At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

DEATH LINE (Blue Underground)

By • Jul 5th, 2017 •

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BluRay/DVD review by Roy Frumkes

Adroitly restored from the butchered American International version known as RAW MEAT (the only way I’d seen it till now), and also restored by Blue Underground’s loving treatment of the original negative element, this rather bleak and nasty horror tale finally finds the form which its director, Gary Sherman, envisioned it to have…45 years ago.

This would make an interesting companion piece with Buddy G’s AMERICAN NIGHTMARES, in terms of their unwholesome directorial vision. Dark, dank and morbid, the antagonist’s inherently sympathetic sub-existence is mitigated by excessive drooling and head lesions, not to mention that the cannibalistic dweller in the deserted underground stations suffers from Septicemic Plague, the mortality rate of which, in medieval times, was 99%. So when he kidnaps the girl and tries to have sex with her while drooling all over her, we fear her catching the plague more than the ravaging.

There is a long history of comedic cops being used to balance gruesome horror. The 1934 THE BLACK CAT has two Hungarian dolts interrupt the satanic proceedings for three unbearable minutes while Lugosi and Karloff stand by indulgently. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON is a weak use of the device. DOCTOR PHIBES RISES AGAIN is a clumsy, foolish, periodically droll attempt. LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT features a pair of buffoonish officers of the law who are occasionally amusing in spite of themselves. There are others, but cutting to the chase, DEATH LINE, contains the best use of the counterpoint device. A loud, abusive and obnoxious police captain, played by Donald Pleasence, layers the horror scenes with his relentless, narcissistic banter, but he’s also quite good, and half the lines hit the mark.

The ubiquitous Christopher Lee makes a brief but enjoyable appearance. The commentary track contains a wonderful story about Lee and Pleasance doing their scene together, which I’ll be repeating every year in my History of Horror class. I told it last week and the students laughed uproariously.

The supplementals were produced by the redoubtable David Gregory, and in one of them we get to hear reminiscences from Alan Ladd Jr. (80) and Jay Kanter (90), two of the film’s producers. Rarely do we see past Hollywood producers interviewed, so this segment is of substantial historical value.

Also of special interest are the underground locations, some of them the real abandoned tunnels. These are meticulously identified by Sherman and Lewis More O’Ferrall, the film’s Assistant Director. Talk about mise-en-scene!

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