibal Ed Gein, “the Butcher of Plainfield” — including Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) — Sherman based his Death Line screenplay (which he penned with writer Ceri Jones during breaks while shooting a Proctor & Gamble commercial) on the true tales he’d read about a Scottish clan in the 1780s.

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For three generations, the Bean family lived in remote caves in Scotland, surviving on the flesh of travelers they slaughtered.

When one of their victims escaped, authorities began an investigation which led to them finding legs, arms, thighs, hands and feet of men, women and children, hanging in their caves like dried beef.

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Sherman had a particular interest in setting his story in the bowels of London’s dank and damp crumbling underground subway system, an idea that may have come from a TV documentary Underground London, broadcast in the autumn of 1971.

Most of his underground scenes were actually shot in an East End storage facility belonging to British Railways, and a section of unfinished underground railway station in London called “the Museum,” located in Holborn (it was permanently closed in 1933).

The actual tube station used in the film was the closed station at Aldwych, located in the City of Westminster in Central London, near King’s College.

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Sherman’s screenplay also satirizes British comedy films and British softcore sex films set in the Swinging Sixties, particularly in the way he depicts stuffy middle-aged British men wearing bowlers and lasciviously looking for love among in London’s red light district.

The part of “The Man” was originally to be played by actor Marlon Brando, who had to back out of the film when his son Christian became ill with pneumonia.

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In the United States, the film’s distributor, American International Pictures, retitled the film Raw Meat and released a heavily-edited version that was cut drastically to avoid an “X” rating by the MPAA (Blue Underground’s version is freshly transferred and fully restored in 2K from the original uncensored camera negative).

As it turned out, Death Line (also titled Subhumans in some markets) was released at the tail end of 1972 in what had turned out to be the “Year of the Cannibal,” as there were three other disparate cannibal-themed films also distributed that year: Terror at Red Wolf Inn, The Mad Butcher and Ivan Reitman’s comedy-horror film Cannibal Girls, the latter film often paired with Red Meat on gruesome double-bills.

Watch Death Line (a.k.a. Raw Meat) on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.