Why I loved MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN

Finally my 50th post and I would like thank all the incredible people who held me back in life and kept this from being the 100th movie review post. God knows how many more people would have suffered from reading more of my personal diatribes, I keep spouting off. Dreaming of actually learning to write without foolish errors or poorly scribbled concepts while I denigrate others for no other reason than they were truly great enough to actually finish a film while I sit around complaining, eating chips and salsa while criticizing their dreams.

Onward…. more popcorn, not enough butter…  more red wine… press the play button already.
The Midnight Meat Train is a gloriously gory, finely tuned cinemagraphic extravaganza of horror, blood and style. Don’t let the meaty title fool you. This film has bone and Clive Barker will be the first one to admit Meat Train is amongst his favorite renditions of one of his short stories. Director Ryuhei Kitamura heads up the inspiration to adapt Barker’s short into a raving full feature horror. Respecting the author while adding his own twists and curls to the vivid putrid trail of Meat Train’s excursion into cult history.

Warning: The graphic nature of some scenes make even Clive Barker say wow.

A photographer’s dream turns nightmare as he follows a serial killer into the depths of NY. Along the route of a horrific subway Meat Train used to bring bodies to feed bizarre creatures hidden underground. A grisly tale of blood, gore and metamorphosis of the innocent tainted by undeniable fate.

Leon Kaufman (Bradley Cooper) is a struggling, humble photographer with an incredibly supportive girlfriend, Maya (Leslie Bibb) who happens to also be smashing hot. His great desire to become more than an ambulance chasing photog with a super cool Leica M4, who is rather the real star of the film. I think that’s a 35mm lens he is shooting with and I suffer from gear envy for almost the entire film.

Cooper wants to be a great photographer but to accomplish that he needs to push himself. He needs to give more than he has and that often comes with a price. One that if he had fully understood, he would not have been willing to achieve it,  or is fate unalterable.

Title credits flash past the screen like subway train lights.

Yes, back to the Meat and the Train. Meat Train opens with a poor sod waking on the train, all alone. it’s late, binking eyes , confusion and then a realization, whoa i slept through my stop. The loser slips on  blood, deep sloshing  blood, his hands bathed, he panics, slips around unable to get up, he grabs at a pole to stay upright.

Blood dripping, peerin through the trains cars, he sees serial killer Mahogany (Vinnie Jones) bludgening a victim to the floor, blood flailing from his weapon.

White fade to a busy NY street, Leon stops in the middle of all the hustle, peers down the street, his eyes hungry, looking , seeking. He rasies his Leica M4, twists the rangerfinder focus to catch an elusive snap. It’s his life’s desires in a single moment and it’s captivating. The richness of character and cinematic style lasts only moments on screen but long after it’s over, the memory has alwasy stayed with me. A real credit to the director and Jonathan Sela‘s work as the DP. Cooper’s presence through the film is perhaps his best performance for me so far in his career.

Walls lined with Leon’s work, his smiling girl, their small apartment, the two are close. The weight of their love affair holds the film together and allows the evolution of Leon to pivot from Maya’s love. As they lay in bed talking, I have never seen a woman put a man’s hand between her tights with such love and dedication.

The lighting is wonderfully seamy, almost ominous but still you feel that the light heartedness of the love between them and it’s enough to keep the scene up, while creating tension and a sense of what’s to come. Sela’s lighting ratio is intense almost 4:1 even 6:1 at times. The strong contrasting facial shadows add a foreboding air contradicting the light dialogue. Smoke was used to good effect on this set.

Maya gets Leon an interview with famous high end studio owner, Susan Hoff (Brooke Shields), and Copper is over joyed. “Susan Hoff, you’re kidding me?”

Erotic paintings. “Be single and dont talk too much” warns Leons best friend Jurgis (Roger Bart) Here she comes. Susan (Brooke Shields), what? In a horror/slasher flick? Yes she is and she is perfect as the elite upturned nose that deflates Coppers lightroom dreams but gives him direction to his ominous doom, that he thinks will be his salvation.

To capture the heart of the city, that’s my goal , thats my dream. Leon tells Susan. One cynical glimpse tells all, one look at his portfolio and she knows Cooper has missed the target and failed. Yet what is the true heart of the city?  It’s an important statement from Leon, signaling the arc of the movie. What he will really discover at the heart and where will it will take him.

