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By James Whittington, Sunday 23rd September 2018
The 1970s, a time of wood-chip wallpaper, the faded dreams of flower power and industrial change. Britain was experiencing three-day weeks, power shortages and general misery. Cinema reflected this depressing time and none more so than Death Line. This gritty, grimy, gory piece is rightly regarded as a classic and Network have given it a transfer that gives it a new lease of life.
When a philandering politician goes missing on the London Underground, the subsequent police investigation uncovers a terrifying secret kept hidden since the 1800s. Who - or what - is turning the Underground tunnels into a Death Line..? Released as Raw Meat in America, Death Line is the sort of movie Hammer should have tried making as its film business production ground to a halt. Its atmospheric, has an idiosyncratic tone throughout and delivers on the violence. The movie captures the seedy side of London at the start of the 70s, the way it lacked definition resembling a cheap, dilapidated version of New York in desperate need of a revamp. Its all neon with peeling paint and bland colour schemes, a place where bowler hatted gentlemen get their questionable kicks and those above the law only need an OBE after their name.
First time director Gary Sherman shows great confidence, slowly building up the tension with long tracking shots and solid character development. He also handles acting legends Donald Pleasence and Christopher Lee perfectly, allowing their two-dimensional characters to fully develop. Adding to this one of the sleaziest scores ever to accompany a horror movie and you've got an almost perfect mix.
The supporting cast are a tad flat and some of the dialogue is a bit dated, but the film is saved by a tight running time and some cracking set-pieces which, for their time were considered very strong. The sequences in the underground tunnels are huge fun, look out the infamous "spade in the head" shot! By the way, the film retains its "Certificate X" card from the BBFC at the start which for some reason sent a bit of retro chill down my spine.
The transfer is superb, for a film shot in 1972. Taken from original film elements it looks as if it could have been made yesterday. It has a deep range of shades that retain plenty of detail in the many darker sequences. The soundtrack is fine though some of the dialogue is a bit shrill, but I think this is due to how it was recorded rather than anything else.
Extras include Mind the Doors!: an interview with Hugh Armstrong, limited edition collectible booklet written by Laura Mayne, Theatrical Trailer, Image Gallery and PDF Material.
Death Line is an important film as it brought a much-needed rawness to British horror cinema, thus breathing life into a dying genre.
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