Raw Meat (1973)
Directed by Gary Sherman
November 28 at 92YTribeca
In Victorian England, as a detective here tells it, there was a cave-in underneath the British Museum that trapped several humans working to finish the London Underground. The bottom-liners in charge chose to just leave them buried and presumed dead. But they didn't all die—by cannibalizing each other, and then moving on to stragglers pinched from Russell Square and other platforms, some of the race lived until the film's present day (the early 1970s). It's a fine monster-movie shock-em setup, but the conceit is also loaded with social commentary, the forgotten cavepeople in their private underground hellscape standing in for the exploited, neglected proletariat who form the foundation that makes aboveground life and corruption possible.
We enter the story through young couple Alex (David Ladd) and Patricia (the sexily snaggletoothed Sharon Gurney). He's a callous American; approaching an unconscious OBE Officer on the subway steps, she's concerned, while he says "in New York, you walk over these guys." Both will end up tangling with the abscess-ridden "Man" down below, who we learn is something of sentimental old fluff when he moans over the death of his pregnant captive wife and adorns her with knickknacks swiped from victims (the first of many "wives" he's lost). It's telling that these serial killings aren't investigated until a Man of Import falls victim.
Robin Wood was not wrong when he raved about Raw Meat (he'd seen the slightly different earlier cut called Death Line in England) in the Voice in 1973, seeing it as significantly more than a cannibalism frightmare. American and first-time feature director Gary Sherman's sense of atmosphere is virtuosic, as it would be in 1982's Los Angeles street-sleaze minor classic Vice Squad, especially in this film's omniscient unbroken take that first reveals the gory but strangely cozy underground lair. The film is also hilarious, as written by Sherman and Ceri Jones (the latter's only screenplay), and performed by Donald Pleasence as lead Inspector Calhoun. The masterful turn came just one year after his tour-de-force in Wake in Fright. The more Pleasence performances I see, the more I realize what a unique and cunningly gifted artist he was. Fussily wiping his nose with a large handkerchief, arriving at work hungover and wisecracking, charmingly half-scrupulous, Pleasance's Calhoun is the prize of the picture.