All I knew was RAW MEAT was some kind of a cannibal-in-the-subway movie from Gary Sherman, director of VICE SQUAD and POLTERGEIST III. I heard it was good, meant to see it for a long time, finally did.
During the opening credits – an artful, colorful montage of an upper class gentleman walking through strip club neon, set to some crazy jazz – I learned that it’s from 1972. I expected later. This is pre-TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. I don’t know about this. Is this modern enough to be a good cannibal movie?
There’s a young couple in London, a brash American (David Ladd) and his British girlfriend (Sharon Gurney), using the underground. They find the guy from the opening credits passed out on the stairs, and argue about whether he’s drunk or sick. The girl wants to try to get help, the guy just wants to go home, says we step over guys like this every day in New York.
Boyfriend whinily gives in and they find a police officer to come take a look, but by the time they get there the man is gone. We don’t see what happened to him, but it turns out he was a bigshot at the ministry of defense, so when he turns out to be missing Scotland Yard (Donald Pleasance, others) go back to this couple, who mentioned the missing man’s name, having seen his wallet.
All this is very stuffy and dry. Not much happens for a while. Police inspectors bickering about tea and shit. Pleasance wants loose leaf, hates tea bags. Suddenly, 24 minutes in, we get to something completely shocking for a film from 1972: a continuous steadicam shot a couple minutes long panning around a room full of severed limbs and half eaten faces covered in meal worms. The only sound we hear is dripping blood, like a leaky faucet. And then we see a couple sewer cannibal types. You know, the type of people who might live under a subway eating human meat. I know this isn’t politically correct, but you know how those people are. Unintelligible grunts, open sores on their faces and shit, possibly mutants or inbreds or bubonic plague victims.
Anyway this cannibal guy is caring for his pregnant cannibal wife, I think. Maybe she was somebody he kidnapped, but she had sores on her face and stuff, I think it was his wife, hopefully not a relative but just another member of the underground cannibal community that they have over there. So it’s kinda sweet I guess. He’s just doin what he’s gotta do. Bringin home the bacon.
The scenes with the cannibal are great. The movie turns almost Kubrickian or at least De Palmian in its love for very slow, deliberate but show-offy shots, God’s-eye-view type stuff revealing the horrific world beneath the city. Piles of dead bodies, walls of garbage with skeleton hands poking out. This idea of the modern human turned savage through isolation, it’s made for some good horror. This is similar to the idea behind TEXAS CHAIN SAW, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, also the book Off Season by Jack Ketchum, later sequelized in The Offspring and spun off into THE WOMAN. But this also made me think of that documentary DARK DAYS, about the people who built a little village underneath the subway in New York. Those guys weren’t cannibals, though, I’m pretty sure. But they did eat some rats, like this guy. So that part was accurate. They cooked ’em, though. That’s how we do it in America.
Of course Donald Pleasance is great, but all these investigation scenes – asking questions in a morgue, talking to somebody in the type of office we see in the old movies where everybody gets to pour themselves a glass of scotch, wearing a Mr. Rogers sweater talking about platelets with a guy looking into a microscope, sitting at his desk at night wearing thick glasses going over some paperwork – are so dull, like the boring section of an old cop show you would flip past if it was on TV. I’d rather follow the girl with the Jane Fonda fashion sense and the Jimi Hendrix poster on her wall.
In fact, the police inspector portion of the movie is pretty useless. We’ve seen this cannibal guy so we’ve got a pretty good idea that the police theory that it’s some conspiracy about national security is a wild goose chase. So even though it’s always nice to see Christopher Lee, especially when he’s wearing a bowler hat and a big mustache, his cameo as an obstructive MI-6 guy is not very useful. Makes me understand why most horror movies are from the point of view of private citizens with little or no help from the authorities.
So it’s late in the game but eventually our girl is alone in the subway tunnel and gets nabbed by the cannibal, who’s clearly looking for a replacement for his now-deceased lady friend. When she’s in the cannibal den struggling to escape she never takes off her fashionable fur-edged coat. I like this partly because the fur shows that she has a very loose connection to her hunter-gatherer ancestors, and partly because it would be easier to run without that fuckin thing on but she clings to it either as a reminant of civilization or because of an attachment to superficial material goods.
This part is pretty cool because the cannibal is obviously trying to be nice to her, it’s just not enough to bridge their vast cultural differences. In one scene she starts screaming because a rat comes at her. He runs in like he’s gonna attack her for making so much noise, but instead he smashes the rat with a shovel and bites off its head. Then stomps it again to be sure. But this doesn’t seem to calm her. She was mad at her boyfriend for his callous indifference to human suffering, but even she’s not sensitive to understand this guy.
Later the cannibal keeps trying to say something to her – some gibberish repeated over and over again. She doesn’t know what he’s trying to say, and neither do I. Or I didn’t, until the power of the internet informed me that he’s trying to say “Mind the doors,” a phrase he’s heard from the subways all his life, and probly has no idea what it means. I liked it when I thought I wasn’t supposed to understand what he was saying, but for once the answer is even better than the mystery.
I gotta endorse this one with some reservations, because the police side of the movie really drags the thing down, like all those boring scenes with scientists talking in Godzilla movies. But the good part of the movie is pretty fuckin good, and definitely groundbreaking for its time.