Review of THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN

jackie-chan
Contributor
Sign-In to Vote

First things first: I've never really been a fan of Clive Barker, not his books, not his movies. Hellraiser was quite interesting during its time, Nightbreed was much more palatable as a piece of fantasy/horror. Books Of Blood is B-grade horror fiction.

But what Ryuhei Kitamura has done with The Midnight Meat Train is something quite exceptional in the face of so much forgettable horror flicks these days. The movie definitely doesn't deserve its horrible straight-to-video and limited theatrical release fate in North America. Really, what is the studio thinking?!

Now that I've seen Meat Train, the whole issue has become extra baffling. There is absolutely nothing about the movie to suggest that it's so crap as to earn a ticket to video hell. First of all, Kitamura has delivered a movie that's dark, unsettling, bloody, violent, shocking, funny, engaging, and all of it has a pertinent point to make, too. This is no B-grade, pointless gorefest to satisfy only hardcore extreme cinema fans. This is what happens when a violent horror flick actually ponders on what it is doing and why, while it is doing it.

Yes, it's as self-reflexive as it gets here.

Simply, this is a story about folks who think they know better but the truth is given to them right in their faces, and the terror they experience is something they thought they could just switch off when they turn off the TV news. Or when we walk out of the cinema.

Leon (Bradley Cooper) is a photographer who ekes out a living by taking photos of dead people at crime and accident scenes. But he has an artistic streak and big dreams. When he is introduced to connoisseur and gallery owner Susan Hoff (Brooke Shields), he shows her his work, but she feels it needs something more. So he goes out in search of that "something," something harsher, grittier, more real. He finds it at the subway station, where a woman is about to be mugged. This scene very simply sets up the whole moral thread of the film. Should Leon stop shooting photos and help the woman? Should he let things run their course, because that's really what he is after, the city in its natural guise?

When Leon meets Mahogany (Vinnie Jones), a well-dressed man carrying a black bag coming out of the subway, he is immediately drawn to the man. He doesn't know why, but he soon discovers that Mahogany may have something to do with a woman reported missing a few days ago. But the audience already knows from the beginning that Mahogany rides the late-night train through the cavernous subway, killing people and hanging them up on meat hooks. Why he does that and who he really is, is something we and Leon discover gradually.

The violence is shocking, bloody, and designed to unnerve the audience rather than have them gawking in amazement. One scene involving a decapitation (can't give away anything more) is innovative but also seriously self-reflexive because it literally puts the viewer in the victim's position. Literally. Are we any better than Leon for watching the bodily torture and mayhem? Could we all be armchair moralists at a safe distance?

The big reveal at the end may seem a little too "easy" and incongruous, but by then, what happens to Leon and the people around him is very fitting and quite powerful in its meaning. The experience and moral lesson for Leon comes full circle, is complete, then folds in on itself.

I don't believe I've seen a slasher/horror film this effective and interesting mainly because of the simplicity of its ideas and the simplicity of its execution. The film plays out with a strong awareness of its own starkly painful existence, draped in dreary colours, and drags its audience along on its bloody trail, letting them know all the time that they can't get up off the blood-slicked floor, that the more they try, the more they'll soak themselves and fall further.

What has happened to Meat Train theatrically in North America is truly unfair. The film deserves to be seen by more people, and seen in the cinema where the point of it all would be made much more clearly.

(There is one tiny mistake in the story, regarding a bunch of train schedules that Leon's girlfriend steals from Mahogany, but that couldn't possibly be the reason for relegating this film to the video store, could it?)

Sign-In to Vote
Screen Anarchy logo
Do you feel this content is inappropriate or infringes upon your rights? Click here to report it, or see our DMCA policy.
NemoAugust 3, 2008 3:34 AM

Thank you for a timely review of THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN. Pretty good movie. Just watched in a dollar theater. Never been at such seedy and smelly theater before, the sound was horrible. Next time i will wait for DVD. The film deserve to be seen on big screen with good sound.I would gladly shell out $9 to see it. Shame on studio. Bravo Kitamura.

kungfueurotrashAugust 3, 2008 7:33 AM

There was a gruesome incident that happened in Canada where some guy on board the Greyhound bus stabbed the person next to him 50 times and then decapitated his head and ate his brains... Irony!!!

Simon AbramsAugust 3, 2008 7:36 AM

I heard about that actually. Not about the brains part though, which I find highly suspect. Are you sure you didn't just add that part? Be honest now.

ZombiwolfAugust 3, 2008 8:05 AM

I don't see any problem with the title. In fact, the more other people abuse it the more I cherish it. Maybe I'm just too attatched to my crappy Books of Blood paperbacks with the KNB models on thr front.

