After exiting a train in London’s Russell Square underground, Alex Campbell (David Ladd) and Patricia (Sharon Gurney) come across James Manfred OBE (James Cossins), a Ministry of Defense official, lying unconscious on the platform. Even though Alex does not want to get involved, as he thinks the man is just drunk, Patricia convinces him to alert an authority. When the return with a policeman, the body has disappeared. When this case reaches Scotland Yard Inspector Calhoun’s (Donald Pleasance) desk, he uncovers a series of missing people cases who were all last seen in tube station platforms. He also learns that a group of workers, male and female, had become trapped while building London’s subway lines over 80 years ago, the company that employed them abandoning them in their new tomb. Rumors are these trapped workers had resorted to eating their dead and have been living in the darkness among the plague-infested rats all these years. What Inspector Calhoun and the rest of London’s rail riders don’t know is that these are not rumors and one of the last descendants of this rumored cannibalistic clan has found a way out.
Gary Sherman (Dead and Buried, Poltergeist III) delivers a strange, overlooked horror film directly inspired by the popular legend of the cannibal clan of Sawney Beane. Some may see the film suffering from not knowing exactly what it wants to be, or possibly having one too many fingers in the pie. On one hand, it comes across as a talky horror film with a message but switches things up with some nasty violence and unsettling, lingering scenes with just a bit of the staples that would later be seen in slasher films. But it is the opening scene of Raw Meat that attempts to set the mood of the film with a montage of an English gentlemen exploring the seedier spots of Soho. As scene after scene of strip clubs and bars dissolves in and out while a grimy tune plays in the background, this great opening and the symbolism of man resisting – or not – the more darker side of himself is prevalent throughout the film and probably the real heart of the film.
Donald Pleasence hands in one of his better performances as Inspector Calhoun. His character is obnoxious, crass and unlikeable, performed in such a way you end up liking him. In less experienced hands, the character of Inspector Calhoun could have been a one-dimensional stereotype. But Donald Pleasence takes the role and turns him into a living, breathing person. His scenes are the better of the talking portions of the film and he does exceptionally solid work. If you are a fan of Donald Pleasence, and have not seen this film, you owe it to yourself to track it down. David Ladd and Sharon Gurney do not fair as well. David, playing the American student attending a London university, comes off as too wooden and some of his lines that may have meant to come off as cynical, come across as too cold and too uncaring. This makes for a leading character who is hard to like or feel any sympathy for. Sharon Gurney does a decent job with the role she is given, but is wasted in the first half of the film. Gary Sherman spends way too much time detailing Sharon’s character worrying about the disappearance of a stranger and the resulting strain on her relationship with her seemingly apathetic boyfriend.
While the beginning title sequence announces that Christopher Lee is in the film, he only makes a 5-minute cameo as MI5 operative, Stratton-Villiers. While the scene is a good one, with Donald Pleasence and Christopher Lee having a quiet yet seething, verbal sparring match, it was an obvious throwaway role to get his name attached to the film and people in the theater. Hugh Armstrong plays the “monster” simply labeled as The Man. His performance is done well and he avoids going too over the top. He is a diseased man, twisted and portrayed like the Frankenstein’s Monster or the Phantom of the Opera. Unable to speak normal English, most of his “lines” are just gibberish aside from one phrase he screams; “Mind the Doors!” – a phrase he learned from hearing the conductors of the trains.
The monster of Raw Meat is presented as a sympathetic type creature who is more a victim of circumstance and whose motivations are not to instill terror but rather survival. His way of life has come to a close with the death of his pregnant wife, and being the last one of his kind, he is merely attempting to preserve his race. The fact that he has started to abduct humans for food is more for survival than it is for psychotic bloodlust. He is shown to have feelings, as he mourns the death of his mate and unborn son. His last abduction isn’t even for food as much as it is for companionship. The monster is the only character in Raw Meat that operates purely on instinct and raw emotion. You have the college educated visitor, Alex, who has become so cynical from living in NYC, that he pleads with his girlfriend to walk past the unconscious Manfred the same way he walks over the drunks at home. Calhoun, while likable, is a scowling, untrustworthy fellow who demonstrates his own prejudices by not getting involved with any of the previous missing persons reports until someone of higher importance becomes one of them. Also popular in many movies in the ’70s was the generation gap. Calhoun tells the cocky American, Alex, to get a haircut and “hurry back to school – there might be a protest march for you to join“. These themes of class segregation and discrimination are shown throughout the film, once again having the viewer asking themselves who is the real monster in this movie.
Alex Thomson’s photography is excellent even though the creepy interior of the London Underground is never used to its fullest potential. The underground lair of The Man is a treat, though, as it is all very convincingly constructed and shot with an abundance of dark corridors and rooms lit by halo producing lanterns, dripping pipes and scurrying rats. Long, lingering shots of this underground lair are used, with one tracking shot being seven-minutes and detailing a “food” storage room. This room is littered with body parts and the bodies of the recently abducted. Hanging from hooks, these poor souls suffered a nasty fate and the camera takes it’s sweet time slowly panning over these hapless victims and the injuries inflicted on them. This underground lair The Man inhabits also contains a makeshift tomb of all his dead clan and consist of various corpses in different degrees of decomposition. These effects are very well done and extremely realistic. Created by the fatherson team of Harry Frampton and Peter Frampton (who would go on to win an Oscar for his work on Braveheart). The Man, suffering from all kinds of diseases, looks pretty convincing with long, dirty hair, ropes of spit hanging out of his lips and a face rife with boils and open sores. While there are never any extremely gory action shots, most effects being reserved for the already dead, there are a few violent scenes including a shovel to the head and a pushbroom handle through the chest. Raw Meat also offers a couple nasty surprises with scenes detailing a rat getting it’s head bit off and an attempted rape scene.
While Raw Meat may not be one of the best horror films ever created, some may not like the slow pacing, it is definitely top-notch stuff for it’s time and criminally neglected. The influence this film had on a few more popular horror films including An American Werewolf in London as well as Creep, is very apparent. Had this film had an American distributor, instead of the UK based one that restricted it’s initial release, this film may have become more widely known and definitely have enjoyed a more favorable, and much larger audience.