• Death Line

    Released by: Blue Underground
    Released on: June 27th, 2017.
    Director: Gary Sherman
    Cast: Donald Pleasence, Norman Rossington, David Ladd, Sharon Gurney, Hugh Armstrong, Christopher Lee
    Year: 1974
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    The Movie:

    Death Line, directed by Gary Sherman in 1974 and released by American International Pictures domestically as Raw Meat, opens with a scene wherein an upper class British gentleman visits a London strip club. Because he’s doing something he shouldn’t be, he opts to take the subway home, something he normally wouldn’t do. Later that night, a young American man named Alex (David Ladd) and his girlfriend Patricia (Sharon Gurney) are also travelling home. They get off at their station and find the man’s body lying on the stairs. Alex figures he’s just drunk and wants to ignore him but Patricia is more concerned. At her behest, they notify a police officer but when they return to check on him with the cop, the body is gone.

    It turns out that the man who went missing is a member of the Order Of The British Empire named James Manfred (James Cossins). Curious as to his whereabouts, the London police begin looking into the case, led by Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasence) and Detective Sergeant Rogers (Norman Rossington). As they begin their investigation, more people start to disappear at the same station, with help from Alex and Patricia, they start to wonder if this doesn’t have something to do with a tunnel collapse decades back, wherein a now bankrupt company left the workers in the tunnels for dead… Mind the doors!

    Dark, gritty and grimy, Death Line holds up well more than forty years later. The movie does a great job of establishing a ‘villain’ (played perfectly by Hugh Armstrong in a remarkably strong performance that is almost entirely physical, given how limited his character’s dialogue is) that is both frightening and sympathetic and exploiting some absolutely perfect underground locations for maximum effect. The camerawork is consistently good, highlighted by some impressive tracking shots that show off all the filth of the London underground, and the score is memorable and effective. The makeup effects are also really well done, adding an extra layer of ‘ick’ to the proceedings without overdoing it.

    Also absolutely worth mentioning are the performances. We’ve already covered Armstrong’s great work but just as good are Ladd and Gurney. He makes for an appropriately jaded American, noting early in the film that ‘in New York we just step over them’ when they find the body on the stairs. He’s right, we do. He’s likeable enough, as is Gurney, who Ken Russell fans will remember from her turn in Women In Love (though she looks quite different here with her shag hair cut). Norman Rossington is great as the top cop’s right hand man and Sir Christopher Lee is also fantastic in an all too short cameo as a stuffy MI5 officer trying to keep Calhoun out of his department’s business. Really though, it’s Pleasence who steals the show here. He makes his character his own, a sharp witted and reasonably cantankerous old coot of a man who has no time for longhairs but who is also quite determined to get to the bottom of all of this… even if he stops for a few pints along the way.


    Death Line debuts on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 taken from a new 2k scan on a 50GB disc. For a movie shot in a lot of grubby, dimly lit locations Death Line looks pretty good on Blu-ray. The dark color scheme doesn’t pop the way a more colorful picture would but that’s all part of the film’s gritty aesthetic. When brighter hues and primary colors are used – like in the opening near the peepshows – they’re reproduced really nicely. There’s pretty solid detail evident throughout, black levels are good and skin tones look just fine. The image is free but all of the most minor instances of print damage and the transfer is free of any overzealous noise reduction or edge enhancement.

    The only audio option provided is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track with optional subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish. The audio quality here is fine. Dialogue stays clean and clear and easily discernible and the film’s wonderfully bizarre soundtrack sounds great, especially the song used in the opening.

    Extras start off with an audio commentary featuring co-writer/director Gary Sherman, producer Paul Maslansky and assistant director Lewis More O'Ferrall moderated by David Gregory. This is a pretty revealing track as the guys talk pretty frankly about how they dodged certain restrictions on locations by showing those in charge a different script, the joys of working with the late, great Donald Pleasance, how Hugh Armstrong did his damnedest to stay in character at all times no matter what (not an easy feat given who he played!), AIP’s handling of the film’s U.S. release, the effectiveness of the locations and makeup work featured in the picture, where some of the story ideas came from, various experiences with other cast and crew members and loads more.

    From there we get a few featurettes, the first of which is Tales From The Tube, an interview with Sherman and executive producers Jay Kanter and Alan Ladd Jr. Although this covers some of the same ground as the commentary track there are a few interesting production stories featured here that make it worth checking out that aren’t covered in that track. Interesting stuff. The second featurette is From The Depths, an interview with star David Ladd and Paul Maslansky. Here the two men talk about Ladd’s family’s involvement in the feature, how they felt about working alongside Pleasence, what it was like on set and more. The third and final featurette is Mind The Doors, not surprisingly an interview with actor Hugh Armstrong. Here he tells some really interesting stories about how he got into acting in the first place, some early roles that he took on and then eventually being cast in this picture, at which point he tells us his side of the story by talking up his experiences on the shoot. All three of these are nicely shot, well put together and very much worth taking the time to explore.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc are trailers under both the Death Line and Raw Meat titles, some Raw Meat TV spots and radio spots, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection. As this is a combo pack release, the clear Blu-ray sized keepcase also holds a DVD version of the movie featuring the same extras that are included on the Blu-ray disc. Also included inside the case is a full color insert booklet containing new writing on the film by Michael Gingold and Christopher Gullo.

    The Final Word:

    Death Line holds up well, a creepy horror movie that deftly exploits an effective premise and benefits from some genuinely great performances, especially from Donald Pleasence. Blue Underground has done a nice job bringing it to Blu-ray, offering up the uncut version in great shape and with some solid extra features as well.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!