[box cover]

Raw Meat

Gary Sherman's Raw Meat (1972), which was severely truncated and released in the United States as Death Line before disappearing into relative obscurity, is the kind of film one doubts even exists before feasting their eyes upon the perversion itself. In fact, genre fans who are just hearing about this movie for the first time by happening upon this review are advised to cease reading immediately and seek it out (for added incentive, fright filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro recently praised the movie in the pages of Film Comment as one of the most egregiously overlooked horror films of all time.) It's clear right from the opening credits, pulsating to a filthy Hammond organ riff accompanied by a stripper beat, as the viewer is forced to follow a letch's peregrinations through a seedy assortment of "adult" London establishments, that this is a film that isn't afraid to get its hands dirty — or, more to the point, bloody. When this letch, who happens to be a high-ranking government official, turns up missing after being spotted passed out in the Underground (uncharacteristic for a man of his social standing), the territorial Inspector Calhoun (a magnificent Donald Pleasence) quickly makes the case a high priority, and justifiably so, as police records begin to indicate a high incidence of vanishings in that particular station. And just who is behind these abductions? Why, the mongoloid cannibal offspring of a subculture of tunnel workers stranded for the better part of a century in a collapsed pocket of the Underground, where they were left to die because the company responsible for their welfare went bankrupt and, therefore, could not afford to rescue them, of course! Yes, Raw Meat is that kind of movie ("that" kind of movie being the kind of movie for which there really is no adequate explanation). Incredibly, it turns out that these unfortunate construction workers were able to eke out an existence underneath the bustling surface of London, feasting off of rats, and, eventually, each other. But this incestuous ecosystem can only support itself for so long; ergo, they've begun to die out in sufficient enough numbers that the lone able-bodied survivor has been forced to start picking off hapless Londoners now and then to feed his sickly, and pregnant, companion. Interestingly, Sherman plays the film initially as a procedural, drawing the viewer in with the entertaining banter between Calhoun and his lieutenant, Rogers (Norman Rossington), as they investigate the disappearance of the government official last seen by an American student (David Ladd) and his British girlfriend (Sharon Gurney). It's not until nearly 25 minutes into the film that Sherman plunges us into the charnel house dwelling with a bravura tracking shot that elicits first the revulsion of the tunnel creature's barbarity, only to slowly win our affections as we watch the beast care for his dying mate. That this was Sherman's first film makes this daring feat of empathy all the more impressive, and, ultimately, engenders a bit of leeway, as he occasionally holds onto these impressively lengthy shots to the point where they begin to call attention to themselves (then again, those massive locations certainly invite one's gaze to linger.) This self-indulgence also ends up effectively killing the suspense of the film's final pursuit, but even these admittedly substantial flaws seem like quibbles when one considers that Sherman's turned a drooling monster with a perpetually pus-draining visage into a genuinely sympathetic character. There are many other ancillary pleasures to be had, like Calhoun's obsessive cravings for tea, presaging the coffee crazed FBI agents of "Twin Peaks," or Christopher Lee's delightful, if thoroughly unnecessary, cameo as an MI5 operative warning the inspectors off the case. These idiosyncrasies beautifully accentuate the film's innate peculiarities, combining to create an ineffable oddness that earns it a rare level of distinction in the already bizarre cult-film canon. Unfortunately, it would end up being Sherman's career pinnacle; his sophomore effort, the revisionist zombie film Dead and Buried, was the best of his subsequent works, but the confidence of Raw Meat was gone. He followed that up with the divisive Vice Squad, which was, depending on the viewer, either a morbidly entertaining crime story or the vilest piece of misogyny ever committed to celluloid. By the '90s, he was toiling away in television, never to make good on the thrilling promise of his debut. MGM presents Raw Meat in a nice anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with monaural Dolby Digital audio. Extras are limited to the theatrical trailer (perhaps one day we'll get a Gary Sherman/Guillermo Del Toro commentary.) Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks



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