Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Night of Terror #11: 'Raw Meat'

Due to birthday festivities (read: watching movies) I am unable to do a post for today, the 11th (technically the 12th, but oh well). So my good friend Ira Brooker of A Talent for Idleness has agreed to step in, covering the movie Raw Meat. Enjoy!

A lot of adjectives come to mind when I think of Donald Pleasence. “Commanding.” “Mannerly.” “Bald.” Viewing Raw Meat added one more to the arsenal: “Bitchy.” Pleasence fairly radiates peevishness as a Scotland Yard inspector tasked with investigating the mysterious disappearance of a civil servant in the London Underground. He brings an off-kilter, endlessly entertaining energy to his portrayal of a man utterly fed up with the base stupidity of everyone in his sphere, from criminals to colleagues to cannibals.

The sublime bitchiness of Pleasence’s performance is all the more enjoyable because it stands in stark relief to the rest of the film. The missing civil servant turns out to be the latest victim of the aforementioned cannibals, a grotesquely deformed couple living in the depths of London’s subway tunnels. The reveal of their lair is a masterpiece of cinematic gore, as director Gary Sherman’s camera pans patiently over a human slaughterhouse rendered with surprising, sickening realism. There aren’t a lot of elaborate kill sequences in this film, but when Raw Meat abides by its title, it’s just as unsettling as any splatterfest.

The Pleasence and the unpleasantness would be enough to make Raw Meat worth watching, but what really elevates it is the treatment of the cannibals. Hugh Armstrong’s turn as the mutant family’s breadwinner (so to speak) brings unexpected humanity to a fundamentally inhuman character. Sure, this dude plays it a little loose when it comes to society’s hang-ups about killing/raping/eating your social betters, but he’s a product of his environment if ever there was one. He’s an unwitting devil straight from the King Kong school of movie monsters. Armstrong wisely plays him straight, investing his frustrated grunts and moans with enough soul to make Raw Meat genuinely moving in places.

I don’t mean to imply that this is some kind of forgotten horror masterpiece. There are plenty of problems with Raw Meat, most of them involving the spectacularly dull hipster couple played by Sharon Gurney and David Ladd (son of Alan, though his performance here is more reminiscent of a young Harrison Ford on a barbiturate bender). They play the last witnesses to see the civil servant alive, but they’re mostly here to give the audience something nicer to look at than pus-oozing inbreds and Donald Pleasence. Their lazy, bickersome interludes serve mainly to bog down the proceedings of what’s a pretty low-key horror flick regardless.

Still, those minor failings only downgrade Raw Meat from a must-see to a should-see. As artsy, exploitive, ‘70s British subway cannibal movies with Donald Pleasence as comic relief go, this is pretty much your best-case scenario.

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