“The most terrifying ride you’ll ever take.”
Released in the summer of last year, ‘The Midnight Meat Train’ had the unfortunate luck of being prematurely derailed and decommissioned before it even had a chance to take the public for a wild ride. That’s just a more poetic way of saying the film was butchered by its own studio. Internal politics shelved the completed production a couple of months for starters, and when it was finally released it received a poor marketing campaign and was only shown in about a hundred theaters—many of which were cheap dollar movie houses. Now on home video, a fair number of people still haven’t even heard of the movie, never mind a few that read the title on upcoming release lists and just assumed it was a porno. It’s disappointing to say the least, as the film—adapted from a short story found in the first volume of the Books of Blood by master of horror Clive Barker—is one of the most brilliantly crafted gore fests to hop off the metro in the last decade.
The story follows an aspiring photographer named Leon (Bradley Cooper), who gets a shot at his big break when his girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb) arranges for him to meet with an illustrious art curator named Susan Hoff (Brooke Shields). At first, Susan doesn't seem very interested in Leon’s portfolio, so this sends the determined photographer on a mission to capture the perfect raw image that’ll get his foot all the way through Susan’s door. Leon heads deep within the bowels of the city, where a momentous encounter gives him the push he needed to change his life. His most recent batch of photographs impresses Susan so much that she promises him a spot in her upcoming exhibit if he can come up with more. The voyeur returns to the subways with more motivation now than ever and a new subject—an intriguingly large and impeccably-dressed man we eventually come to know as Mahogany (Vinnie Jones) crosses his viewfinder. However, Leon begins to believe that his latest muse may be a serial killer prowling the subways late at night and as he digs deeper to discover the truth, his infatuation transforms into an obsession that may jeopardize his existence.
Japanese director Ryûhei Kitamura infuses so much elegance and grace in his first American production that if the horror genre had a slasher ballet, 'The Midnight Meat Train' would be it. Against the wishes of certain producers, Kitamura favors long, uncut, cinematic shots over a series of quick edits commonly seen in these types of films and it actually works in the movie’s favor. Kitamura’s keen eye also delivers scenes that are so charismatic and engaging that they meld beautifully with the artistic theme of the story. Even simple things like Mahogany sitting silently on the train or slowly coming up an escalator leaves a lasting impression on the viewer. Then there’s his insistence on using a combination of CGI and “the eighties way” for the grisly special effects. The explicit eyeball sequence may have been a little over-the-top, but the fact is it’s still innovative and brings something fresh to the table. After watching the movie and listening to the commentary, I really respect Kitamura and admire how he stuck to his guns to do Barker’s tale justice.
Another element that exceeded my expectations for a movie like this was the performances. Cooper was a strong choice cast in the lead, Bibb radiates with beauty and genuine emotion, and Shields—well, let’s just say she makes a great snooty bitch. The top prize easily has to go to Jones, though, for cementing Mahogany as a cutting-edge movie monster icon. Of course he slices, he dices, and he pulverizes with a giant stainless steel meat mallet, staying true to form with his typecast brute persona. But there’s also a calmer, mysterious side to the villain with his own quirks that makes him compelling. We can almost sympathize with his character and he manages to do all of this while hardly saying a peep.
Sure, there are a couple of moments in ‘The Midnight Meat Train’ where characters make a move that could be deemed as idiotic, but a good chunk of our population aren’t the brightest bulbs on the planet anyway. Look at all the mountain climbers who get stuck on a summit and cry for help or the thousands of teenagers that start smoking every day despite all of the cancer and anti-cigarette advertising. So it’s not that far of a stretch when you really think about it, and if we didn’t have victims enter a dark alley or spend a night at a secluded seedy-looking motel every once in awhile, then most horror movies wouldn’t exist.
Lionsgate pulls ‘The Midnight Meat Train’ into the station with one of those bleak-looking 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 (2.35:1 aspect ratio) transfers that has a few issues but is still chilling to the bone.
The film features an intensely subdued color palette with various shades of steely blues, browns, and grays creating a very cold and callous setting. Scenes in the terminal and on the subway are especially icy, with nearly every ounce of color intentionally washed away to make the dark crimson of blood really stand out. Black levels are also strong, and there’s a fair amount of detail in the backgrounds and in skin textures to please many viewers.
On the downside, we have a heavy sheen of grain blanketing the picture to give it a gritty look, which I personally wouldn’t really have a problem with except it’s very inconsistent. Some shots are quite attractive, as the outdoor night scene where Leon is sitting on a bench studying his muse looks fantastic. However other times, for example particularly in Leon’s darkened apartment, the picture often pulsates with a cloud of mosquito noise that’s so thick I could’ve used Mahogany’s meat hook to slice through the haze. It just didn’t feel like it was supposed to be there, and if it was an artistic intent, then I’d have to say it was a bit excessive.
Commuters will be much more pleased with the immersive lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track included on this Blu-ray.
‘The Midnight Meat Train’ isn’t what I would call a dialog-heavy film, as Cooper’s character is often off on his own doing his photographer thing (not to mention Jones hardly had any lines to memorize), but the speaking parts come through crisp and clear. Viewers are surrounded by every clank, rattle, and hum of the subway and feel all of the bumps and shakes thanks to a powerful bass. There are also quite a few jarring jump-moments, and the gruesome kills sound morbidly realistic. Even subtler surrounds in the diner and at the police station provide a pleasant ambience from the rear channels.
Lionsgate really steps up to the plate on this Blu-ray, which also comes with optional English and Spanish subtitles.
After being neutered by the powers-that-be for its limited theatrical run, the home video release of ‘The Midnight Meat Train’ restores the film to the way it was meant to be seen as an Unrated Director’s Cut. There are a few more chilling scenes of blood and gore, and all of the same bonuses found on the DVD are ported over to this Blu-ray.
It’s really disturbing hearing how ‘The Midnight Meat Train’ was given the shaft by Lionsgate for no real reason whatsoever, but from what I hear, at least the film had a proper release in Mexico thanks to the influence of Guillermo del Toro (‘Hellboy,’ ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’). The film really is a terrific slasher with solid acting, strong pacing, and intense scenes of violence—with Vinnie Jones hooking us with a top-notch performance. The Blu-ray has debatable video, but the audio and bonus features more than make up for it. If you’re a Clive Barker fan anxiously awaiting the release of ‘Hellraiser’ next month, hop on board ‘The Midnight Meat Train’ in the meantime—just don’t fall asleep or miss your stop.