Thursday, October 20, 2011
The Midnight Meat Train
I am old enough to have been reading horror when Clive Barker’s work (Dread, The Book of Blood) exploded like a bomb in horror fiction with the publication of the first Books of Blood. The collections of short stories introduced a new emphasis on body horror to the genre, and new and fantastic variations on traditional horror tropes. The vibrant, amazing imagery in the stories soon attracted movie makers, and to date there are 31 movies (according to imdb.com) adapted from Barker’s work, although many of these are continuations of characters in long-running horror series. Like with most authors, the cinematic interpretations of Barker’s work have been spotty at best, with only a few truly good films in the mix. Hellraiser? Yes. Candyman? I think so. Lord of Illusions? Well, I liked it.
A few years ago, Lionsgate Films committed to a reasonably high budget adaptation of the first of the stories in The Books of Blood, “The Midnight Meat Train” (Barker had a way with titles), to be made under the supervision of Barker himself. The movie starred Bradley Cooper (before he got famous playing self-centered drunks), British tough guy Vinnie Jones, Leslie Bibb, and Brooke Shields. The movie got an enthusiastic response from advance screenings, but there was a shakeup in management at Lionsgate before its release. The VP who had advocated The Midnight Meat Train was out, and his successor, in time-honored fashion, did everything he could to torpedo the movie to make the other guy look bad. As a result, the movie had little or no theatrical run.
Leon (Cooper) is a photographer in New York, looking to make a breakthrough in the art world while his girlfriend (Bibb) has a real job to pay the bills. After prompting by a socialite art patron (Shields) he starts photographing people in the subway late at night. A chance encounter with a model who later disappears starts an obsession with the Butcher (Jones) who Leon believes is a serial killer riding the late night rails. (Incidentally, despite the title, the train in question leaves at around 2:00 AM) His friends and girlfriend are soon drawn in as he seeks the Butcher’s dark secret.
Is Midnight Meat Train worth the hype? For the most part, yes. The film is well acted and expertly photographed, with a weird ending that is true to Barker’s style in a way most adaptations of his work are not. There are moments of true suspense, and plenty of gore for the gorehounds. You’ve heard the phrase “not for the faint of heart”? Certain sequences, particularly where the Butcher removes the teeth, eyes, and fingernails from a victim may not be for the strong of heart. Maybe we could have done with a little more sympathy for the main character – Leon’s obsession destroys the lives of everyone around him, so it’s hard to feel very kindly toward him – but in general, this should appeal to horror fans.