The experiment was deemed a failure by distributors EMI, who unceremoniously dumped it onto the wrong end of a double bill with the altogether less interesting Tower of Evil.
Boasting a wonderful performance by Angela Pleasence’s dad Donald as a no-nonsense copper, this grisly gem tells of the last survivors of a Victorian tunnelling disaster who are living in the labyrinthine depths of the modern-day London underground network.
His second, Frightmare, is his brutal masterwork, a genuinely unsettling tale of Home Counties cannibalism with another tour-de-force performance from his regular leading lady, the formidable Sheila Keith.
As far removed from the Hammer/Amicus style as possible, Frightmare has more in common with contemporary American horror (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre had opened in the States on 1 October 1974, just two months before Frightmare opened and five months before Tobe Hooper’s film was formally banned in the UK).
Meanwhile, Lee is perfect as his unpleasant half-brother and Lorna Heilbron, the victim of another’s madness in Symptoms, goes impressively insane herself here as Cushing’s daughter, driven over the edge after her father injects her with a serum derived from the blood of “the Evil One”.
The Creeping Flesh was directed by Freddie Francis, who had a spotty career in horror. By the early 70s it looked as if Hammer’s Dracula and Frankenstein films had run their course, the release of the terrible Scars of Dracula and The Horror of Frankenstein (both 1970) suggesting that the company no longer had any idea what to do with their most famous monsters.
Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska are the titular undead, luring passers-by to their rambling mansion, draining them first sexually, then of blood.
Hammer had been flirting with lesbian vampires since 1970’s The Vampire Lovers, but even their more transgressive efforts looked terribly coy compared to the frankness of Larraz’s film.
Donald Pleasence is outstanding (again) as the ex-military man worming his way into the life of Ian Bannen’s hapless commuter, luring him into a bizarre extra-marital affair with his creepy daughter (eerily played by Symptoms star Angela).
Pick of the crop though is the opener, in which David Warner finds something very nasty indeed lurking in the ornate mirror he tricks Cushing into selling him for a knock-down price.
Gruesome, hilarious and unexpectedly moving, Death Line is the perfect example of the direction British horror was beginning to take in the 70s, ramping up the violence, stirring in a vicious streak of dark humour and largely opting for contemporary settings.
Gothic films were still around in the 70s of course and, as was often the case, the better ones starred the perennial Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee tag team.