Clive Barker is a man whose importance to genre pictures is unquestionable, but as far as his actual talent is concerned, everyone has a different opinion. Celebrated as one of the premiere horror fiction writers of his time, many have blasted him as of late for drifting into the land of fantasy, away from the guts, gore and magic that drew so much attention to his writing. I’m not sure if that’s fair to Mr. Barker, but one thing I am sure of is that his work in the realm of horror, monsters and the supernatural is still relevant and suitable for modern day cinema. Proof being The Midnight Meat Train.
Directed by Ryuhei “It’s a crime I’m not directing in Hollywood on a consistent basis” Kitamura, Meat Train follows the story of a up and coming photographer who under the advice of a powerful player in the photography world played by Brooke Shields (Yeah, that Brooke Shields!) begins to dig deeper into the New York night scape, in particular the subway system. There he finds a man in a suit who waits until well past midnight to slaughter innocent victims catching those red eye trains home.
Seeing as how this originated from a Clive Barker short story, you know things are never as simple and clear cut as they seem to be from the start. But those little twists and turns wouldn’t be as intriguing if the trio of main characters couldn’t carry their roles. This movie does have some kills and gruesome scenes, both innovative and familiar, but it is still a piece that relies heavily on your investment in the characters. Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb and Vinnie Jones all perform well above the standard for a little horror flick. Vinnie Jones is especially impressive, since he only speaks ONE word the whole movie, and that line is at the very end. He is in the movie a lot, and just his presence and body and facial expressions make “Mahogany”, his character, really jump off the screen. Cooper and Bibb make a great couple in descent, and both command their screen time admirably and bring a fair amount of depth to their characters.
The gore and special effects are a mixed bag, because it’s a mix of some practical effects like latex and props, and some heavy CGI work. It’s a shame because I personally always love to see innovative kills done without the aid CGI, but you can’t win them all. The kills still work, and toward the end, you see less and less of the cgi blood and gore, and during the climax’s TWO fight scenes the brutality is accentuated by make up and karo syrup based splatter. Even for some seasoned gore hounds, there’s still some tricks Barker, Kitamura and company have up their sleeves, and it definitely doesn’t disappoint when it comes to kicking the violence up another notch in the final 20 minutes, which is where Kitamura really excels as he is a master craftsman when it comes to staging fights of any kind.
Kitamura is the real star and for the same reasons I described in my Versus review. He has a great eye for making his version of New York stand out just a little bit from other film interpretations of the famous locale. His use of different lenses and lengths makes for some interesting shots, and his flashy visuals are usually nothing short of arresting. Simple, predictable scenes become much more interesting with Kitamura behind the camera. Overhead shots, POV shots, upside down shots (Don’t worry, it makes perfect sense), and playing with lighting and reflections make this ride one that doesn’t feel stagnant on a visual level. He also knows when to reel it in and just play certain scenes straight with no trickery. It’s a delicious balance of confident experimentation and traditional filming that succeeds in exciting your eyes.
Shame that this movie went through the troubles it did in trying to get released. For those who don’t know, it was supposed to be released nationally in theaters, then was reduced to a limited release, then it was announced it would only play in those dollar theaters. It seems now it will just find a home on DVD. Again, a shame it probably won’t get as much recognition, as it is a fine example of Barker and Kitamuras talents.
Meat Train has a lot to like, and I recommend you find a way to see this as soon as possible.