Reviewed by Andrew Kasch
Starring Bradley Cooper, Vinnie Jones, Leslie Bibb, Brooke Shields
Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura
Clive Barker’s Books of Blood is the holy grail of horror literature. We’ve had several film adaptations for better (Candyman, Lord of Illusions) and for worse (Rawhead Rex, Quicksilver Highway) but as a whole, the author’s short story collections remain a neglected gold-mine of movie material. The Midnight Meat Train is one of Barker’s most celebrated works and the film version has been a long time coming, with numerous false starts and changing of the guards over the years. But despite the efforts of a wonderful creative team and genre-friendly studio, the end result is a mixed blessing.
Leon Kauffman (Cooper) is a photographer obsessed with capturing life in the big city. When opportunity knocks at a prestigious art exhibit, Leon is sent into the darkest corners of the underworld to capture the ugly side of life, despite pleas from his live-in girlfriend. While wandering a subway station, he catches sight of the sinister Mr Mahogany (Jones), a mysterious man with a bag full of instruments which he uses to dispatch unlucky train passengers. Following the trail of disappearing bodies, Leon’s new subject becomes an obsession until he finds himself at the edge of sanity.
First, the good. Director Ryuhei (Versus, Azumi) Kitamura tackles Barker with blood-soaked bravado, making Meat Train the most visually-stunning horror film in years. The cult filmmaker has obviously been given more creative reign than most foreign directors would on a big Hollywood debut, yet his usual off-the-wall style is subdued in favor of a moodier, more deliberate approach. That is, until he lets loose with the murder scenes.
Through a perfect marriage of prosthetics and CGI, Kitamura unleashes some of the most outrageous and inventive kills to ever hit the screen: Victims are sliced, diced, bludgeoned, hacked, and smashed in several shocking jump-out-of-your-seat moments (how this got away with an R-rating is mind-boggling).
But despite its best intentions and a jaw-dropping first act, Meat Train blows its load too early (no pun intended). The warped kills and seedy exploration soon take a backseat to standard mystery-solving and predictable stalking scenes where it becomes clear the filmmakers are really pushing a short’s worth of material to feature length.
The Taxi Driver-esque approach to Leon’s mental state is an interesting one, but eventually loses all focus when the story randomly shifts to the point-of-view of his girlfriend. Things pick up again during the finale (where most of Barker’s original story is played out) but the journey there is just too meandering to make for a suspenseful pay-off.
Die-hard fans of Clive Barker will be happy to see a faithful gore-drenched version on the big screen, but The Midnight Meat Train ultimately plays out like an extended episode of Masters of Horror. This material would have made for a perfect segment in a Books of Blood anthology film, but as a feature it loses itself and falls just short of greatness.
3 out of 5
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