It's late at night in London, and a civil servant (James Cossins) has been cruising the strip clubs looking for someone to take home - he has the cash to pay them to do whatever he wants, after all. But he has no luck, and ends up in an Underground station to wait for the last train when he spies a young woman who he propositions. She's not interested, not even in his money, and kicks him to the ground, fleeing whereupon he is found on the stairs by a student couple, Alex (David Ladd) and Patricia (Sharon Gurney); they go to fetch help, but when they return he has vanished...
A splendidly seedy and eccentric horror, this was the only script written by Ceri Jones from American director Gary Sherman's story, and what a script it was. The grindhouse revival of the twentyfirst century tended to concentrate on the contributions made by the United States, but they didn't have it all their own way, as other countries made their own versions of the down and dirty flicks as well, most notably in Europe, and even in the censorship-heavy United Kingdom. As anyone who has seen a Pete Walker movie will attest, some of these Brit films were every bit as effective as some of the best of those abroad, and Death Line was a great example.
The British censors may have cut bits out of these efforts apparently as a matter of course, no matter the merits of the work as a work of entertainment, and this was no exception, but if they were good enough as was the case here they would have a killer idea at their heart which would endure for a long afterlife on television or home video. There's a rich vein of class troubles running through this storyline, with the "monster" (Hugh Armstrong) - credited only as The "Man" - turning out to be a cannibal descendant of a group of Victorian workers who were trapped in a cave-in whose bosses couldn't afford to dig them out.
Due to the civil servant the monster has killed and taken away to his underground lair being well versed in the Official Secrets Act, his disappearance attracts the interest of those higher up the establishment chain than the fuzz who investigate. As the policemen, Donald Pleasence and Norman Rossington make a great double act, with the tea-obsessed Pleasence on terrific form - it was nice to see him play a character with a sense of humour and in what almost sound like improvised conversations and quips he allows the tone to veer close to comedy in his scenes, a refreshing development and an all too necessary contrast when you see how grim the rest of this is.
The use of the Underground locations is excellent - John Landis must have seen this judging by An American Werewolf in London, and because it's the type of film which squirrels its way into the memory it has had an influence, however minor, on horrors for decades after, Creep being the most obvious instance. Although it has a similar feel to The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue with its American character caught up in the terror, this was more urban, and a real original, one of the best British horrors of the seventies. It could be that it took someone from across the Pond to observe aspects of British life, but this was no simple parody of the uptight Brits, as much of it was acutely fashioned, making it a snapshot of the country as well as a chiller with one of the most wretched and unsettling villains of its day, or any day. With the lengthy tracking shot that introduces the cannibal's home, and Christopher Lee in a cheerfully sinister cameo, this was no cheap, throwaway grime flick, it had genuine talent behind and in front of the camera. Music by Wil Malone and Jeremy Rose, including the oddly disgusting theme.
American director who headed two cult classics: Death Line and Dead & Buried. Apart from directing ads, his other films included Vice Squad and the ill-fated Poltergeist III; in the nineties, after the little-seen Lisa, he concentrated on television.