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Midnight Meat Train, The

Lionsgate Home Entertainment // Unrated // February 17, 2009
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted February 9, 2009 | E-mail the Author
Leon (Bradley Cooper)
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has been lugging around a camera for years but has never managed to claw his way into the local art scene. He's finally offered a break that could make his career, though, and all he has to do is follow through with a dream he's had for years: snapping some shots that capture the heart of the city. Oh, and what is the heart of this shithole metropolis? That'd be the, um, midnight meat train.

Oh, that's not how this pretty much deserted 2 AM tram is listed on the metro schedule or anything. It's just a regular stop for a quiet, clean-cut working stiff (Vinnie Jones) -- a butcher for an old meat packing factory uptown -- who can't quite bring himself to leave his work at the office. Once the herd on the train has thinned out, Mahogany coldly and collectedly opens his bag, pulls out a stainless steel mallet, and bashes the holy hell out of whoever's left. He yanks out their teeth, pulls off their fingernails with a pair of pliers, slices off their scalps and any trace of body hair, and strings up the meat and bones that are left on the subway handles like a side of beef.

So, uh...yeah. Bitch all you want about The Midnight Meat Train as a movie, but you've gotta admit that this flick lives up to its title. It's not watered down to the point of practically being PG like that retread of Prom Night; The Midnight Meat Train is slathered in barrel drums of the red stuff. Ted Raimi's eyeballs leap clear out of his skull after being konked on the back of the head with an oversized meat tenderizer, and a girlfriend sopping in blood slips on one of 'em a few seconds later. Mahogany's victims are carved apart and slung around like cold cuts, a creepy badnik scarfs down a freshly-yanked-out tongue, Vinnie Jones slices a couple dozen barnacle-like tumors off his chest and dumps 'em into a jar, and...hell, he beats a guy to death for cracking a Forrest Gump joke. Gotta respect that.

Cacklingly depraved? Drenched in blood? Clive Barker attaching his name to something that doesn't look like it was churned out for basic cable for the first time in how many years? Check, check, and check. For anyone who hasn't actually...y'know, watched the flick, I can get why gorehounds were so incensed about the way Lionsgate dumped The Midnight Meat Train. Originally aimed at being splattered across two or three thousand screens with a hefty promotional push, it wound up being ditched by the studio in a hundred out-of-the-way dollar theaters purely to fulfill contractual obligations. You might as well just say it went straight to video. It doesn't take a tinfoil hat to notice that the flick had been shoved out of its original release date to make room for The Strangers, a movie that happened to have been produced by Lionsgate's newly-installed head muckity-muck. Clive Barker's legions of fans were frothing at the mouth about that conflict of interest...that Joe Drake was dumping a really great horror flick to make room for a movie he'd produced for a competing studio.

I've gotta give this one to Lionsgate, though: The Midnight Meat Train is terrible. I mean, I dig the fact that it's so unflinchingly visceral, but that's all there is to it. This short story from Barker's Book of Blood feels like it's been shamelessly padded out to fill a feature length flick, and pretty much every last moment where someone's not being carved apart is excruciatingly dull. The conspiracy swirling around these murders never sparks any interest. There's not much of a hook into Leon's escalating obsession with trying to unravel these century-old secrets. It doesn't play up his gradual transformation all that well either. I mean, a poster boy vegetarian grabbing bloody chunks of meat and licking his fingers clean...? If that's not a cliché yet, that exit's only another mile or two down the highway. There's really not even much in the way of stalking-and-slashing. With just a couple of exceptions, someone takes a seat on the train, Vinnie Jones quietly walks up behind them, and
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eight seconds later...y'know, splatter splatter.

For someone who's made a career out of the bloody connective tissue between sex and death, Clive Barker misses out on it here. It's the foreplay that's truly unsettling in horror -- the lead-up to the kill rather than the inevitable release -- but The Midnight Meat Train opts to flip forward a few pages and skip straight to the money shot. The movie leans way too heavily on computer-generated grue, and as brutal and bloody as the movie is, its digital effects are distractingly low-rent. Gun-toting love interest Leslie Bibb ought to have been gutted out of the flick entirely, saddled with the movie's worst scenes: skulking around the Fincheresque flophouse where Mahogany is holed up (hey, let's break into the murderer's stronghold! Another winning genre mainstay) along with an awkwardly carnal and fully clothed sex scene in a dingy diner.

