In Raw Meat, an American college student, Alex (David Ladd), and his British girlfriend, Patricia (Sharon Gurney) are returning to their apartment in London via the subway. As they exit the train and mount the stairs to the street above, Patricia notices a man collapsed on the cement, seemingly unconscious. She attempts to provoke Alex to call a doctor or an ambulance, but Alex is disinterested, insisting the man is merely drunk and should be left to his own devices. Alex rifles through the man’s pockets and manages to locate his identification.
Patricia nags in ways that only a girlfriend can, and Alex is finally compelled to notify a police officer, who accompanies the two students as they return to the subway terminal to investigate. Unfortunately, by the time the group arrives back at the scene, the collapsed man has vanished, taken by cannibals that have been trapped in the London subway system since the late 1800s, where they were trapped following a massive cave-in. Police inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasance), with his enormous Charles Nelson Reilly-style glasses and floppy hat, is called in to investigate.
A generation or two has passed, so apparently these cannibals have somehow managed to live and breed while living in the tunnels below London, subsiding on the flesh of the weak and weary that are staggering around the subway stations late at night. Unfortunately, the quality of life isn’t that great down in the London subway tunnels, especially for a cannibal, and many of the group have expired; only a male cannibal and his sickly cannibal girlfriend remain alive.
Director Gary Sherman exhibits no qualms about jerking around the character perspective. Calhoun is curious about the identity of the collapsed man, and he initially suspects Alex, a line of inquiry he explores with the help of one of his detectives. Patricia is holding a grudge against Alex for not wanting to help the collapsed man, and she packs a suitcase, threatening to move out. The point-of-view moves between Calhoun and the students, back and forth, back and forth, and it becomes increasingly difficult to surmise a narrative center.
Inexplicably and suddenly, the perspective begins to shift repeatedly to the male cannibal, who tries to care for his ill girlfriend, feeding her blood straight from the glass-slashed throat of a dead body, but finally, she expires. The audience is treated to a couple of lengthy and melodramatic mourning scenes as the male cannibal weeps over his dead cannibal squeeze. With all of the perspective changes, it’s difficult to tell who we should be rooting for, Calhoun, the students, or the sympathy-inducing human flesh eater.
Raw Meat, while featuring some incisive gore, is never scary for exactly this reason. Similarly, John Carpenter’s Halloween would probably lose much of its impact if scenes were inserted depicting Michael Myers, kicking it in his Haddonfield apartment during the off-season, eating Ben and Jerry’s and getting choked up over an episode of Gray’s Anatomy.
Surprisingly gruesome for an early 70’s studio release, Raw Meat is still only a moodily-shot melodrama that blatantly refuses to capitalize on the potential of its own morbid plot. Sherman’s attempts to humanize the evil in his film force an ambiguous tone on its core audience. Although not an absolute failure, Raw Meat is just too inconsistent in tone to be considered a successful addition to the genre.