THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN (2008)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sequences of Strong Bloody Gruesome Violence, Grisly Images involving Nudity, Sexual Content and Language

MidMeat poster

Directed by: Ryuhei Kitamura

Written by: Jeff Buhler

(based on the short story THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN by Clive Barker)

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Brooke Shields, Roger Bart, Ted Raimi, Vinnie Jones & Tony Curran

THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN has a special place in my movie watching past. I was in my sophomore year of high school and an avid horror fan who would read/watch anything that sounded remotely scary. I frequently visited a certain website that gave me insight into the world of horror filmmaking from the studio perspective and press announcements. In November 2006, it was announced that a film adaptation of Clive Barker’s MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN was officially underway. Months later, official casting information surfaced as well as a teaser poster. Over a year later, we had a trailer and this looked like an awesome masterpiece of terror. It was also touted as the first in a long line of BOOK OF BLOOD stories to be adapted onto film. As it turns out, only two followed (2009’s BOOK OF BLOOD and 2010’s DREAD). Most of this could be attributed to Lionsgate’s and Joe Drake’s piss-poor treatment of MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN upon release. Despite mountains of hype in the horror community and strong word-of-mouth coming out of festival screenings, the film was shuffled around through numerous release dates before ultimately winding up in 100 discount theaters. This is truly a shame, because MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN is a stellar nightmare of a horror film and stands out as the best Clive Barker movie to date.

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Leon is a photographer who has grown sick of taking grisly accident photos to sell to local newspapers. In an effort to expand his career, he meets with a reputable art contractor who advises him to capture the darker side of the city. So on that advice, Leon ventures into the subway where he captures a couple of great/dangerous photos. However, it turns out that one of these photos might be a clue to a possible murder. Leon soon finds himself on the trail of a mysterious butcher, Mahogany, who doubles as a serial killer on the late-night subway train. From thereon out, a deadly cat-and-mouse game erupts between Leon and Mahogany as blood is shed, bodies pile up and a mystery reveals horrifying secrets that lie under the city streets.

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I’m hesitant to say too much about MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, because part of the enjoyment directly comes from the unexpected twists that this story takes along the way. Rest assured, the plot is dark and disturbing. This is a grim friggin’ ride that doesn’t let up on the tension or brooding atmosphere the whole way through. Those looking for fun slasher fare had better look elsewhere, because MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN isn’t your typical gorefest. It’s also not a predictable serial killer thriller as well. The final third takes some really insane turns that might throw the viewer for the loop (in a good way). It simply isn’t anything that you expect. Though the conclusion is explained a bit better in the source material, I really love this adaptation of Barker’s work. It’s faithful to the short story while also offering enough original material to fill a feature-length run time.

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Before he starred in drunken comedies, voiced a space raccoon, and was nominated for Best Actor, Bradley Cooper played the lead in this grisly horror film. As Leon, Cooper is a compelling protagonist who slowly changes due to the trauma being seen in various horrifying scenarios. Even when he makes questionable choices, there’s always a concrete motivation behind Leon’s actions, making him an unusually well-developed horror character. Leslie Bibb makes a strong impression as Leon’s girlfriend and plays a bigger role in the second half of the film. Brooke Shields shows up for three scenes as an art critic and it’s up in the air as to why she’s even in this film, though she does steal her scenes. Roger Bart is enjoyable as Leon’s best friend and also has a bigger part in the second half. Without a doubt, the best character of the film is Mahogany. Played by Vinnie Jones, this mute (he only has one word of dialogue in the entire screenplay), intimidating killer is a fierce force to be reckoned with. Jones expresses so much through body language and facial expressions, far more than most dialogue-heavy cinematic killers. The scenes between him and Bradley Cooper are something to behold.

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MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN is a beautifully shot film. The visuals capture a grimy atmosphere with a polished look. The entire film reeks of dread and impending doom. The title itself suggests that this movie will get messy and oh boy, it does! Lionsgate actually submitted this film to the MPAA numerous times before it walked away with an R rating. Even still, only two minutes of gore were removed from the every-bit-as-brutal theatrical cut. Rest assured, MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN has some of the most insane kill scenes in horror movie history and I don’t say that lightly. Each death is stylized in a way that makes the scene as beautifully and carefully constructed as it is gruesome and gory. If there are any flaws to be found in this film (aside from an ending that was pulled off marginally better on the page), they come in a few seconds of spotty CGI. Even still, the creative use of this CGI is still bound to satisfy gore hounds. We get severed limbs, body parts, a couple of crazy fight scenes, and gallons upon gallons of blood.

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In my opinion, THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN is one of Clive Barker’s best short stories and translates into near-perfection on the screen. Usually, short stories being turned into feature-length films tend to drag or stretch out unneeded details, but TRAIN has an unusually clever script. I loved MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN when it first came out and still love it to this day. I saw it three times at my local theater, caught it a few times on FearNet, all before buying the DVD on its release day. Without a doubt in my mind, I am calling MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN the best Clive Barker adaptation in existence!

Grade: A+

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