Director: Ryuhei Kitamura
Writer: Jeff Buhler, Clive Barker
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Brooke Shields, Roger Bart, Ted Raimi, Peter Jacobson, Barbara Eve Harris, Tony Curran, Vinnie Jones
Running Time: 100 min.
Ryuhei Kitamura’s American debut didn’t exactly go off with a bang. Due to some in-fighting at Lion’s Gate, this action/horror adaptation of a Clive Barker short story ended up on the company’s straight-to-video list, while classic horror fans had to snooze through those boring trailers of Repo! The Genetic Opera and that remake of My Bloody Valentine-the latter of which has to resort to being in 3-d to get people to notice it. In fact, Barker reportedly burned his bridges so boldly-to the point that he allegedly cursed off the company at a SDCC screening-that LG chose to flip him off by dumping the flick in $1 theaters. Barker’s story was that the go-to producer for horror was let go, and, as a result, his projects with the company in general got the short end of the stick. [But to be fair, how could Barker possibly compete with the “genius” of Disaster Movie?]
Still, in spite of being set on a course of failure, there were actual fans of his work-and I assume Kitamura’s work, too-who flocked en masse to see this film-at least in L.A. One midnight screening with Kitamura in person actually sold out, and that was before Halloween! So I was actually fortunate to catch another show a few months later with Barker this time. When I asked Barker at a New Beverly screening about whether there was any double-standard for Meat Train’s mistreatment, because of Kitamura’s Asian background, he acknowledged that it’d be a different story if it was a white director who spoke English, even though he felt Kitamura’s English was very good. [Catching Kitamura at an Azumi panel a few years earlier, I’d have to agree with Barker. I think it has to do with his time in Australia, but that’s another story.] But the real problem was, in his eyes, that the studios have a narrow-minded view of what audiences might like in a horror film. For example, when he talked about how he wants to make “the best damn film” he could, and the audience applauded, he noted that the reaction shows the state of the genre at the moment. If it was 25 years ago when he said that, no one would be impressed, since they assumed the director was getting paid well either way.
As for the actual premise of Midnight Meat Train, it’s about a professional photographer named Leon who’s coaxed into shooting more unsettling images of his city for an exhibit. He manages to save a girl who nearly gets assaulted (and raped?) by a gang, but who ironically gets killed on the subway train she leaves on that same evening. She winds up as a missing person on the news, and Leon subsequently feels obligated to solve the mystery behind her murder. What he learns is that there’s some beefy guy who likes using metallic objects to bludgeon bystanders who happen to take the train at night. He decides to find out why it’s happening, and what he discovers is that it’s part of a massive conspiracy and cover-up.
If you’re expecting Kitamura’s typical b-action style of filming, you might be in for a disappointment. Where this picture excels is through its various close-up and lighting shots which emphasize the mellow, but ominous, mood which establishes the scary moments. Also, the wardrobes of the actors playing the urbanites look like people you actually might encounter in the Big City, and not just people dressed to impress-as is the norm in these settings nowadays. These subtle touches add to the “You are there” experience.
But in general, Midnight Meat Train is more an exploration of the monster myth than a typical slasher film. It highlights the culture behind the contemporary fantasy of the serial killer, rather than focusing on the lives of the victims. That’s not to say that it’s cold-blooded like Saw, or “ironic” like Scream; it’s just that the setting becomes serves to help “explain” the attacker better, and what about his dwelling makes him so frightening.
This is also not to say that it’s some sort of existential bore-fest like Blair Witch. No, you will encounter gory and disgusting scenes of torture in ‘Meat Train. But these moments aren’t just inserted into the frames for the sake of shock value. No, they deliver on the tension already built through the previous scenes of the film.
Unfortunately, depending on how well you pay attention to the movie, the “surprise” at the end might not be that unexpected. However, it doesn’t necessarily hurt the impact of the work as much as enhance it. Also, for some reason, the scenes of intimacy feature the characters clothed. But if you’re just looking for a good thrill with some a sense of realism, you can’t go wrong with Midnight Meat Train.
Ningen’s Rating: 7.5/10