In 1892, a mixed group of navvies, excavating below what is supposed to become British Museum Station, are trapped underground when a tunnel collapses. Abandoned to their plight as it would be too expensive to dig them out, the tribe expand and survive by snatching lone travellers from the platform of Russell Square tube station - and eating them. Eighty years on and there are only two of their number left: a shambling, plague-ridden wretch and his dying wife.
Cut to the preset day and, presumably, at the close of a hard day's railing against permissiveness and drafting legislation for the banning of tits 'n bums, James Manfred OBE unwinds by trawling seedy Soho strip joints until he's in desperate need of .... relief. He tips his bowler at a lone woman on the platform at Russell Square and aggressively propositions her, receiving a knee in the goolies for his trouble. The girl swanks off with his cash and, hardly has he got his breath back than the cannibal (Hugh Armstrong looking for all the world like Aqualung era Ian Anderson with a fetching plague of boils makeover) is upon him. But before he can haul him off back to his lair, the last train pulls into the station depositing an animated afghan coat named Patricia (the very beautiful Sharon Crucible Of horror Gurney) and her American boyfriend Alex (David Ladd). They find Manfred sprawled across the stairs. Alex reckons he's just another drunken bum, but Trish prevails upon him to tell the lift attendant in case he's had a heart attack. These three go back down to investigate and .... the body has vanished.
It transpires that Manfred is but the latest in a long procession of people who've disappeared from the platforms of Russell Square and neighbouring Holborn, but as none of his predecessors were household names it didn't seem worth spending the tax-payers money on an investigation until now.
Donald Pleasance plays Inspector Calhoun as if his agent has just broken the dreaded news that he's legally contracted to follow Death Line with a prominent part in the celebrated I Don't Want To Be Born and there's no getting out of it short of suicide. When he's not being curmudgeonly he's being merely splenetic, and when he's not being splenetic he's moaning about everything and being gloriously rude and sarcy to all comers. It's a terrific, foul mood performance, offset by the sterling support of Norman Rossington as his ever loyal subordinate, whipping boy and boozing partner, Detective Sergeant Rogers.
Meanwhile, things are not going well with the cannibal. His partner has finally died and, maddened with grief, he attacks three of the station staff, cleaving one of their heads open with a spade, driving the broken handle of same clean through a second and dragging the third off to his larder. Man needs a mate so he abducts Trish and tries to force-feed her rats to make her fit and strong. He clearly means her no harm, but as his words of reassurance only amount to a bellowed "mind the doors" (the only words he's ever heard and he utters them whatever the occasion), she's none too keen to stick around. Will Calhoun discover the cannibal's mouldering, corpse strewn lair and put an end to his reign of terror on the Piccadilly Line? What of that reckless young hot-head Alex? Will his solo attempt at pulling off a rescue scupper the police hunt and put Trish's life in real jeopardy?
An incredibly dark film with commendable performances from all concerned (even the gratuitous Christopher Lee cameo isn't too jarring) and a gripping soundtrack, Death Line is up there with any 'seventies Brit horror film you care to mention. Thanks to Rog for giving me the opportunity to see it again!
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.
I love this film! I think what's so good about it is that it's done in such a way that you actually feel sorry for the "bad guy" - the cannibal (brilliantly played by Hugh Armstrong). And that's not just because he looks like Ian Anderson's "Aqualung" in my case!
It's a wonderfully creepy film, very under-rated - brilliant! This has made me want to watch it again now. ;D
Post by franklinmarsh on Sept 10, 2008 15:18:58 GMT
Now to be a complete misery. Along with From Beyond The Grave I've never understood how these came to be so worshipped. DL benefits from an incredible performance from Donald Pleasance abley supported by Norman Rossington. Lee's cameo is tops. The two leads are unmemorable to say the least. And as for the tube-dweller...I cannot take him seriously. He looks like Ian Anderson/Aqualung crossed with Fagin. (Which is why I suspect Dem and Caroline are championing this). It's much better than I remembered but I can't really take to it. I mean, the modern version Creep is terrible but I much prefer the monster in that. I do like DL for people smoking on the tube, James Cossins city gent in Soho (and the jazzy theme toon) and Donald Pleasance mentioning 'old money'.
as it happens, the fact that the 'monster' is pathetic rather than threatening is what makes it for me. he's just trying to get by, and that bit where the female dies on him is genuinely sad. for similar reasons, the fact that the leads are non-descript gives it a kind of verite (which may also be its graininess), added to by the fact that pleasance and rossington seem to be making up their dialogue as they go along. in some ways, it's a shockingly incompetent film, but that sort of makes it for me.