Death Line (1973)

Death Line (1973)

Beneath Modern London Lives a Tribe of Once Humans. Neither Men Nor Women…They Are the Raw Meat Of The Human Race!

Over the years, numerous people have gone missing in the tube between Holborn and Russell Square. When a top civil servant is the latest to disappear, Scotland Yard take the matter seriously and begin to investigate. They find out that at the turn of the century, a group of tunnel-diggers in the London Underground were lost when it caved-in. Presumed dead, they managed to survive in an air pocket but without food, they resorted to cannibalism. Now it seems they have found a way out.

 

After watching the dismal Creep, I read a few reports stating that it was very similar in story to an earlier British horror called Death Line, which has garnered quite a cult reputation over the years. It took me ages to track it down and having finally seen it, I can report that it’s a very acquired taste. In other words, if you like slow, talky flicks with a few cheap gore scenes thrown in, then this is right down your alley. In fact I’m being a little harsh with that comment. For 1972 and for a British-made horror flick, this is pretty gruesome and boundary-pushing material.

It’s a largely American-made film which clearly tries to tap into the Hammer/Amicus horror market of the 60s and early 70s and does a reasonable job of creating a modern horror flick, back at a time when Hammer was still engrossed in setting their films in the past. The London Underground is such an ominous setting in real life and it’s a perfect place to set a horror flick (just ask John Landis when he filmed An American Werewolf in London) but unfortunately we don’t see a great deal of it. Instead we see lots of dark, empty, unfinished tunnels which lead to the cannibal’s lair. The long, unbroken pan around the cannibal’s home is superb though, seeing the rotting corpses of former friends and family and getting a general sense that this place has been untouched for years. There’s dust, slime and the air seems stagnant – you can almost smell how bad it is. Lighting and shadow is used to create a time capsule but unfortunately this is the only time we see the lair.

Most of the film is set away from any sort of railway line, including shops, police stations and pubs. It’s here where the film really, really drags. I’m not expecting the film to just show us continuous montages of the cannibal attacking people and moping around his lair. But contrast that to scenes featuring the hero and heroine in their apartment, and I know which I’d rather be watching.

At least there’s a seasoned veteran beefing things up. Donald Pleasance is a hoot in this film as the police inspector assigned to the case. His efforts to get to the bottom of this mystery take up the bulk of the screen time and whilst Pleasance is a joy to watch here, it’s just way too much exposure for one film. Christopher Lee also gets a large billing but appears in a shocking cameo for about five minutes before vanishing entirely. Also worth mentioning is Hugh Armstrong as ‘The Man’ or the cannibal in the film. He turns the monster into such a sad, lonely figure almost like Frankenstein’s monster. He’s not really scary because the film contrasts him too much. One moment we see him caring for his dying wife before we see him dispatching a few workers in grisly manner a couple of minutes later. Later in the film when he kidnaps Patricia, I guess we’re supposed to hate him for it but in reality, we want to see a happy ending for him. Unfortunately for Alex, the hero of the film, because the ‘villain’ is so sympathetic, it’s hard to root for him. Despite the cannibal committing some brutal acts of murder and being incapable of speech, he’s still way more appealing than this sponge of a man.

 

Death Line is seemingly caught between a rock and a hard place. It wants to be an intelligent horror film dealing with one man’s struggle to retain the way of life he has grown used to and the realisation that he’s the only one left. But the inclusion of some highly gory moments suggests that they opted for a quicker profit margin with shock tactics. It’s highly talky but definitely one film all horror fans should scope at some point simply because it’s so hard to find in the UK (at time of writing).

 

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