Movie: Death Line (1972)

False advertising is a bitch.  I bought this import blu-ray because it said Christopher Lee is in it.  And he is, for like three minutes.

Lee is in 1972’s Death Line because he wanted to act alongside Donald Pleasance.  The result is they are almost in one scene together.  I say “almost” because the camera alternates between either a straight-on shot of Lee or a straight-on shot of Pleasance.  At first, I thought they were filmed at different times and places, but the final shot reveals they are there together.  So why take the bizarre approach of having them appear to talk directly to the audience?

The concept of the movie itself is intriguing: people have been disappearing periodically from a London tube station.  There was an incident decades ago near this stop in which a tunnel under construction collapsed.  Some of the workers were left to die there.

From the evidence we will be presented, we can surmise some of those workers survived and then spawned successive generations by abducting and impregnating women from the platform.  They also have been killing men for food.

That the men could ever escape from what was thought to be their tomb seems me a fatal flaw in the premise.  If the earliest survivors of the accident could get out, why didn’t they just get away entirely?

Of course, then we wouldn’t have a movie.  A gory non-sensical mess of copiously drooling, puss-oozing, rapey cannibals.  Well, cannibal, singular, as we down to the last descendent of his tribe.  He looks like the homeless guy from the cover of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung brought to life.

This is a seriously gross picture.  There are some shots which linger so long on things like rotting limbs and decomposing carcasses on meat hooks that it is like a pornography of gore.  To my absolute shock, this wasn’t one of the films singled out my British censors in the 80s as one of the “Video Nasties”.  And, yet, it isn’t scary in the least, unless you count a poster on the wall advertising “The Black & White Mistrel Shows presents The Magic of the Minstrels.”

As for the cast, Donald Pleasance is the most notable presence, though he seems to think he is in a comedy.  Other than his performances, there are no indications this movie was meant to be tongue-in-cheek (Well, there was that train showing the next destination was “COCKFOSTERS”, which make my wife and I breathless from laughing).  I wish I could see the movie he thinks he’s in instead of the one he is actually in.  He delivers many bizarre little quips that had to be ad-libbed.  At times, it’s almost as weird of a performance as Walken’s cameo in Gigli.

Our alleged hero in this is played David Ladd.  He and his girlfriend (Sharon Gurney) find a victim of the tunnel cannibal, mistaking him for a drunk.  When they report this to the police, Ladd ends up in a confrontation with Pleasance. 

I’m not sure if it is just Ladd’s performance (which is definitely sub-par) or his character, but I kept hoping the police would start wailing on him.  He’s rude and abrasive, and I doubt that is how it was written.  I was baffled as to why this actor was cast at all, and initially wondered if it was because he looks like Jeff Bridges at first glance.  Then I noticed one of the movie’s “presenters” is Alan Ladd, who just happens to be his father.

Sharon Gurney fares better, both due to greater acting ability and a better role.  I write that, even though that role largely boils down to “girl inevitably going to get abducted by rapey tunnel troll”.  Maybe it’s just her Ziggy Stardust haircut, but she looks odd—it’s as if David Bowie, Charlotte Gainsbourgh and Kristen Stewart had a child together.  She also has a weird piecemeal coat that looks it ate several other coats and then coughed up a hairball.

I strongly disliked Death Line.  Some of Donald Pleasance’s shtick is amusing, but not enough for me to recommend it to others.  It is similar to 1984’s C.H.U.D. which, despite being lower budget and made over a decade later, is the superior film.  Actually I love that later film so, not only would I recommend seeing it instead of the earlier one, I would recommend watching that one, period.

Dir: Gary Sherman

Starring Donald Pleasance and three minutes of Christopher Lee

Watched on Network UK blu-ray (region B)