The Midnight Meat Train isn't a complete...well, trainwreck. Instead of keeping the killer blanketed in shadow to belt out a Scooby-Doo reveal in its final few minutes, there's never any stab at mystery about who this butcher is. Even Leon figures it out really quickly, pushing the why more than the who, and it doesn't point to some sort of weepy backstory as an excuse either. Director Ryuhei Kitamura -- his first time helming a flick on these shores -- has an inventive enough eye to carve out some really striking shots, and it's always nice to see a movie that actually deserves to have "unrated" splattered across the top of the cover. Still, if the rest of the flick isn't any good, who cares? If you're going to bombard Lionsgate with hate mail for botching the theatrical release of a movie, save it a flick that deserves it. The Midnight Meat Train is a marginal rental for genre completists, and...yeah, that's about it. Rent It.

The Midnight Meat Train packs a set of intensely stylized visuals, boasting a gritty, grainy texture and a skewed palette. The movie rarely bothers with more than one color in a scene, drenching the train in a cold, steely blue, slathering the screen in red as Leon fiddles around in his dark room, and generally opting for an ashen gray or a sepia tone otherwise. That subdued palette just makes the dark crimson splatter stand out that much more. While The Midnight Meat Train does have a deliberately rough-hewn look to it -- this isn't a movie that's meant to be polished to a glossy sheen or anything -- clarity and detail are both reasonably strong, and I really don't have anything to complain about here at all.

With a fairly short runtime and a lean set of extras, The Midnight Meat Train fits pretty comfortably on a single layer Blu-ray disc, and the scope video has been encoded with AVC.

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Its computer-generated gore may look pretty chintzy, sure, but I can't gripe about the movie's soundtrack being shortchanged. This disc's DTS-HD Master Audio track -- lossless, 24-bit, and packing eight discrete channels -- sounds pretty much perfect. The aggressive sound design attacks from every direction, especially as Mahogany skulks around for his prey. The clatter of the train on its tracks and screeching brakes help set a strong sense of atmosphere, bolstered by some immersive use of the surround channels and a wall-rattling low-end. The Midnight Meat Train does a better job than most in reinforcing its score in the rear speakers, and the ominous music can be pounding and resonant down in the lower frequencies. Dialogue is consistently rendered cleanly and clearly throughout as well. Horror flicks almost always deliver really immersive, thunderous soundtracks, and this one's every bit as solid as expected.

There aren't any dubs or downmixes this time around, but subtitles have been tacked on in English (traditional and SDH) and Spanish.

A flick shrugged off by its studio like this obviously isn't going to score much of a lavish special edition. The Midnight Meat Train does include an audio commentary that's candid about the movie being dumped in its theatrical run, though, along with a half-hour's worth of standard definition featurettes.
  • Audio Commentary: The meatiest of
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    the extras in this set is a commentary track by Clive Barker and director Ryuhei Kitamura. While they cover a lot of ground -- adlibbed organ consumption, struggling with the scale of the conspiracy and how to ensnare Maya in it, coding confessions into iconic horror imagery, and running through the many changes made to Barker's original story -- the highlight is how brutally open they are about The Midnight Meat Train being so mishandled theatrically. They don't sugarcoat it either, going so far as to expressly name the Lionsgate exec they blame for an ambitious horror release being dumped in a handful of low-rent theaters. I won't pretend to share Barker and Kitamura's obvious enthusiasm for the flick, but that infuses this commentary with so much energy that it makes for a fairly compelling listen.

  • Clive Barker - The Man Behind the Myth (14 min.): Barker opens this interview by speaking briefly about Books of Blood and this adaptation of one of his earliest short stories, and its first few minutes come across like he's pitching me a movie I already have in my grubby little hands. From there, though, Barker shifts gears into something completely different. About ten minutes of this fairly short featurette's runtime are devoted to Barker's prolific work as a painter, and he ties what he does with paint and canvas into how he approaches writing as well.

  • Mahogany's Tale (4 min.): This clip breezes through a stab at creating a new horror icon courtesy of Vinnie Jones without the benefit of dialogue, and the movie's prop master shows off Mahogany's arsenal while he's at it.

  • Anatomy of a Murder Scene (9 min.): The last of the featurettes runs through the movie's biggest spam-in-a-subway sequence, tearing through storyboards, props, a mix of makeup and CGI, an unwieldy helmet-cam, and gallons and gallons of blood.

  • Trailers (HD): Plugs for a few other Lionsgate releases are also piled on along with a high-def trailer for The Midnight Meat Train.
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The Final Word
The Midnight Meat Train maybe would've made for a solid, blood-spattered chapter of Masters of Horror if Showtime were still churning that out these days. It's a short story padded out to 100 minutes, though, and a flick called The Midnight Meat Train really shouldn't be this boring. As gruesome and gory as all of the splatter is, the CGI blood looks distractingly cartoonish, and the movie never really figures out what to do when someone isn't being bludgeoned over the head with an oversized hammer. If you've gotta see The Midnight Meat Train...? Rent It.
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