This dark and gory horror thriller from director Ryûhei Kitamura (2000’s Versus), based on a short story by Clive Barker and adapted by Jeff Buhler, certainly was a refreshingly grisly movie experience for me. I was really getting more and more burned out on the PG-13 styled horror films I had been downloading and wondered if this was what modern horror was all about. There seemed to be nothing with any meat on the bones anymore. Then I saw The Midnight Meat Train (aka Clive Barker’s Midnight Meat train) and was delighted to see meat actually getting shred from bones.The film had little time in the theaters and went to DVD sooner then it should have. Barker pointed the finger at Lionsgate president Joe Drake for essentially selling out a real horror film like Midnight Meat Train and focusing advertising and distribution on films like The Strangers. There is no doubt that Midnight Meat Train is a more satisfying horror film for true fans but probably not the type for mass appeal. Most films now are really aimed at the under 18 crowd or dating couples. Meat Train is a brooding and grim film that does not flinch in the gore and blood department. It is also well made and the criticisms about the computer generated gore are unfounded as the effects are superb and in particular one scene where Ted Rami gets his eye balls knocked out of their sockets by a metal butcher’s mallet. This is just not for mass consumption but it is certainly for mine. In fact this film gets my first four skull rating despite an unsatisfying ending that added an unnecessary supernatural element to the film.
The story follows Leon (Bradley Cooper), a free lance photographer, on his nightly excursions into the underbelly of a large dark American city. While it looks a bit like New York the film was shot in LA. He is determined to capture the “real city” on film since no one has yet to do it. He has a meeting with a tough (as in bitchy) art critic, played by Brooke Shields, who sees talent in his work but feels he is falling a little short of his goals and tells him to go back out and come back with better material. This he does when he interrupts some gang members who about to assault a woman in the subway terminal. He manages to get close up pictures of the hoods who do not kill him because they are on a security camera. The girl, a model, is later killed while sitting alone in the subway by a looming brute named Mahogany played by Vinnie Jones. Leone gets pulled into the case of the missing model and his obsession with her and then with the identity of the butcher causes serious friction between him and his girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb).
Leon is soon stalking the butcher during his nightly adventures but soon the tables are turned as Mahogany confronts Leon one night on the sidewalk. At the center of Leon’s suspicions is a ring worn by Mahogany that appeared in one of the shots he had earlier taken in the subway station. It is your basic dime store variety Satanic looking ring and he just happened to get a shot of it as Mahogany was holding the door for the model as she entered the car on her last ride. Lucky break. Maya and her friend Jurgin (Roger Bart) are more than a little dubious at first about Leon’s growing claims that the disappearance of the model and the Butcher are linked to a series of murders going back over a hundred years. Leon becomes a witness to a couple of these one night as he hides in an adjoining subway car and gets to see Mahogony in action. And bloody brutal action it is.
Leon is captured by Mahogany but not killed by him for some reason. Instead he wakes up the next day with a Satanic looking symbol carved in his chest. He is now pulled more and more in the life of the butcher and even more so after Maya and Jurgin sneak ino Mahogany’s apartment to either prove or disprove Leon’s suspicions. Jurgin is captured and in the end there is a stand off on the subway between Leon and Mahogany while Maya tries to free Jurgin from the meat hooks impaling his ankles. The fight sequence is well done though we wonder how Leon can actually ward of the attack of super killer Mahogany unless the butcher is allowing it for some reason. This is open to speculation.
The film winds down with the reason for the butcher’s nightly murders being that he needs to gather fresh meat for demonic creatures that lurk under the city. The train conductor (Tony Curran), as we already know, is in charge of the operation and it reaches into all branches of city life, including the police inspector who earlier seemed more suspicious earlier of Leon than some mysterious butcher and now we discover was part of the demonic cover up. I could have done without the creature feedings as the motive for the killings or the train conductor having superhuman strength. I think the film would have been more terrifying had it remained on the human plane and there not been deep reaching conspiratorial connections. But it is a small matter really and the bulk of the film is excellent as far as the direction and acting does. Horror movies ending are typically their weakest points. The deaths scenes are great and you actually get to see people die for a change. So many horror movie deaths occur off screen now. It is annoying.
The relationships between the characters are believable and Leon’s change from artistic vegetarian to meat eating killer, as it becomes his role now to replace the butcher, is convincing. I was originally pit off by the title of film, as well as Clive Barker’s association with it, and thought it would be an ultra low budget teenager romp. It is not that at all and I highly recommend this one. The death scenes are creatively gruesome and I hope to see more stuff like this from Kitamura and hope this is not his last Hollywood film venture.