Peter MartinAugust 3, 2008 10:15 AM

The title didn't make the difference, evidently, it was the change in administration at Lionsgate. But even with a limited release, dumping a first-run movie into dollar theaters is insulting. I'm glad I got to see it on a bigger screen with an appreciative audience, but I'll still pick up the DVD just so I could HEAR IT the way it was meant to be heard (or at least closer to it) and not have to deal with the generally run-down conditions of the multiplex where I saw it on opening night for $1.75.

JahsoldierAugust 3, 2008 2:50 PM

Octopussy, Snatch, Holes, Pecker. Those are the only sexually overt titles I could think of right now. There are plenty of other non-sexual stupid sounding titles out there too. They all seemed to be given a decent release. Even if people laugh at the title.

I imagine Lionsgate could have changed the title as a last resort if they had faith it would do well. Clearly they have no faith in the project. A bit sad really.

quadshockAugust 3, 2008 6:39 PM

Like what? I really can’t think of any film, ever, where I’ve seen an audience laugh the title off the screen (unintentionally, that is) the way they did for THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN. Seriously, it’s as preposterous as TASTE THE GOLDEN SPRAY from THE BIG HIT, only it’s real.

Bangkok Dangerous drew laughs from a majority of the audience

AlephAugust 3, 2008 7:48 PM

Being from Malaysia, the trailer never got any laughter from the audience. I'm guessing it's because most of us aren't familiar with sexual colloquialism.

. X .August 3, 2008 7:48 PM

"Teenage Hooker Becomes Killing Machine"

Or better, its Korean title 대학로에서 매춘하다가 토막살해 당한 여고생 아직 대학로에 있다 (The Student who Prostituted Herself and was Chopped to Death in Daehak-ro is still in Daehak-ro).

SwarezAugust 3, 2008 8:50 PM

I think the title only gets laughter in the states. I've never heard this phrase before and I think it sounds bad ass actually.

The VisitorAugust 4, 2008 12:14 AM

wait wait wait wait. hold on a minute here.

what you're saying here is really that Lionsgate buggered Midnight Meat Train because it has a title that has funny connotations?

well:

1. it's a Clive Barker title, so naturally it WILL have connotations, and i'm sure mostly intentional

2. if the title were the problem, then all it takes is to change it

so, i don't think the title is Lionsgate's problem.

Rhythm-XAugust 4, 2008 6:27 AM

"1. it’s a Clive Barker title, so naturally it WILL have connotations, and i’m sure mostly intentional"

It might have had connotations, and they may have been intentional, but those intentional connotations were completely lost on the audiences I saw this trailer with, who just thought it was very, very silly. What it was supposed to mean is less important than what it's interpreted as meaning.

"2. if the title were the problem, then all it takes is to change it"

I was under the impression that this was going to (wisely IMHO) be retitled as the infinitely easier to market MIDNIGHT TRAIN, but Barker and Kitamura raised a big, ill-concieved stink about it causing Lionsgate to back down and keep the original Barker title that simply didn't work as intended. (Unless Barker was going for derisive laughter, in which case it worked brilliantly.)

According to Peter Martin above, it wasn't the malfunctioning title but a change of management at the company that resulted in the "dumping" of this title. That's totally plausible.

The VisitorAugust 4, 2008 11:55 AM

the thing i'm wondering is, why hasn't anyone adapted dark fantasy epics like Weaveworld and The Talisman? the technology is available now.

dilated_in_disbeliefAugust 4, 2008 3:09 PM

I must be too serious because I never once thought of anything sexual whenever I heard the title, I just think of that badass comic book story I read as a kid. I also haven't seen the trailer so maybe it would have came off differently with some narration and visuals. I dunn.

Andrew MackAugust 4, 2008 10:39 PM

Thanks Vis, Sounds like I might not feel so bad about shelling out $10 to see it at the next
Rue Morgue CinemaCabre on August 21st.

cib3kAugust 12, 2008 5:23 AM

I'm also not from US and until reading this page I would have never suspected the title has any funny/sexual connotations. I'm puzzled sometimes how people can find sexual innuendos in anything.

And it seems people in the US are way too fussy when it comes to movie titles. There was recently all the talk about the new Bond title, "Quantum of Solace", which I couldn't care less about. I think people outside US don't care much about the title of a movie. The movie titles that we usually get from translation or interpretation are often quite silly/cheesy/stupid anyway - and most people don't actually care.

And as others have mentioned, if the title was the problem Lionsgate could have easily changed it. They probably didn't actually care much for the movie, some of the studio executives screened it and didn't like it for some reason, so they decided to give it a mediocre release.