This film will be more for those curious about the process of how we got from blood going down the drain in black and white in Pscyho to where film in the early ’80’s is so gross.
Written and Directed by Gary Sherman
Starring Donald Pleasence, Norman Rossington, David Ladd, Sharon Gurney, Hugh Armstrong, Christopher Lee
Death Line is one of the first films to push the X-Rating strictly in terms of violence and its subsequent gore. It’s the kind of film that shows its action quite ineptly and then takes its time showing us the results of said action. This is something that will interest historians of the genre. People here to see a story better told than Friday the 13th level will be disappointed, however.
The American distributor even went so far as to rebrand the movie poster and the movie title to Raw Meat in order to give the illusion that the film was a zombie film, which was still experiencing it’s initial wave of popularity. That’s how thrilled they were about the story, if it gives us any clue.
Somehow, this script lured in the likes of Marlon Brando early on, before his son got sick. The character he agreed to play is of a cannibal, called simply “The Man.” The story of The Man is that somehow he is the pustuled, mumbling and human eating descendant of survivors of a subway workers caved in on decades earlier.
Why he is mumbling is unsure. Those who survived the event would surely have known English and would have taught him something about communicating. Somehow, enough of these workers survived long enough to figure out how to ingest those who died off over the years.
Then, in present day, a man is found attacked in the subway by David Ladd and Sharon Gurney. They go to get an officer, return and the unconscious man is missing. The person is important enough that Donald Pleasence’s Inspector Calhoun to begin an investigation. As he narrows in, more people go missing.
The story segues underground at this point. We get a drawn out vision of the dwellings of “The Man” and “The Woman.” These leering, lingering and grotesque camera shots are the key for horror aficionados. It provides an opportunity for effects personae to show their wares. As a scene, it’s slow and plodding.
What is worse, we are asked to find some sympathy for the couple, who obviously have been feeding off of the populace for years. The Man wanders around, moping, moaning in anguish, looking like something close to the cover of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung.
There is a skill in making one’s antagonist into a sympathetic character. Sherman does not have this skill. Lingering shots and confusing meanderings do not a sympathetic character make, especially when one is making sure we thoroughly fear the result of our meeting up with them. The camera work is effective sometimes in showing us the desolation, but overall it’s a mixed bag when they throw in those other “look at this gross stuff” moments.
Pleasence has fun poking around and butting heads with witnesses and other agencies, including one quizzically awesome scene with Christopher Lee. David Ladd, whose brother Alan Ladd, Jr. produced the film, shows none of the moves or acting ability that helped him land future Charlie’s Angel Cheryl Ladd.
This film will be more for those curious about the process of how we got from blood going down the drain in black and white in Pscyho to the point where every film in the early ’80’s slasher era became so gross.
(** out of *****)