Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Raw and the Cooked

Back when I was devouring horror movies to the point of monomania, Raw Meat (1972, directed by Gary Sherman, aka: Death Line) was a film that continued to elude me. I had read about it, of course, but I couldn't find the damned thing no matter where I looked. At one point, I even ordered a VHS copy of it from a gray market source who never sent me the tape. It was even more infuriating to me, because I had friends and correspondents who had seen it and who had declared that it just wasn't that rare. By the time it was issued on DVD, I had stopped looking. I refused to buy it out of spite, for the most part, which is foolish of me, I know. I finally got around to it this October, some two decades or more since I started looking for it. It was bound to be a disappointment. Any movie would be.

The movie itself resurrects the Sawney Bean myth, transplanting its merry band of cannibal degenerates to a collapsed section of the London underground, where the police have finally noticed that people are going missing. The unfortunate victim who precipitates this is a minister of the foreign office, and the police follow his tracks to a dead end. The cannibals are the descendants of trapped subway workers buried a century earlier. At the time of the movie, they've become carriers of septicemic plague. The mythology of the storyline has an inherent contradiction in it (much like the mythology of Neil Marshall's The Descent, among other films that use this trope): if the cannibals can leave their warren to hunt, why would they have settled on their isolation in the first place. In the case of Raw Meat, this is doubly puzzling, given the dire circumstances in which the cannibals are shown to live.

The movie, ultimately, comes down to the lead actors. On the one hand, you have David Ladd's American student. Ladd is a wholly inadequate actor who leaves a sucking void in the middle of the movie. On the other hand, you have Donald Pleasence, who seems to be overcompensating. Pleasence steals the movie when he's on screen, but it comes at the expense of other elements. There's a political element of the film that seems to have been included specifically to give Christopher Lee a walk-on part. It doesn't add much to the movie.

Still, there is a ferocity of image in this film that commands some attention. The cannibal patriarch wailing in the abandoned underground over his dying wife, for instance, has a terrible poignancy to it. The remains of his feasts is grislier than usual for this kind of movie, too. Director Gary Sherman, an American, had an instinct for the jugular (not just in this film), and it certainly makes this movie linger in the memory longer than it has any right to. The violence sits uneasily with the police procedural, which resembles the tone of more genteel British horror movies of the day. That all said, the movie has a magnificent punch line, in which the cannibal patriarch screams "Mind the doors," the only English he knows, as he dies at the end of the movie.

Current Challenge tally:

Total Viewings: 8

First Time Viewings: 8

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