RAW MEAT (1973)
Director: Gary Sherman

Originally released in the U.K. as DEATHLINE, RAW MEAT is the debut feature of Gary Sherman (DEAD AND BURIED, VICE SQUAD), a young American director living in England at the time. This British horror effort has often been critically cited for its originality and importance to the genre (belonging in a class with the films of Pete Walker, Norman J. Warren, etc.), though it has been little seen in the U.S. over the last 30 years. Originally released theatrically by AIP, it never showed up on regular TV (until recent cable airings) and never even got a home video release. MGM has redeemed these problems by remastering it and releasing it straight to DVD in an attractive letterboxed edition.

The premise of RAW MEAT goes back to the end of the 19th century, when a group of construction workers fell victim to a London Underground cave-in and were trapped and never rescued. Presumed dead, some survived but turned cannibalistic, feeding on the others to sustain life. Now 100 years later, a diseased mutant known only as "The Man" (Hugh Armstong) and his female mate (June Turner) are the only survivors, and while the male preys on unfortunate Tube pedestrians for food, the weak pregnant female quickly terminates.

American college student, Alex (David Ladd) and his English girlfriend Patricia (Sharon Gurney, CRUCIBLE OF HORROR) discover a man passed out on the Underground stairs, yet when they bring back the police to investigate, he has disappeared. Turns out he was an OBE high society type (played by familiar British character actor James Cossins), and his disappearance has opened up a can of worms, as the couple is continually interrogated while being inquisitive at the same time. The sharp-tongued Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasance) and a detective (Norman Rossington, A HARD DAY'S NIGHT) are on the case, but soon Patricia becomes the next missing victim of "The Man" and is made prisoner in his nightmarish dwelling.

Despite some objectionable pacing, Gary Sherman's maiden voyage is an intriguing gore film in both sights and sounds, setting a nice mood of modern England and a realistically decaying view of the cannibal's habitat. Effectively long pans reveal rotted corpses, half-devoured fresh bodies hung like cattle, and rats feeding off human limbs. The character of the nearly-mute cannibalistic "man" is grotesquely Neanderthal; a sore-infested drooling mess, that kills viciously out of necessity. Hugh Armstrong gives the pathetic being some "Frankenstein" pathos, but the real standout performance is Donald Pleasance. Pleasance injects spirited life into a character that could have been one dimensional. Christopher Lee is on hand in amusing cameo (he is in the film for several minutes at the most), as is "Keeping Up Appearances" star Clive Swift.

For those U.S. fans familiar with RAW MEAT through tenth-generation VHS bootlegs, MGM's DVD will be something of a revelation. Restored to its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, the film's original Eastman colors are on attractive display here, and the source negative is in excellent shape. Some of the darker scenes show some minor grain, but at least these scenes are clearly visible. Some edge enhancement was noticeable in several scenes, but nothing too drastic. The mono audio track is fine, but it's a good thing that there's optional English subtitles, as some of English actors speak too fast or mumble (Pleasance included), so you might want to check back at what they're saying at times. Optional subtitles in Spanish and French are also included. MGM's new DVD master also restores some bloody violence not seen in the U.S. release print, so this is the fully uncut version for certain.

No extras here (a commentary with Gary Sherman--who just did one for Blue Underground's DEAD AND BURIED--would have been wonderful), but we do get the rather battered AIP theatrical trailer, which will show you how good the feature transfer really is. (George R. Reis)