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John’s Horror Corner: Death Line (1972; aka Raw Meat), this British film crosses cannibal “Morlock horror” with “train horror” in this allegedly classic and historically beloved film.

May 21, 2023

MY CALL: I can see how this might have been a jaw-dropper in 1972. But this is one of the longest 85-minute movies I’ve ever seen. There are good visuals and good ideas, but the execution was just too uneven between the gory and the excruciatingly boring. MORE MOVIES LIKE Death Line: For more “Morlock horror” you should watch Barbarian (2022), The Descent (2005), Bleeders (1997) and C.H.U.D. (1984).

An American graduate student (David Ladd) and his British girlfriend (Sharon Gurney; Crucible of Horror) are stuck in the middle of a missing person investigation after making a report to the police. What little evidence they can find leads them back to the London Underground depot of the disappearance and then deeper into the tunnels.

Train Horror SIDEBAR: Truth be told, I thought Death Line would be a “train horror” movie. But alas, it is not. But if it’s “train horror” you seek, consider the likes of Terror Train (1980), Beyond the Door III (1989; aka Dark Train, Death Train), Midnight Meat Train (2008), Howl (2015) and Train to Busan (2016).

POV and raspy, drooly breathing trumpet the presence of these abandoned train tunnel troglodytes. And when we see them, they appear diseased, covered in open sores and boils like zombie lepers. They may have contributed to the inspiration of The Hills Have Eyes (1977).

Plenty of chunky, low budget, antiquated gore, as chunks of flesh and mangled corpses festoon the subterranean cannibal lair that feels like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) source material. Men are impaled with sticks and shovels.

The greatest flaw I find in this film is the exhaustingly lengthy scenes of Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasence; Prince of Darkness, PhenomenaHalloween 1-2/4-6) explaining every trivial detail or criticism about every little thing. His character isn’t interesting, nor is his conjecture driving the story anywhere. Thankfully, the troglodyte scenes are not so stale. In fact they are gross, weird, and even emotionally provocative as they, too, suffer loss and loneliness—though they lack the ability to articulate it beyond painful, mourning bellows and screams echoing through the tunnels.

When our cannibals are on screen, it’s very stimulating—even if drawn out every bit as much as Pleasance’s oft-empty dialogue. When the cannibals are not on screen, this is a slog. Not even a cameo appearance by Christopher Lee could defibrillate my interest. Whereas the movie poster advertises a “tribe” of tunnel-dwelling Morlocks, there is no such thing. The movie hints at a past in which there may have been many, but delivers a present in which there are only two. Sigh…

Director and co-writer Gary Sherman’s (Dead & Buried, Poltergeist III) early foray into Morlock horror may have worked well at the time of its release. But just find it a bore despite some excellent gore work and make-up. It just ages poorly, mostly due to its pacing and long-winded dialogue style. And this is such a shame, because I truly loved revisiting Sherman’s 1982 classic Dead & Buried—which did age well.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 22, 2023 8:10 am

    Death Line is one of my favourites, it’s such a wonderfully grim and creepy film. It is a clown burn mind you. I remember seeing this when I was quite young and it scared me silly LOL! I have to disagree with you about Donald Pleasence, for me he totally make this film – but then I think he can lift even the most banal horror movie. I’ve not seen this film for years though, so I should imagine by todays standards its probably not aged too well.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      May 22, 2023 6:45 pm

      I was chatting on Twitter with someone of your same opinion. I mentioned that I had wished I saw this in the early 90s as a teenager. I’d likely appreciate it more as it would have impacted me more back then when I was “learning” my way through the 70s and 80s slashers for my confirmation into the genre.

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