Gary Sherman (director)
Network on Air (studio)
27 August 2018 (released)
30 August 2018
This slasher is, depending on your taste, a deservedly minor classic of the early 70's genre and for many the zenith of the British Horror film boom which came to an abrupt holt in the middle of that decade.
Here we have two men (Donald Pleasence and Sir Christopher Lee) whose careers were to be inextricably linked to this medium; looked down on many but revered by those who know better. Pleasence is cast as Inspector Calhoun, a cynical and tea addicted ageing copper 'who thinks he's seen it all', however...
The film begins with perennially seedy high-ranking civil servant James Manfred OBE (James Cossins) leaving a Soho strip club (to a suitably sleazy soundtrack from Wil Mallone and Jeremy Rose) and heading towards Russell Square underground station. Of course, this doesn’t make much sense as he would have used either Piccadilly or Leicester Square station but presumably it was much easier and quieter to film at Russell Square station (though probably it was a disused Aldwych or Strand station for inside filming). On the platform Mr. Manfred gets the brush off from a prostitute and shortly after he lies unconscious on the stairs where he’s discovered by a young couple: English student Patricia Wilson (Sharon Gurney) and American Alex Campbell (David Ladd) who just had stepped out of the last train for the night. While Alex reckons the man is simply just drunk, Patricia insists he doesn’t reek of booze and thus he might be diabetic – either way the pair report the incident to the lift attendant just as he is about to close the station for the night. He in turn fetches a bobby and the small group return to the stairs in the tube station but no man – unconscious or otherwise – can be spotted anywhere.
Nonetheless the following day the bobby reports this to Calhoun who initially doesn’t give it much thought but when it transpires that weeks and even months before others had vanished in said underground station, Calhoun decides to look into the case a little deeper – and what better way to start then ‘interviewing’ Patricia and Alex. Thanks to the couple Calhoun now knows that the missing person is one James Manfred OBE and so Calhoun and Detective Rogers (Norman Rossington) decide to inspect Manfred’s posh pad where they discover a secret room behind the bookcase… let’s call it Manfred’s porno chamber. Just as Calhoun (after helping himself to a glass of whatever from one of the decanters) is ready to probe further, the two are interrupted and warned off by pompously arrogant M15 agent Stratton-Villiers (Christopher Lee) who ‘advises’ Calhoun to look upon Manfred’s mysterious disappearance as a ‘closed case’ – could it be that Manfred was involved in shady goings on and crooked deals? A high-ranking civil servant? Never! It must be said it is a bit of a cheat to give Lee such huge billing for a 2-minute or so appearance. Apparently he was filming a starring role in THE CREEPING FLESH in the same studio at the time, hence the rather Victorian facial hair, and copped an extra afternoon's work after meeting writer/director Gary Sherman.
Meanwhile in a derelict part of the underground station we make the acquaintance of ‘The Man’ aka ‘The Cannibal’ (Hugh Armstrong) – the last surviving descendant of a group of Victorian railway workers who survived a 1892 cave-in but were never officially dug up or rescued. Urban legend has it that these railway workers, who often had their families with them helping to construct the tunnels, lived on in abandoned sections of the tunnels resorting to cannibalism… fast forward to 1972 and ‘The Cannibal’s’ pregnant partner (June Turner) just breathed her last – making him the last survivor condemned to a life of solitude and misery. No wonder he loses it completely and goes into a rage that cost three tube maintenance workers their lives.
While Calhoun makes little progress, the two students who initially reported the matter also can't help putting their oar in as well. This results in Patricia being abducted by the lonely cannibal after she accidentally finds herself stranded on the ‘cursed’ platform. The 'Man' is littered with pustules, scabies and other sores so Patricia might be forgiven for finding him utterly repulsive when all he wants is another female mate after his aforementioned and equally repulsive partner died – oh dear! The fact that his lair is filled with half eaten and decaying corpses, including that of the missing civil servant Mr. Manfred, doesn’t help matters.
This set-up, in itself, is pretty ridiculous. Anyway this reviewer has no intention of telling you any more - not wanting to spoil your fun. It is sick rubbish that should NOT be watched while you’re about to tuck into your dinner – at the same time it’s well done and quite hilarious in places (courtesy of Mr. Pleasence’ deadpan ‘Inspector Calhoun’). As for ‘The 'Man' he only has one line among a series of howls and grunts: 'Mind the doors'! Hugh Armstrong deserved an award though quite which one, well, it is hard to say.
Oscar-nominee Alex Thompson's cinematography is commendable though the real stars here are the make-up artists! DEATH LINE is a nasty little piece and obviously not for the easily offended. You can almost smell the charnel house: utterly disgusting!
Special Features on this Blu-ray release include Theatrical Trailer, Booklet, Image Gallery, and ‘Mind the Doors!’ – and interview with actor Hugh Armstrong.