Fantasia 2008: ‘The Midnight Meat Train’

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Midnight Meat Train
Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura
2008, USA

The Midnight Meat Train is based on Clive Barker’s 1984 short story of the same name, which can be found in Volume One of Barker’s collection Books of Blood. The film follows a photographer who attempts to track down a serial killer dubbed the “Subway Butcher” and discovers more than he bargained for under the city streets. Directed by Japan’s Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Azumi), it stars Bradley Cooper, Roger Bart, Vinnie Jones and Brooke Shields.

Despite being the most famous horror novelist next to Stephen King, only very few films have been made from Barker’s work, and three of those he actually directed. To be honest I have not been a fan of most of these films save for Candyman and Lord of Illusions. Clive Barker’s Books of Blood is considered the holy grail of horror literature but the film adaptation of Midnight Meat Train is hit and miss.

I know it is based on a short story but at times the film makers seemed hard up on ideas on where to go with the film. We end up with Cooper following Vinnie Jones playing the Butcher in several scenes with many near-misses. The scenes are repetitive and lack suspense. They seem forced and it comes across as if it they are there to just stretch the film into a feature length. Overall the screenplay is solid. I appreciate that the screenwriter doesn’t over explain everything and much was left to the imagination of the viewers (save for a brief explanation towards the end). You have to hand it to screenwriter Jeff Buhler for adapting a Barker story. While not perfect, it’s still better than average screenplay – minus a few really cheesy one liners used here and there such as “Stay away from the meat.”

The adaptation of this script was a labor of love for long-time Barker fan Jeff Buhler, who worked closely with Barker throughout the process. Their intent was to expand the world presented in the original short story while preserving the underlying mythology and themes already there. In fact both Barker and Buhler fought long and hard to retain the original title of the film, which at one point was going to be changed to “Midnight Train.”

The film has a very unique look and uses a lot of blue hues. Everything seems to shine on screen yet it is also very grainy. To be put simply it is visually stunning and ambitious. Anyone who has seen Azumi would know just how well this man can shoot action – by comparison, Kill Bill‘s fight sequences look lame. Here he uses a perfect blend of prosthetics and CGI and the director brings some of the most inventive kills to ever hit the big screen. The kill sequences are impressive to say the least but more importantly gory and original. Unlike in the film All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, the death sequences here are clever and justify its R rating. Most of the special FX were practical, which gave the film a more believable tone. There were dead bodies hanging from the train, teeth being pulled, an intense scene in which an eyeball pops out of it’s socket; and there’s a fantastic kill in which a guy, hanging upside down on a meat hook, sees his reflection in a pool of his own blood.

What I didn’t like was the cast. Actually I really hated the cast of this film. Bradley Cooper was just not right for the role as the main character. He held the same emotion on his face throughout the entire film. He had no range what so ever nor did Leslie Bibb who plays his girlfriend. She was even worse and I found myself hoping someone would kill off her character. Vinnie Jones plays the same mute bad guy he seems to always play, but for an ex-football player he’s the only one member of the cast who truly shines. Hostel II‘s Roger Bart pops up in a few scenes, as does Ted Raimi, but neither gets any serious screen time. No one was worse, however, than the lady detective in this film, who makes M. Knight seem like a great actor.

It’s a tricky film to recommend. I think that true fans of the original story will find themselves disappointed with the outcome but yet most fans of horror films will truly love it. I am glad I had a chance to see the world premiere, but I don’t see it landing in my DVD collection anytime soon.

Kyle Reese

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