The Midnight Meat Train
, , ,
100 min.
Release Date
The Midnight Meat Train

“You’ll understand soon enough,” says the ominous conductor of The Midnight Meat Train. But you never will. Clive Barker of Hellraiser and Nightbreed fame wrote the original short story, which means you can expect peculiar mythology laden with gory details. People are torn apart, dissected, and strung up in all manners of nastiness; others are driven nutty by the madness of the city. It’s as if H.P. Lovecraft and Charles Baudelaire got together for a blood-soaked horror movie.

The film’s tone is severe and handled with the utmost seriousness in every scene. So why was I laughing? Because here’s a movie with a novel concept so poorly written for the screen by Jeff Buhler, and so over-directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, that the moody plot can’t help but come across as unintentionally funny and nonsensical. Indeed, the title references a subway on which people go missing every night, beaten and slaughtered by a crazed butcher (played by Vinnie Jones in an almost entirely silent role) with a large, square-headed, stainless steel hammer. From here on out, I’m going to call this otherwise nameless character Mr. Butcher.

Mr. Butcher’s nefarious mid-night murders are witnessed by a struggling photographer named Leon (Bradley Cooper), who heads into the subway system looking to capture “the real” city on camera for a snobby art dealer (Brooke Shields). Unfortunately for him, all he finds is shocker-flick clichés and computer-generated blood. (Note: I stress “mid-night” versus “midnight” since the movie makes of point of telling us Mr. Butcher kills mostly around 2 a.m. Why is the title The Midnight Meat Train? Probably because it sounds better than Just After Midnight Meat Train or Two-in-the-Morning Meat Train.)

Much to the chagrin of his girlfriend (Leslie Bibb), Leon becomes obsessed with the killer. While following his subject, Leon does all those things in scary movies that make you want to yell “You Idiot!” at the screen. His behavior is erratic and alarming. A devout vegetarian, Leon begins to desire meat, licking the grease from a friend’s plate like an animal. Then he follows his mysterious target way too closely, and eventually, he gets himself spotted. Mr. Butcher’s menacing glares of recognition are delivered via moody head-turns so slow a snail could dodge them. Not that it matters. Leon is such a nitwit that he’s incapable of reacting fast enough. Chases ensue, but the film reserves its action for the train.

There’s something more going on with Mr. Butcher beyond your run-of-the-mill subway murderer. Take the scene where he stands before his bathroom mirror with a blade and exposes his chest, revealing dozens of nipply wart-like growths. He cuts several of them off and places them in a jar, which he then situates in his medicine cabinet, where he keeps many other containers of sawed-off nipple warts. This is never explained. It’s one of the strangest, most pointless scenes in a movie I’ve ever seen.

I am now going to explain what The Midnight Meat Train is all about if only to illustrate how bad it is. If you’re wholly averse to spoilers, skip ahead to the next paragraph. As it turns out, Mr. Butcher works in association with a group defending underground demons who have lived there since the dawn of time. Each night the subway parks in an abandoned station, and the slimy creatures emerge to feed on the butcher’s victims. Oh, and Leon’s obsession? It’s a symptom of the demons’ control over him. They’ve chosen him to continue killing innocents as livestock in place of Mr. Butcher. This begs the question: If these demons, or whatever they are, have been in control for so long, why couldn’t they find a better home than a dank subway station?

This movie has been sitting on the shelves at Lionsgate for months and probably should have been a direct-to-DVD release, but somehow it earned a limited theatrical run. Awkward editing and a mish-mash of ideas distract from Japanese horror filmmaker Kitamura’s fluid camera movements and metal-hued images. Some ideas make sense, others remain vague allusions, and others still are altogether nonsensical—all of it is flush with Barker’s penchant for humorless characters with melodramatic relationships (not to mention gallons of blood). When moviegoers in my screening should have been cringing, they were laughing. How could they not, when Barker insists that we take his concept as gravely as he does, despite the inherent silliness of the plot? Kudos to you if you can take a movie called The Midnight Meat Train seriously. I can’t.

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