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The Midnight Meat Train (2008) – Movie Review

Midnight Meat Train

Written by: Jeff Buhler, based on the short story by Clive Barker
Directed by: Ryuhei Kitamura
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Roger Bart, Brooke Shields and Vinnie Jones

My Advice: See it

Clive Barker, genius that he is, hasn’t had the best of luck with film adaptations of his work. Sure Hellraiser was spectacular, and Candyman was pretty damned scary, though not completely faithful… Other than those, few adaptations do his text justice. So I was pleasantly surprised when I saw The Midnight Meat Train, especially given its publicity (or lack there of…more on that in a bit). It’s based on the short story of the same name. It was originally published in 1984 with Books of Blood, Volume 1, and can now be found in the Berkley Trade published Books of Blood Omnibus, Volume 1, which collects the first 3 volumes.

[ad#longpost]Anyway, the film follows the story of Leon (Bradley Cooper, who was in The Hangover and Alias, and is playing Dirk Benedict’s character “Face” in the upcoming A-Team remake). Leon is your typical New York City art photographer trying to “capture the city the way it really is, the heart of it”…and failing. After a successful late-night session in a subway station, Leon discovers that he has taken a picture of a murder victim just before she’s offed, as well as of her murderer. He then becomes obsessed with finding and stalking her killer.

The killer, as we find out from the beginning as well, is Mahogany, played by Vinnie Jones. Mahogany is the bigger, scarier version of Jason Statham, and you might remember Jones from Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, and…*sigh*…X-Men: The Last Stand. If you’re from the UK, you may also remember him playing football for Leeds United, Chelsea, and Wimbledon the year they won the FA Cup. Mahogany is a well-dressed, seemingly mute man who dispatches his victims with a giant meat-tenderizing mallet and the calm precision of a career butcher, which he just happens to be.

The acting is solid. Brooke Shields shows up for a small role as a pretentious fellow artist, one of whom Leon seeks the approval. The death scenes are also beautifully graphic; they use what could have been disastrously cheesy CGI to portray slow-motion showers of blood and gore. Ted Raimi (on screen for about as long as it takes you to say, “Hey, it’s that guy!”) bites it most spectacularly in the first act. The final twenty minutes or so is certainly what one might call “a no-holds-barred, adrenaline-fueled thrill ride”–especially if one wants a cliche saying for the DVD box–but I’d rather say instead it’s a film with a magnitude and an artistry that I haven’t seen in a horror film in a long time.

The DVD/Blu-Ray has the standard array of special features–nothing spectacular–but is well worth checking out for the audio commentary. Clive Barker and director Ryuhei Kitamura provide an entertaining, interesting, and crystal clear (which is a factor given Clive’s throat problems and the fact that this is Kitamura’’ first English-language film) chat over the carnage. The highlight is a well-deserved bitchfest on the treatment the film received from Lionsgate. While they were promised a mass theatrical release, what they got was zero promotion and what may as well have been a direct-to-video release. Worse than that, in fact, but you’ll have to hear the commentary for the full story.

I feel that the film improves on the short story in several ways. While it remains quite faithful to the original, it does add more plot lines and interesting elements. Girlfriend Maya and friend Jurgis struggle to save Leon while joining him on his descent into crazyville. The mythology (it’s Clive Barker, so of course it’s going to be more than just crazed butcher vs. obsessed photographer) of the story has been added to and refined, while still leaving enough unexplained to keep you WTF-ing during the credits. Mahogany received possibly the biggest part of the makeover. Half of the short story takes place from his point of view, and the film portrays him as more of a slasher-style, obsessive, unstoppable force (or a juggernaut if you will… but please don’t). The film also gives him a day job, which serves the story well, as long as you don’t think too hard about it.

All in all, The Midnight Meat Train deserves a place next to the original Hellraiser as a horror classic. While it may not break down the barriers that Hellraiser did, or at least not the same barriers, it certainly stands up to the same quality. Hopefully, once people hear about the film, it will find its deserved place.

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