Thursday, 8 October 2009

Trains in Science Fiction: Deathline (1972 Dir: Gary Sherman)

These obsessive interests are havens; they are warm duvets on November nights.

When two merge, the resulting ellipsoid in the venn diagram becomes the mother lode.

Deathline is not quite science fiction, although what else can you call a group of stranded London Underground workers who evolve and mutate into a family of cannibals? It was promoted then, and packaged now, as a horror film (in America the film was called ‘Raw Meat’). Blink and you’ll miss Christopher Lee’s cameo, an obvious attempt to associate the film with the British Hammer series.

It really isn’t a horror film either though. Like many of my favourite films it doesn’t know quite what it is. It almost climaxes too soon with a blistering title sequence, featuring blurred neon, overloaded Moog, funky Helvetica and prostitutes.

Here it is if you don’t believe me.

You want to see all of it now don’t you?

The film was shot largely on location at the Russell Square and Warren Street Underground Stations. Writer/Director Gary Sherman takes his time with the camera and plot. Many tense minutes are spent slowly panning over the monster’s lair in the imagined abandoned ‘Museum’ station. As the cannibal tends to his dying family we are made to feel sympathy for him. This is a beauty and the beast story. He hesitates before eating the pretty heroine but the only words he knows is a garbled version of ‘Mind the gap’.

The best thing about the film is Donald Pleasance, but then Pleasance is the best thing about any film he is in. He plays a surprisingly realistic Policeman in an unrealistic London. The disappearances on the underground seem to be a minor annoyance to him. In fact even though his character has plenty of screen time he does nothing to advance the plot or find the underground train monster. We get a expanded look into the life of what could have been a bit part. It’s as if all the scenes from ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead’ had been inserted into ‘Hamlet’.

In my imagined version of the 1970’s Donald Pleasance continued to play, Inspector Calhoun in a whole series of London set horror films. He wouldn’t investigate, or ignore, pirate zombies on the River Fleet, phantom Route Masters and ghost dogs along the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

At the time of writing ‘Deathline’ costs about £5 on Amazon. Go get it.

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