Libraries, Video Stores, & Raw Meat

Life as a librarian can often be an unusual road. It offers many rewarding moments helping a community in different ways, but it can also be a pretty hard job. Sometimes after a long day of working, I need to find a way to wipe away the craziness and make time to release all the troubles of my week.

That’s why yesterday evening was the perfect time for me to hop in my car and drive over to my local video store to find a movie I could get lost in.

Now, I’m not saying that working for the library is always a Pandora’s box of potentially dangerous situations that you must be ready to face at a moment’s notice. Honestly, it can be the stereotypical idea of the quiet, stuffy building where you help people find particular books or show them how to get on Internet Explorer.

And most days, that’s the truth.

Get this man a book!

Then there are times you find yourself confronting a middle-aged lady hell-bent on digging up the library’s garden to steal plants—or calling the police on some man who won’t stop taking his pants off in public.

…My week was on the latter side.

So pulling up to the store and seeing the blue neon sign lit up in the dirty window, I could start to feel some of my troubles drifting away.

Now, before we continue, let’s you and I talk for a second about the video store.

Scarecrow Video in Seattle, WA.

This once-proud pillar that dominated the output of home entertainment for decades is now dwindling through the years as the convenience and accessibility of streaming has taken hold across the world. And while its golden years may be over, video stores have defiantly held on and continue to pop up across the country.

No doubt that streaming is excellent and here to stay, but I firmly believe that these stores still have a place in society. There is still a need for a community nucleus where movies always have a human face to interact with and a space that acts on the commitment to preserve and share films with others. Even at a base level, just having a place where you can see other people that like what you like is often a cathartic experience.

We need to treasure places that celebrate culture by proudly having a copy of Dead Birds (part of the civil war horror subgenre) and Battle of Algiers side by side on its ‘Dylan Approved’ check out shelf. And by God, we appreciate Dylan for it! My point is we need these places in our lives to help foster our curiosities for the weird, avant-garde, and unconventional.

It was a slow night as I moseyed through the maze of films, waiting for something to grab me for the evening. But I knew for a tough week like this, I needed something rough to make me forget about my problems. The night spun on, and nothing was catching my eye, until I found myself in the 70’s splatter-house section.

Sharon Gurney as Patricia Wilson in Raw Meat (1972).

It was either a sign from God or a problem with the florescent lighting, either way shining at the top of the rack was the movie I knew was for me. Gary Sherman’s 1972 classic Raw Meat.

I let Kenny Joe at the front desk ring me up and drove on home in a hurry to pop this sucker in the machine.

Raw Meat‘s (or Death Line outside the US) smarmy music sets the tone as we follow a very dapper fellow prowling through the nightlife, looking for a good time. The camera follows him through the full opening credits, focusing in on each brothel he visits until we end up in the subway. But when he asks a young woman in the sub station for sexual favors, she nails him in the sack. His time on camera is short-lived from there as something jumps out from the darkness, attacking him while he catches his breath. Soon after, a young couple, Alex and Patricia, find the man sprawled over some stairs. With some coercing by Patricia, New York tough-guy Alex agrees to help, both running off to find the nearest officer. On return, the body’s gone, and they become embroiled in the subsequent investigation.

Donald Pleasence as Inspector Calhoun in Raw Meat (1972).

It’s in this same investigation that we learn of a late 19th-century tunnel collapse in London, which trapped subway workers. The trapped subway worker’s offspring have survived by mastering the art of anthropophagous, setting the stage for the classic story of the prickly, tea-crazed London Inspector (played wonderfully by Donald Pleasence) at wits with subterranean inbred beings hungry for red meat.

While many of the cast do an admirable job, Donald Pleasence is giving one of the best performances of his career. Ultimately showing up every actor around him—save perhaps for Norman Rossington as Sargent Rogers, whose ability to play off Pleasence’s energy makes for a winning pair. Because of this, Alex and Patricia’s acting feels awkward and stilted in comparison.

Christopher Lee as Stratton-Villiers, MI5 in Raw Meat (1972).

Some may be disappointed with the screen time for Christopher Lee, who only shows up for what is essentially a two-and-a-half-minute cameo. But it’s immediately apparent how much fun he’s having as an MI5 agent jousting words with Pleasence’s Inspector Calhoun. The whole scene is a reward for fans of the two character actors who are deeply entrenched in the horror genre.

Most surprising, the head-honcho cannibal himself (played by Hugh Armstrong and credited only as “The Man”) walks the tight-rope job of making you feel sympathy for the creature as it mourns over a departed fellow mutant, only to see him go full maniac-mode in the London Underground by playing billiards with a man’s insides with a broomstick.

This movie is 70’s schlock with heart folks.

Norman Rossington and Donald Pleasence in Raw Meat (1972).

But to me, the real horror of the whole film happens around the twenty-minute mark with an incredible seven-minute tracking shot of gore galore. We’re talking shish kebabbed arms, rotting corpses, vile rodents, and poor hygiene everywhere. It’s an incredible long take of debauchery that Gary Sherman refuses to let us look away from, showing the horrors these mutants have endured in such small quarters.

And that plays to another strength of this film. So much of what we see are interior shots that cultivate their own sense of dread, not allowing us to step back and take a breath. There aren’t many shots through the film that don’t feel sordid and gloomy.

Overall, Raw Meat is a great little gem from a decade full of perennial heavy hitters, when horror was continuing to transform itself. If I were to give a detractor, it would be that Pleasence is such an essential part of making this movie work that scenes without him feel somewhat empty as a result.

I’m giving it a 7/10.

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