Clive Barker’s more sanguinary inclinations are paid tribute here through a hulking golem, a malevolent meat merchant in his dapper best, named Mahogany (Vinnie Jones) who smashes, eviscerates and cleaves through unsuspecting commuters on the last train home. Adapted from Barker’s seminal anthology, “Books of Blood”, the similarly named “The Midnight Meat Train” is more than just an opportunity for some sophomoric snickering over its title but one of Barker’s most revered short stories about a supernatural serial killer that ekes out fascination, fear and obsession from a lone photographer, Leon Kaufman (Bradley Cooper) stumbling upon the butcher’s late night deliveries.
Director Ryuhei Kitamura (of “Versus” and “Azumi” fame) offers up one of the year’s most brutally alluring gore fests in his American debut. With the gritty and detailed hard-edge of early 70s horror films (why, hello there Lucio Fulci!), his flair for CGI augmented visuals and the intense seduction of experimental camera-work in a cinematic environment so increasingly sanitised of actual visceral terror, Kitamura refreshes the genre’s ability to unsettle and provoke audiences and jolt jaded horror enthusiasts out of their PG-13 apathy.
Kitamura works with a modest but shrewd sense of space in the decaying subway, the claustrophobic train and the creeping gloom of the city. There’s a certain simpatico between Barker’s distinctive tone and Kitamura’s balls-to-the-wall film-making that compliments each other to the benefit of the film’s atmospheric resilience. The unvarnished horrors cooked down deep in the gallows of the tunnels, plunged into darkness form the basis of Kaufman’s terrible fixation on the disappearing passengers and that indescribably malicious man who stalks the shadows. Mahogany is the film’s myth, the legend of The Butcher. Prepossessing the exactitude of traits essential to the character, Jones has the nasty glint in the eye, the mysterious swagger of indestructibility and the imperative of consuming evil, as well as having the benefit of looking like the quiet guy in the corner of the bar who could take out an entire gang of hoodlums without spilling his drink.
Kitamura’s modulation of the material’s emotional stakes and his slow-burn style of ratcheting up tension gives the story further layers to plunge into, not withstanding Cooper’s unlikely presence as the film’s corruptible protagonist. Jeff Buhler’s screenplay from Barker’s 25-year-old story is uneven at times but keeps an atmospheric dread of hopelessness. Supporting characters include Kaufman’s wife (Leslie Bibb), a counterpoint to the man’s wavering sanity and a threadbare characterisation of his good-humoured pal Jurgis (Roger Bart) who stands to represent Kaufman’s humanity. But even if these emotional contrasts don’t work, the film itself is a tidy and effective meta-slasher that resonates beyond corporeal carnage. Kitamura’s subtextual ingenuity is shown through macabre imagery of animal carcasses hanging off meat hooks as Mahogany tenderises, disembowels and stores his victims just like the morsels of flesh they are.
Clive Barker’s fantastical and mad blend of visceral shocks and profoundly unsettling explorations of worlds coexisting and buried deep within the one we think we understand has become an important component of our contemporary literary and filmic universes. While “The Midnight Meat Train” never hits the spasms of metaphysical despairs in “Hellraiser” or the diabolical mind-warps of “Candyman”, this is forthright horror – simple, powerful and unadulterated.
2.34GB | 1 h 42 min | 1024×440 | mkv