With all the inherent cinematic possibilities of the world's subways, it's a wonder that more filmmakers haven't taken advantage of the subject.
While 1974's The Taking of Pelham One Two Three brought the disaster movie down into the New York City mass transit system, director Gary Sherman set his terrifying vision of cannibals in London's underground with Raw Meat aka Death Line.
A potent combination of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre spiced with a nice dose of slasher conventions, Meat succeeds on nearly every level.
On a quite evening in England's capital, James Manfred (James Cossins) enters Russell Square tube station. He approaches a prostitute (Suzanne Winkler) but rather than take him up on his lewd offer, the hooker ends up stealing his money and running off.
Alex Campbell (David Ladd), an American studying abroad, and his girlfriend Patricia Wilson (Sharon Gurney) get off a train at Russell Square. They find Manfred on a staircase, passed out. Alex believes he's a drunk while Patricia thinks the man might be a diabetic.
While looking through his wallet for any indication of a medical condition, the couple discovers that the man is a member of the OBE (Order of the British Empire). As they're heading outside, Alex and Patricia tell the lift operator about the collapsed man on the platform. They go back down into the subway with a police constable but the body is gone.
In their flat, Patricia has trouble falling asleep. She wonders if the guy is okay. Alex tells her they tried to help him but there's nothing they can do.
Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasence) of Scotland Yard gets a report from Detective Sergeant Rogers (Norman Rossington) about a "funny incident" at Russell Square.
Told that two people reported seeing somebody unconscious (who then disappeared) Calhoun theorizes that the man probably boarded the next train. Impossible, Rogers tells him. The couple took the last train of the evening into the station.
The inspector recognizes the name of the missing person as someone who works at the Ministry of Defense or the Home Office. The idea of Manfred riding public transport doesn't make sense for a man of his stature.
Russell Square also rings a bell for Calhoun. He remembers that a gentleman named Jerzy Panovsky was reported missing there as well. In looking through police records, he and Det. Sgt. Rogers discover that a Bernard Cohen was last seen at the same tube station.
Calhoun has his secretary (played by Heather Stoney) call James Manfred's office to see if he is indeed missing. She finds out that he did not make it to his morning meeting. Det. Sgt. Rogers pays a visit to Alex and Patricia's flat and asks Alex to come down to the police station.
Inspector Calhoun questions Alex about the incident. At first, he insinuates that the young student was trying to rob Manfred. How else would he have known his name? But Alex's account is corroborated by Patricia...who is being interrogated at the same time. Alex is told he can leave.
Calhoun tells Rogers it's important that they handle the case, despite the fact that Rogers feels it is a matter for the M.I.5 to handle - because of Manfred's importance.
Back at their flat, Patricia and Alex have a spat. Pat is angry because of Alex's cold and detached feelings about what she is convinced was a dying man at Russell Square. She tells him she's moving out.
Calhoun hears an interesting story at the station house from Inspector Richardson (Clive Swift). The old city and South London Company were tunneling down under the British Museum in 1892 to make a new tube station.
A whole section of the roof collapsed, which buried eight men and four women. The company went bankrupt and they couldn't afford to dig the bodies out.
The workers were abandoned, as was the entire line between Russell Square and Holborn Station. Some people believed that air pockets in the tunnel allowed the victims to survive.
Det. Sgt. Rogers wonders how they could live without food. "There's plenty of water and food...because I should imagine as each one died, the others ate him," Richardson tells him.
A long, sweeping shot shows the abandoned tunnel. There is rotting flesh with maggots crawling on the ground. James Manfred lies next to numerous corpses, while bones and body parts hang on the walls.
A disfigured man (Hugh Armstrong), his head and face scarred, holds the hand of his dying companion (June Turner). The woman appears to be pregnant.
The man brings Manfred over to the woman and slits his throat above her, allowing his mate to drink his blood in a last ditch effort to save her life.
Inspector Calhoun and Det. Sgt. Rogers stop by Manfred's luxurious and expensive flat. While looking around at the place, a member of the M.I.5 (Christopher Lee) shows up and essentially tells them that the case is out of their jurisdiction.
After all, a missing public official requires more than the local police and there is no indication yet of foul play. Calhoun makes his distaste for the M.I.5 clear but he and Rogers leave without putting up a fight.
Back underground, the woman dies. The man watching over her cannot speak words. Clearly distraught and weeping, he puts a blanket over the deceased and carries her into another area.
He then grabs a shovel and heads towards the Russell Square station, where he promptly murders three tunnel workers (Gerry Crampton, Gordon Petrie, Terence Plummer) and drags one of them back to his lair.
Calhoun receives a call about the killings in the middle of the night and he immediately goes to the morgue to see the bodies of the two men that were left behind.
It's apparent that the perpetrator has great strength, as evidenced by the condition of the corpses. In addition, it is clear that he drove the handle of the shovel right through the body of one of his victims.
