Raw Meat (1973)

Raw Meat

Raw Meat is kind of fresh: There are some things here that we have not seen in a horror film, which nobody has ripped off. This, along with good acting, makes it more than a nasty little thriller. But the film is nasty and little, too.

It begins and ends with the search for sex. The first search is prurient, a little vile, as the credits play over a none-too-good 70s funk. James Manfred, OBE, is looking for love in all the wrong places. After a woman who might be a prostitute rebukes him physically, he breaks down. A young couple finds the prone body. Alex (David Ladd), a stouthearted Yank, wants to leave the body. Patricia (Sharon Gurney) reports it to a policeman, but when they go back to the underground, the body is gone.

This sets the plot of the film in motion, but more importantly, it ushers in one of the movie’s two great delights: Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasance). Calhoun is a rude drunk and a bastard. He’s also great fun to watch. Like Tony Todd and Bruce Campbell, Pleasance is one of those actors who seem to make the most sense in the context of a sci-fi/horror setting. There is something off-kilter about his style of performance. He has an undercurrent of rage, and Raw Meat taps it. Except for one terrible scene with Christopher Lee1, he brings life and energy to the film without becoming the slightest bit likable.

The other great pleasure is the underground world. The thief of the OBE is a man who has been underground his whole life. His forbears are the workmen who got trapped in the tunnel they created a century ago, and in one long, unbroken shot, we see the small room that has been his life, the degradation and decay that are constantly at his step, and the rotting corpses that are his food and sole companion, now that his lady friend is dying. It is a great few minutes of cinema, every bit as good as the Lee/Pleasance scene is bad.

The underground dweller (a.k.a. “The Man”) is unique. Sympathetic and monstrous, you care for him because he’s pathetic, and the fear he inspires is a product of “There but for the grace of God go we” – similar to what some of the better Frankenstein adaptations evoke. With the open head-wound making him vulnerable, The Man is a vision of humanity descended, despite his caveman-like strength.

This strength is also the film’s weakness. To the detriment of the protagonist, the antagonist is very sympathetic. As a hero, Alex is a wet noodle. He’s unappealing and brusque. To make sure that The Man is on the villain side of the map, the film engages his villainy in the form of brutal slayings. These murders, which include a semi-decapitation with a shovel, are gruesome and foul. The sudden brutality makes you feel unmoored. It kills a lot of sympathy for The Man, and it doesn’t transfer affection to the boring Alex or the despicable Calhoun.

Raw Meat (which, incidentally, had the more apt and less lurid title of Death Line in Britain) has the atmosphere of degeneracy just beneath the surface – literally. But it does not resonate. The social commentary, such as it is, boils down to the obtuse message that “rot is beneath most veneers”2. So what? Too much inference is required…and the movie feels better than it should. I’d recommend it to a horror fan, but it does little more than exist on the screen3. Ironic: a film about rot beneath the surface that has no depth of its own.

1This scene has the most stilted acting, direction and camera movement of any professional film I’ve seen; the compositions and interaction made me feel uncomfortable. Sadly, it is the only scene with Christopher Lee. For two minutes of interminable dialogue, Lee and Pleasance stand at either side of the room. They do not move. Wretched, wretched filmmaking.

2Same as the thing in American Beauty, where the eggshell makes the rose bloom – rot at the root of beauty. By the way, I didn’t like American Beauty. The “message” was like a hammer trying to bash my brain into shape. Kinda the opposite of this film, thus justifying my bringing it up in the first place.

3(Spoiler alert.) At the top of the review, I said that illicit sex bookends the film – the OBE looks for a hooker, and The Man tries to rape Patricia. Since both The Man and the OBE are sexually aggressive, they share a connection; and since the desires of the most base Londoner are similar to those of the most high-borne, everyone is equal when the trappings of civilization are gone. The point deserves a big “So what?” Essentially, it says that if it weren’t for civilization, we’d be uncivilized. As you can see, delving deeper intoRaw Meat produces very little gold and a lot of mud. Still liked it, though.


About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email kentc@explodedgoat.com