The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
Despite being nearly decade old The Midnight Meat Train remains an outstanding genre movie. It’s a horror film that doesn't make the usual mistakes of trying to be hip, excessively self-referential or ironically post-modern. It's shocking, nasty, bleak and brutal, as well as being literate and honest. This is quite paradoxical when you consider it’s made by Lionsgate pictures, a studio that got rich off the back of exploitative, clichéd horror franchises such as Saw and in more recent year’s teen orientated supernatural fodder. The movie also struggled for a while to gain international distribution and it took several years for it to find an audience. It’s a shame because The Midnight Meat Train deserved to have been released with a more fitting fanfare for a film of its calibre.
Directed by Japanese auteur, Ryuhei Kitamura, The Midnight Meat Train is an adaptation of a Clive Barker short story from his infamous Books of Blood. The film follows a photographer who attempts to track down a serial killer dubbed the "Subway Butcher". He discovers more than he bargained for when his search takes him under the city streets. The movie intelligently explores the nature and consequences of obsession as well as the contemporary media’s inherent addiction to voyeurism. The Midnight Meat Train boasts a robust featuring Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Vinnie Jones and Brooke Shields. The script, adapted by Jeff Buhler, is surprisingly smart and thought provoking, avoiding a lot of usual genre clichés. Considering this was the directors first US based English dialogue film, it is a very strong movie.
The Midnight Meat Train has numerous points to commend. The production design and the lighting are first class. The modern subway network depicted in the film is ideal and reflects the cold, stark, metallic environment of the abattoir that the serial killer hails from. I've often had mixed feeling about Vinnie Jones, an "actor", yet he excels here as the neat, precise, suit wearing "Subway Butcher". Despite having only one line of dialogue he emotes very well and gives a convincing and substantial performance. The rest of the cast also fare well as their characters transcend the traditional two dimensional facsimiles that inhabit horror movies. Bradley Cooper and Leslie Bibb play flawed individuals who at times are unlikeable, yet they still invoke sympathy as they face their fate. The film’s final twenty minutes really does have the viewer hoping for a positive conclusion, however unrealistic that is.
With a film of this nature you can expect a degree of violence and moments of shock. The Midnight Meat Train certainly doesn’t pull its punches. Victims are dispatched via a meat tenderiser and then strung up and butchered. Yet these scenes, although brutal, are never gloating. They reflect the movies underlying themes of media sensationalism and voyeurism. However, the film does rely heavily on CGI FX work and some of it sadly does not work very well visually. Ted Raimi makes a cameo appearance and dies in a graphic but patently fake fashion. Overall this doesn't spoil the film as there is still some fine physical effects and the films climax manages to pack a heavy emotional punch.
Adapting the literary works or Clive Barker has always been challenging for film makers and the results have often been hit or miss. Candyman, Hellraiser and Lord of Illusion have been successful examples, although it should be noted that two of these were directed by Barker himself. Sadly, there are others that have been way off the mark, with Rawhead Rex being the nadir. The Midnight Meat Train manages to take the best elements from the source text and expands upon them. It’s a smart, atmospheric well-paced horror movie with few concessions to the casual viewer. It delivers all that you’d expect from a quality director, being both shocking and intriguing. Unfortunately, despite critical acclaim The Midnight Meat Train did not find the commercial success it could have and failed to start a renaissance in the genre. Thus, ten years on R rated horror remains a relatively rare beast.