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Death Line (1972)

Blue Underground
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/27/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/14/2017

As you know, the Academy Awards used to have a category for Best Foreign Film, which was eventually changed to Best Foreign Language Film. If you think about it, movies from the United Kingdom are technically foreign films, but as they are typically in English, they wouldn't be considered "Foreign Language Films". So, I don't think that most of us technically think of British movies as being foreign. And it's not just the language. We think of England as being similar to American in many ways. But is it? Things there can be very different, as we see in the 1972 horror film, Death Line.

American Alex Campbell (David Ladd) and his British girlfriend, Patricia Wilson (Sharon Gurney) are leaving the London Underground when they note that a man has passed out on the stairs. They alert a police officer, but when they return to the stairs, the man is gone. Despite this situation being seemingly benign, Alex is taken to police headquarters to meet with Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasance), who grills him on the details of the event. Meanwhile, some workers are found murdered in the subway, and Calhoun adds this to his investigation. Alex and Patricia attempt to go about their lives, but Calhoun won't leave them alone. And Calhoun is right to be suspicious, as something is lurking in the tunnels.

I've mentioned before that I'm a student of horror films and when I'm not watching them, I'm reading about them. Death Line is one of those movies which I've read about for decades, but I've never seen until now. (I don't remember seeing it on the shelf during my days of haunting the video stores.) All that I knew was that the movie dealt with cannibals in the subway and that it was also released under the title "Raw Meat". Any stills from the film which I'd seen showed a group of skeletons. So, I was ready for a violent, possibly gory frightfest -- something which should have been on the "Video Nasty" list.

What I found instead was a movie which is all over the place. First of all, this movie is extremely British. I'm talking way British. At 87-minutes, this isn't an incredibly long movie, and there's a considerable amount of time dedicated to Calhoun getting a proper cup of tea, playing darts, and going to the pub. This is in addition to all of the talk about "The Tube" and a cameo from Christopher Lee, who pays a member of MI-5, the British secret service. (I assumed that Director Gary Sherman was British given the movie's tone, so I was surprised to learn that he's from Chicago.) So, getting back to the first paragraph, the characters her are speaking English, but I didn't always know what they were talking about. The movie also places a lot of emphasis on the relationship between Alex and Patricia. The whole thing with the missing man places a lot of strain on them...for some reason and it looks as if she might leave him.

The one thing which we don't get enough of is cannibal movie. We learn that a portion of the subway collapsed during construction decades earlier and that the people trapped behind the rubble were never recovered. So, we assume that the lone cannibal which we see, played by Hugh Armstrong, is the one of the survivors. We do see bodies of the other trapped people, most of which comes in a series of long tracking shots which show off their lair. This moment (which is much longer than a moment) really brings the film to a screeching halt. The film's finale offers some much-needed action, but these scenes are more interesting for their underground locations than for what is happening in them. And what is with Calhoun raking Alex over the coals for something in which no obvious crime was committed? Having this happen in the first act really pulled me out of the movie.

In a way, I can see why Death Line was always referenced in my horror movie books. I feel certain that for 1972, the idea of a homicidal man residing in the London subway was a creepy one, and this notion most likely garnered a controversial reputation for the film. But, like a lot of movies from this ear, it comes across as incredibly tame now. While Sherman would go on to hone his craft with Dead & Buried, he was clearly still learning here, as the movie's jumbled story keeps it from gaining any momentum. The locations are great and the cast is clearly game, but the movie is simply too slow. Death Line would make a great double-feature with C.H.U.D., as two underground movies which should have been better.

Death Line convinced me to simply walk to my destination on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Blue Underground. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only trace amounts of grain and no notable defects from the source materials. The film has been fully restored in 2K from the original camera negative and, as usual, Blue Underground has done a great job with the video. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is well done and unlike many older movies, Death Line does not have a flat look. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Mono (2.0) audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 1.6 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As one would expect, we don't get any demo-worthy audio effects here, but the music never overpowers the dialogue and the track avoids having a canned or hollow sound.

The Death Line Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Co-Writer/Director Gary Sherman, Producer Paul Maslansky, and Assistant Director Lewis More O'Ferrall. "Tales From the Tube" (19 minutes) offers a modern-day interview with Sherman and Executive Producers Jay Kanter & Alan Ladd Jr. where they reminisce about getting the film off the ground and the production. "From the Depths" (13 minutes) brings us another new interview with actor David Ladd and Maslansky, where they get the opportunity to talk about their experiences on the movie. Actor Hugh Armstrong, who plays the cannibal, shares his memories in "Mind the Doors" (16 minutes). The Disc contains two THEATRICAL TRAILERS, one of which displays the film's other title, "Raw Meat". We get three TV SPOTS, two RADIO SPOTS, and a "Poster & Still Gallery".

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long