Death Line (Raw Meat) (1972) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2017]

A precursor to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” Gary Sherman’s European based cannibal thriller is a ghoulish and often eerie bit of horror about a monster lurking within the tubes of London. Set amidst a busy and unsuspecting city, director Gary Sherman makes amazing use of the abandoned tunnels and corridors of London’s underground between Russell Square and Holborn. Sherman concocts a veritable lair for a clan of Victorian cannibals, the last of which is struggling to keep his pregnant wife alive. Sherman is great about setting the tone for his grisly little tale, constantly showing the radical worlds that lurk above and beneath local London subways.

Sherman establishes his film with a neon coated city, and drops us in to the underground where an older man is preyed upon by an unseen force. After a local politician is preyed upon and discovered by Alex and Patricia an American man and British girl who beg the police to help him, only for them to return and discover he’s disappeared. “Death Line” drags considerably the minute the film reverts from a gory thriller to a crime mystery. Sherman places a great amount of screen time on Donald Pleasance who approaches every single element of the case with skepticism and irritating sarcasm. It’s tough to believe that anyone could have such a hard time convincing an inspector of disappearances in the London Tunnels, but he provides such an unnecessary obstacle.

That said when director and writer Gary Sherman does get his film in motion it succeeds in some unnerving moments of pure terror and silence. Sherman thrives on long uncut moments lingering on every crevice that once held our monstrous cannibal and his entire clan. Sherman even devises a teeth grinding element out of the sound of a repeated drop of water as he pans out of dark tunnels and reveals the home which is littered with the corpses of their prey. The finale pulls off the sense of urgency as Patricia soon goes missing after being kidnapped by the cannibal. He has plans to continue his lineage, and keep her with him, resulting in repeated moments where he displays moments of pure rage and misery.

Like Leatherface, the cannibal (played well by Hugh Armstrong) is just a force of violence without much of a rational end game. Soon it becomes a matter of when Alex and the police will uncover his lair before Patricia is turned in to an unwilling mate. “Death Line” is imperfect, but it’s a worthwhile thriller with genuine moments of tension, gore, and grue.

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 13th to August 2nd.