Friday, October 9, 2009

Raw Meat (1972)

Being Film #3 in Hail Horror 4. Thanks to Dennis Cozzalio of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule for the recommendation.

Man do I miss the 70s. Remember when people wore mustaches? And I don't mean those sparse wisps of hair that look like they've been applied with dabs of saliva that are popular right now - I mean thick, Tom Selleck "I-mean-business" mustaches, the kind that will look after you in a bar fight and lend you a fiver when you're short for the next round.

Mustaches don't have a lot to do with RAW MEAT (also known as DEATH LINE), a crazy little film about a series of disappearances in a London subway system, but they're there, on the face of the first character we see, a gentleman in nice clothes and a bowler hat ducking in and out of various strip clubs while the film's score throbs like a seedy porn soundtrack that's been left in the dirt for too long, buzzing and pulsing with an ominous low-end. It's also on the face of Christopher Lee, who puts in a cameo as an MI5 operative who comes to warn Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasence) off the case of the missing man, who it turns out is a powerful figure in the English government. They're there, and it's just another piece of the pie that makes RAW MEAT such a hilarious treat of a movie to watch.

The crux of the story is that almost a hundred years ago the company digging the rail tunnels had an accident - a tunnel collapsed, trapping the men and women inside (it's said that in those days men and women worked the tunnels together). Since the company was facing bankruptcy, they left the people there to die. or, as the surveyor explains to Calhoun, they also could have lived off the water and bodies of those who died.

Which is of course exactly what happened.

Not much of a mystery, especially since what's happening is explained within the first 15 minutes of RAW MEAT. But this is a movie where you don't go for the story. Nor for the two romantic leads who are pretty forgettable and whose story is utterly predictable. No. You're going into this for one reason and one reason only:

The bug-shit best Donald Pleasence performance I've ever seen.

Maybe I haven't seen enough of the man's work, but I've always considered Pleasence to be the perfect milquetoast - quiet, easily cowed when threatened, quiet and mousy if somewhat dignified, much like his roles in THE GREAT ESCAPE and HALLOWEEN. Well take that persona, flip it 180 degrees and give it a Scotch (a double, preferably) and you have his laugh-out loud portrayal of Inspector Calhoun - a man who loves his tea, likes to get drunk and make fun of his assistant (the equally funny Norman Rossington), steal liquor from a suspect's house, and basically give up on a case when he's too hungover or frustrated to care. It would be a mistake to think this was due to any flippancy on Pleasence's part regarding the role; he plays Calhoun with a vigor and relish that would imply he knows exactly what he wants to do with the character. I laughed out loud numerous times at his quips and especially his sarcasm, particularly when interrogating the male lead about the missing gentleman.

As far as the horror is concerned, there's some pretty gnarly gore - the film's called RAW MEAT after all, and there's copious amounts of rotted carcasses strewn about the cannibal's lair. It's suitably seedy, and there are a couple of slow, long pans that move from body to body, torn off hands and rotted skulls. There's also a perhaps unintentionally funny fight between three subway workers and the cannibal where we get to see a shovel cut through someone's skull and a broom handle shoved through a torso, complete with hanging bits of goo. Good stuff. The cannibal shows some signs of intelligence: when we first meet him he's trying to revive the only other cannibal, a pregnant woman too sick to move. When she dies, he files into a rage and kidnaps the male lead's girlfriend, who he hopes will take his dead love's place. Living under the subway however hasn't done much for his vocabulary; the only words he can utter is a sickly "Mind the doors" which gets creepier and creepier during the climax of the film.

Even if there were nothing else to recommend about the film, the crazy Donald pleasence performance makes RAW MEAT a must-see. But you also get a great Christopher Lee cameo and a guy who eats people. What more could you want?

In lieu of a closing picture, check out the full trailer below:


  1. Agree with you entirely: Donald Pleasance's finest (and most demented) performance. Love the scene when Pleasance and his sergeant are nosing around someone's house and Pleasance instructs the sergeant to "see if there's anything worth nicking". Plus his drunken "Gawd bless the Queen" speech. Classic!

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