The one bright spot is that since these murders took place where James Manfred went missing, Calhoun says it is definitely his business to stay on the case.
Det. Sgt. Rogers goes to the bookstore where Alex works and brings him back to the station house for further questioning. There, Calhoun asks Alex whether or not there was anyone else in the station on the night Manfred vanished. The student is also asked to identify the missing OBE from several photographs.
Meanwhile, Dr. Bacon (Hugh Dickson) tells Inspector Calhoun that blood found at Russell Square belongs to a fourth man...and that his blood shows that the person has megaloblastic anemia. There are no platelets and a total vitamin deficiency.
The doctor also tells the inspector that the man has a plague. But not to worry. The only way for it to spread would probably be if he were to bite someone.
In fact, the underground cannibal is in pain. There is a huge gash on the side of his head, which seems to cause him great discomfort. He still grieves for his deceased partner and places a pocket watch that belonged to Manfred on top of her. The ticking reminds him of what her heartbeat sounded like...
Alex and Patricia meet at a restaurant for dinner. Alex wonders why there is nothing about Manfred in the newspaper if he was such an important person.
Pat says the government may have put a "D Notice" on it...which means they have asked the press not to publish something they want suppressed.
After a night at the theatre, the couple goes down into the tube to head home. They depart the train at Holborn Station but Patricia has left her books onboard and Alex gets on again to retrieve them.
The doors close and the train takes off. "I'll see you at home!" Patricia yells. As the subway pulls out, she is grabbed from behind...
When Alex arrives back at the flat, he is concerned to see that Pat isn't there yet. She should have been there first. Alex rushes over to the tube station but it's late and the entrance is locked. He rattles the gate and gets the attention of a constable, who arrests him for making a commotion.
As an irritable Inspector Calhoun listens to Alex's story, Rogers brings in Patricia's purse. A cleaner found it in Holborn Station. Alex is dismissed and Rogers shows Calhoun that there is some blood inside of the handbag.
Feeling that no one is taking him seriously, Alex decides to search for his girlfriend in the tunnels of the underground himself.
Patricia, who had been unconscious, wakes up and is horrified to see she had been sleeping on top of a rotting corpse. Now a prisoner, she tries unsuccessfully to escape. Perhaps her captor believes he has a new mate.
After fending some rats off the terrified girl, the man appears ready to slash Patricia's throat. Instead, he attempts to get intimate with her.
Patricia finally manages to break free after smacking him in the head, directly on the gash. The cannibal goes after her, continuously saying the only bit of language he's picked up from hearing the train conductors and which London tube riders know all to well. "Mind the doors...mind the doors!"
As Patricia attempts to find a way out, Alex discovers an entrance to the bizarre and creepy underworld. He hears his girlfriend struggling with the man and runs in the direction of the screaming.
The cannibal jumps out at him but Alex gets the upper hand. He smashes the guy's face with his flashlight and then proceeds to stomp on his head. Bleeding from the assault, the tragic figure crawls away and into one of the many crevices in the tunnel.
Inspector Calhoun and his team arrive at the scene. They find a nightmare of bodies and decay. "All these generations have survived," says Inspector Richardson.
Manfred's body is nearby and the last remaining descendent of the poor souls who were trapped in the tunnel some 80 years before, appears to breathe his last breath.
The authorities, along with Alex and Patricia, leave the station for the time being. In the darkened tunnel of the subterranean hell, a voice cries out in the distance..."mind the doors!"
Raw Meat is an extraordinary but seldom seen gem...an overlooked mini-masterpiece of terror. A tight storyline comingles with a compelling theme of what 'humanity' really means.
The sequence where we first witness the cannibals' lair is about as terrifying as anything you are likely to observe in a film. The dark and dank claustrophobic setting...along with the grisly carnage...makes Buffalo Bill's chamber of horrors in The Silence of the Lambs look positively understated.
When we finally see the male cannibal and his "wife" - it's startling. The two appear reasonably close to how you might imagine cave dwellers (who have never seen daylight) would look. Riddled with disease and open sores, they are a truly unappetizing sight.
Director Gary Sherman's first feature had been The Legend of Bo Diddley in 1966. Raw Meat was his sophomore work and a nice precursor to his unique take on zombies, Dead and Buried (1981).
Among his other genre efforts are Poltergeist III in 1988 and 1990's Lisa starring Cheryl Ladd. In addition, he helmed the ultra-violent Vice Squard (1982), which for all intents and purposes...might as well be called a horror film.
The screenplay for Meat, written by Ceri Jones, was taken from a story by Sherman. Of note is the nice cinematography by Alex Thomson, particularly in the underground sequences.
The score was composed by Jeremy Rose and Malone Will, while the wonderfully icky make-up was courtesy of Harry and Peter Frampton (no, not that one!)
There are many reasons to recommend Raw Meat. But who are we fooling? It's the gore that delights...a veritable smorgasbord of the red stuff is on display...from the slow shot of the cannibals' domain to the closing tie up. Don't miss this one.