Death Line (1972 movie) review…

Murder in the Tube… After the Break…

Death Line (1972 movie) review…

Reviewing older movies is always a tricky affair; Just as generations change, so do all of the pacings and styles that come with movie making. What was well-regarded as “good filmmaking” in one generation is mocked and disregarded in the next. Yes, you can still wear bell-bottom pants out on the streets today but, most likely, you’d be regarded as eccentric at best and simply odd and out-of-touch at worst.

“Death Line” is a 1972 movie (also known as “Raw Meat” in the United States) set in (then) modern-day England. Donald Pleasence stars as a carefree and slightly eccentric Inspector whose perfunctory investigation into a missing person becomes increasingly more ominous. Norman Rossington co-stars as Pleasence’s more-grounded second-in-command Detective. David Ladd & Sharon Gurney also co-star as a young couple whose initial curiosity at a subway station continues to rope them into a horror that they’d soon rather forget.

Youngsters who were raised on Marvel action films or modern-day PG-13 horror films may do best to temper their expectations. “Death Line” is an ‘old-school’ horror film that doesn’t employ any of the modern-day techniques that films use nowadays. Believe it or not, that might not necessarily be a GOOD thing as Death Line is not the most compelling movie to watch, either as a horror film, a foreign film or even as a historical film.

Movies need to be compelling in order to watch them and Death Line is hardly compelling after the initial set-up. The characters themselves certainly aren’t very sympathetic or compelling: The young man, played by David Ladd, does his best to be cold and distant (not to mention try to nail a pretty good Christopher Lambert impersonation long before Lambert himself became a prominent actor); Pleasence acts as though he can’t decide if he’s in a straight horror movie or a horror-comedy or perhaps he just doesn’t care; Rossington is likeable enough but he’s merely a sounding board for Pleasence’s eccentricities, the butler that holds the coat for his slightly off-kilter master; Christopher Lee is featured in the briefest of cameos which, oddly enough, makes the film WORSE as you expect to see more of him but ultimately don’t; Finally, there’s the young woman played by Sharon Gurney who’s actually likeable but ultimately just set dressing for the film’s machinations.

Unlikeable characters, alone, can’t spoil a movie; If a movie is visually stunning or has a compelling plot, those elements can compensate for otherwise mundane characters. However, neither of those elements are well regarded here.

The plot is as perfunctory as it gets. There’s hardly any suspense or mystery as you find out who the killer is fairly early on. There’s hardly any horror; While there are scenes of gore and morbidity, they’re hardly presented in a sudden or frightening manner. The movie even goes out of it’s way to try to give the supposedly horrific killer some sympathy. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be horrified by the villain or take pity on the villain instead. One giant plot hole left unresolved is how the villain got away with killing for so long. Wouldn’t the police notice all of the missing people after awhile?

The visuals of the film are unintentionally curious; We get to see an unvarnished England in the early 1970s, bell bottoms and all. We’re far enough away from the 1970s, both in fashion and technology, so that it is almost a completely different world; A world devoid of smartphones, video cameras & other devices that would have easily resolved many of this movie’s dilemmas. Yet beyond the condescending curiosity of our modern eyes on ancient times, the visuals themselves are nothing to behold. It’s just a 1970s movie set in it’s own contemporary time.

When the end of the film does arrive, it arrives rather suddenly and, for the most part, anti-climacticly. There’s no real build-up, no protracted fight scene (there is a scuffle of sorts) or shoot out. The ending is so anti-climactic you would think that the production had suddenly lost it’s funding and that they needed to simply end the film before the entire production was lost. I was stunned when the end credits began rolling, thinking that it couldn’t possibly have ended.

There is a popular opinion that British films are invariably better than American films. British films are reputed to have more complex storylines, wittier dialog and complex character arcs. This film has none of those traits: The storyline is simplistic to the point of parody (boy meets girl, boy loses girl to some sort of cannibal subway dweller, boy gets back girl from cannibal subway dweller), the dialog rarely rises above that of a standard detective television show of it’s era and there wasn’t a single character arc that I could find.

I suppose that the most sympathetic character of the bunch was the young lady, played by Sharon Gurney, who got suckered into baring her breasts for but the briefest of moments in an attempted rape scene by the villain. The film even manages to botch this salacious moment as it’s lit too dark and occurs too quickly in the pre-“pause button” era to even witness it unless you know that the moment is going to occur.

What is perhaps most shocking about this movie isn’t what is in this movie but that a lot of people nowadays adore it for some sort of mysterious reason; There is countless praise for it everywhere. Reading quotes such as “…one of the best British horror films ever made…” & “underrated” makes me wonder if there’s another movie with the same title. There isn’t. I even went so far as to see if the were any radical revisions between the original British version (titled “Death Line”) and the American version (simply retitled and released as “Raw Meat”) but, aside from the title change, they are the same film.

Honestly, I don’t see what others see about this film. The unique “angle” of the film is revealed far too early in the film; The characters aren’t especially likeable or memorable; The film doesn’t really move in a logical fashion and the ending is so sudden that you honestly wonder if it was ever intended to be the actual ending.

However, at least Ms. Gurney got paid for her ever-so-brief humiliation; The rest of us poor saps either wasted our time watching this clunker for free or having to pay for that privilege.

Mind the gap? More like “Mind this movie”… And avoid it.

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