The Midnight Meat Train has long been one of my favorite stories by Clive Barker. I recall reading it back in the mid-eighties, when I'd first gotten my grubby paws on The Books of Blood Vol. 1, and it was just a mind-blower. I especially liked the way it merged the grotesqueries of modern horror with the gothic elegance of classic Lovecraft and Poe, and I knew then that I was reading the work of a true master of the art form. Barker's forays into film would soon follow, and his adaptations of "Hellraiser" (Books of Blood's The Hellbound Heart) and "Nightbreed" (from the novella, Cabal) and the underrated "Lord of Illusions" (from the tale The Last Illusion) were artsy, ballsy, and exhilarating examples of horror cinema, and, for a time, it seemed we had not only a new voice in horror, but also a new and unique vision. Even when he wasn't directing his material, though, Barker's inimitable style shone through, as with Bernard Rose's "Candyman", and Tony Randel's exceptional "Hellraiser II: Hellbound". Sadly, as lesser sequels and cash-ins featuring the author's name flooded the market, the Clive Barker "brand" was sullied. After nearly a decade of quality films based on the author's works, fans were subjected to more than a decade's worth of knock-offs and straight-to-video cheapies.
But no more, people. Clive Barker is back, and back big, thanks to Ryuhei Kitamura's "The Midnight Meat Train", which is, quite simply, the best pure Clive Barker movie since the original "Hellraiser".
Leon (Bradley Cooper) is a struggling photographer with an eye for the darker side of urban life. When his supportive girlfriend, Maya (Leslie Bibb) and friend Jurgis (Roger Bart) set up an appointment with Susan Hoff (Brooke Shields), one of the city's most influential exhibitors, Leon is both overjoyed and overwhelmed. When Susan declares his work lacks teeth, Leon heads back out into the streets, intent on capturing the sort of intense imagery she wants to see, but, instead, finds himself caught up in a cat and mouse game with a murderous butcher named Mahogany (Vinnie Jones). As Leon tries to gather evidence of Mahogany's crimes, he finds himself drawn deeper into the killer's world; a world that exists in the very heart of his beloved city.
The Midnight Meat Train is a welcome reprieve from the current trends in horror, offering viewers a terrifying and twisted tale that, on the surface, seems like your standard serial killer drama, but, as it unfolds, proves to be something else entirely. Something purely "Barker".
Director Kitamura (Versus) gives the film a stylish, hyper-kinetic look that is at once exhilarating and extraordinary, with over-the-top kills scenes that have to be seen to be believed. While the CGI gore is a bit overdone at times, it actually works in the film's favor, as this movie is so relentlessly violent and bloody as to border on the surreal. The cast, however, keep things grounded, with excellent turns by Cooper, Bibb, and the always-reliable Bart, and a compelling and very human script by Jeff Buhler. These are characters we grow to like over the course of the film, making the payoff all the more intense and disturbing.
Lionsgate releases the film on DVD in an unrated director's cut, and loads it up with some fantastic features, including a commentary track by Kitamura and Barker, and a host of featurettes, including a fantastic piece called Clive Barker - The Man Behind the Myth, which offers tremendous insight into Barker's "other career" as a painter. It's truly inspiring to see the man in his studio and see the fire in his eyes as he talks about this "hobby" that he began at age 45, and how it now consumes most of his time. It's an unexpectedly personal look at the author, and, as a lifelong fan, something I just cherished.
If you're a fan of Barker's work (especially the short upon which the film is based), The Midnight Meat Train will knock your socks off. This is, perhaps, the most faithful adaptation of Barker's work yet (and I'm including Hellraiser, here), which may actually put off those unfamiliar with the source material (especially the crazy twist ending). However, for fans, this is the Clive Barker film we've waited more than a decade for. Highly recommended!