‘Midnight Movie Monographs: Death Line’ reviewed

❉ We go underground as we look at Electric Dreamhouse’s latest Midnight Movie Monograph. Mind the doors…

1972’s Death Line (released Stateside with the luridly obvious title of Raw Meat), as anyone who has seen the film will attest, is a hugely under-rated gem.  When it comes to reappraisal it’s the folk-horror trilogy of Witchfinder General, Blood on Satan’s Claw and Wicker Man that generate all the attention, and Death Line is unaccountably neglected.

Launching in September 2016 (here’s a link to our coverage!) Midnight Movie Monographs provides a series of novel-length essays, each examining a different film.  The series opened with acclaimed studies of Romero’s Martin and cult favourite Theatre of Blood and Death Line is ignored no longer as it takes centre stage in Sean Hogan’s study, released this month.

If you’ve not seen it, then read no further and go order a copy right now – it’s essential viewing, a British horror film very much both a product of its time and a couple of decades ahead of it (the setting is firmly that in which it was filmed, the sleazy underside of London laid bare for all to see, yet there’s a knowingness to the screenplay which exists almost as a deconstruction of the genre – Christopher Lee has a cameo which seems to be there for no other reason than because it’s a British horror film and Christopher Lee always cameos).  Network released the film on DVD in 2006 and it’s available direct from them here or from Amazon here.

Hogan’s book opens with a typically-insightful foreword from Kim Newman which does well to place the film in context and also extols the virtues of Donald Pleasance’s remarkable lead performance.  Sean Hogan feels the same way too, because the first fifty pages of this book are a character study of Calhoun, the policeman played by Pleasance whose personality is so strong it almost unbalances the film.  No spoilers, but Hogan’s short story – a series of Calhoun’s diary extracts – adds detail to both the character and the film, and also manages a whopping, contemporary twist which makes the film relevant in whole new ways.  It’s a particularly impressive piece of writing and never feels as self-indulgent as it might sound.

The fiction is followed by an essay which looks at every aspect of the film, although again there’s a strong focus on Pleasance and Calhoun.  You’ll find yourself nodding in agreement with the points Hogan makes.

There were some details that I thought Hogan could have examined in greater depth, but the last part of the book is an extended interview with writer/director Gary Sherman, and it was while reading this that every point I though Hogan should have covered in more detail was discussed at length in the interview – the interview, therefore,  feels as fresh as the essay, and the end result is that Hogan has found three individual ways to study the film – as fiction, as observation, as fact – none of which cover the same ground.  The book as a whole is impressively cohesive (it feels as though no aspect of the film has been ignored), completely lacking in repetition (no one side of the film is examined in too much detail) and overall very impressive.  This is a pleasingly detailed study of a generally neglected film which finally feels neglected no more.

A highly recommended read.

❉ ‘Midnight Movie Monographs: Death Line’ by Sean Hogan is out now from Electric Dreamhouse Press, RRP £20.00. Click here to order.

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