The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
By: Julian on May 7, 2009  | 
Lionsgate (USA), Region 1, NTSC. 2:35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0. 98 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Ryûhei Kitamura
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Vinnie Jones
Screenplay: Jeff Buhler
Country: USA
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The Midnight Meat Train is a film that caught me totally by surprise and I hadn't heard much about it until I slipped the DVD into my player about three hours ago. And what a movie! Based on Clive Barker's short story of the same name published in Volume 1 of the Books of Blood in 1984, The Midnight Meat Train is a really grimy film, shamelessly gory and with heart-in-your-throat suspense to boot.

Leon (Bradley Cooper) is a photographer desperate to make the big time and submit his work to an art show that's going through town. His area of expertise is to photograph the decline of Western civilisation – various descriptions of scum including would-be rapists, muggers, looters in the Big Apple. Sometimes he stops the criminals in the act (after snapping their movements); other times he lets them do their thing uninterrupted – makes for more evocative "art".

One night, he catches three men accosting a young model in the Underground and, this time, he intimidates the trio of Hulks and they go away. The girl thanks him and catches the late night train. When the photos are developed, they look to be Leon's saving grace, edgy enough to be a sure-fire admission into the art show. Leon thinks nothing of his accidental muse until she makes a brief entry in the local newspaper as a missing person. A bit of investigating leads Leon to a large, suited man wearing a distinctive ring. This man – played impeccably (not that much acting chops were required) by Vinnie Jones in a role that requires zero dialogue or any charisma aside from what you'd expect from a two-by-four – is our antagonist, ever-keen to go postal on the few occupants of the 2am train with a large butcher's mallet.

Leon follows the man, Mahogany (yeah, chortle-chortle), to his hotel abode, then to his place of work, a local meat packing plant. Leon's interest becomes an obsession, to the chagrin of his fiancé Maya, until he begins to put himself directly into Mahogany's line of fire in order to find out what the butcher is up to.

Ryûhei Kitamura was in the director's chair for this film, and he knows a thing or two about hyper-kinetic spectacles, most significantly directing Versus and Azumi in his homeland Japan. The Midnight Meat Train is his first American film and it's among his more restrained works, even though the movie occasionally appears to be overwhelmed by Kitamura's flashiness. However, this became part of the film's charm: it was shamelessly over-the-top and frenetic, wearing the sometimes-dodgy CG gore on its sleeve.

Further, The Midnight Meat Train is a really seedy film. Barker's original short story, which this film follows quite closely, evoked a serious atmosphere of dread and the same applies here. Vinnie Jones is menacing as hell and for those who haven't read the short story, the twists-and-turns are a real treat. I was never really too taken with the crux of the whole concept (I won't spoil it here), but it was an interesting conclusion. Kitamura pulls it off well, opting to foreground Mahogany as the brooding antagonist and not put a tremendous amount on the supernatural element. Whether you think Kitamura succeeds here wholly depends on your tolerance of his style – and if you've seen Versus, you know what's in store. It's very MTV, and if Marcus Nipsel's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was anathema to you for this very reason, avoid The Midnight Meat Trainbecause the slickness is part of its shtick. It's stylish as hell and I really dug it, with Kitamura's visuals – when relatively restrained – really doing Barker's story justice.

The Midnight Meat Train was really messed about on its initial release, which is a real shame given it's one of the best horrors to come out of the States this side of The Mist. Management changes at Lionsgate caused The Midnight Meat Train to be shelved for some time and it was rendered to playing at "dollar theatres", discount joints that led to appalling box office figures on cinematic release. Barker himself gave Lionsgate a hiding and expressed his high regard for Kitamura's effort, calling Lionsgate president Joe Drake – who he believed delayed and mistreated Midnight Meat Train in favour of his own production, The Uninvited – a "nobody". Whether it gets a cult following on DVD remains to be seen, and while this release by Lionsgate hardly makes amends for the dreadful treatment The Midnight Meat Train initially got, it is a good one.

A note: Patrick Tatopoulos was on the cards to direct this one before Kitamura came on board. Parisian Tatopoulos is a make-up man by trade, and directed his first feature this year with Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.
Very crisp 2:35:1 anamorphic. DOP is Jonathan Sela, who seems relatively inexperienced – of his most significant credits (and this will instil confidence in few) are The Omen 2006 and Max Payne. He does do a good job here, though, but it's nothing special.
Two English audio tracks in Dolby 2.0 and 5.1. Both are good, and the 5.1 really does the job. No complaints.
Extra Features
Lionsgate have pulled together a decent set of features for this disc – included is an audio commentary with Barker and Kitamura and three short featurettes: a 15-minute one on Barker and The Midnight Meat Train, a 9-minute "Anatomy of a Murder Scene" and a 5-minute piece "Mahogany's Tale", an ode to that loveable piece of timber Vinnie Jones. Theatrical trailers for this film and others are also included.
The Verdict
Dreadfully underexposed and one of the coolest American horror flicks in a while, The Midnight Meat Train is obscenely (and, often, hilariously) violent and very suspenseful. And Vinnie Jones has finally found his higher calling – playing a mute, vicious-as-hell murderer.
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