Meat Train is about Clive’s mythic under currents and deals with the demons beneath the city that never sleeps because of fear of being eaten. The heart of the city may also be Leon’s own heart, unknown even to him, as he is shocked to discover.

Susan challenges Cooper to go farther, look deeper, be brave. It’s a challenge Cooper can’t let go of. He’s wounded and his sweet nymph Maya cannot stave off his demons.

The Meat Train rails on with red seats and dripping handles, in Leon’s mind. He moves out into the night hunting on dirty wet streets, snapping, hoping to capture and frame the soul of the city to earn his fame.

He follows some hoods into the subway into silver gleaming halls and steep stairs. He descends and finds them accosting a beautiful Asian girl. He snaps away, the M4 clicks, watching them threaten her with a knife almost cutting into her taunt pale flesh, her perfect face, suddenly he interrupts. He’s bold, snapping his camera at her assailants, pointing to a surveillance camera scaring them away.

Breathing hard, he finds his goal, he’s brave and knows what he wants.The beautiful Asian thanks him with a kiss, he saved her life. He smiles, his adventure is working, he snaps his victory as she get into the subway train on Beale street.

Erica’s (Nora) beauty taunts us, it’s near perfection screams to be violated. It’s too perfect, you feel something crying, its perfect casting. Then behind her a blurred image walks towards her. a huge silver mallet reaches and bludgens her pristine face, twisting it around, snapping her neck. The screetching subway cold blue lights echo her death.

As the Meat Train rolls through its secret tunnels, the well dressed murderer smooths off the lipstick from her blank eyed corpse. Her perfect light is gone now, she is just meat to be cleaned and prepared.

In the morning Cooper sees he is geting closer to the violence and filth he is looking for. The hoods glaring violence captured on film, starts to wet his appetite for success, he knows he is getting closer to what he needs.

There is a great transition of light in the Maya’s restaurant scene , stark bright light from the exterior shapes the diner and moves into an inner darkness that creates a sense of moral transition. Again my envy rises, great thrills created by the DP with beautiful composition and lighting.

Now the MEAT continues even beyond the train, it’s a damn inspirational scene, Leon wants his bean curd tofu cooked on the diners meat grill and his greasy chef friend refuses, never again, no honest American would want tofu near their steaks. The chef knows it’s against his heritage and Cooper knows the diners customers would eat human flesh if given the chance. It’s all in the subtext though a bit obvious in hindsight, but for a fresh viewer who is listening, it’s meat for thought.

Susan the art gallery owner loves the hoodlums angry faces captured in Leon’s frame. WHOA! Its so good, he needs more, she wants to give him a show. She touches his thigh. He’s in, if he can get two more photos. only two more photo’s away from success. How hard can two more photos be?

TWO MORE SHOTS thats all Leon needs, the city calls, and the heart of the city is the Meat Train.

Three yuppy train riders make idle talk, riding the heart of the Meat. They’re scared, the pretty blond wants off, the about to die ridiculing male explains how safe and clean the Meat Train is. Her boyfriend is smarter and knows its time to get the hell off the train. He just wasn’t smart enough. Leading to Barkers favorite scene and one of the more gruesome in the film. Yet perhaps a cornerstone in horror films for years to come.

The Meat Train makes it detour to parts unknown, missing the trios stop. The train’s curved mirror reflects Mahogany in a grey suit armed with a silver mallet approaching them.

Jesus Christ, Randall the boyfriend just had his eyeballs slammed out of his head by Mahogany’s mallet from behind. Blood sprays over his friends and his sweet blond girlfriend is tainted in red. SPLASH CENTERED ON SCREEN, Randalll falls dead to the floor finally revealing Vinne Jones in all his silent killer glory. Mallet covered in red bone, blood and meat. The green/blue lit walls of the train glisten behind the red gore mallet. Vinnie’s perfect suit and tie frame his grimaced face. NO words, all gruesome action with the promise of more.

A meat hook, right to the groin for the loudmouth man, he’s vaulted up to the ceiling. The blonds heel breaks on a slimy eyeball on the blood soaked steel floor and she falls back rolling in slime. Her pretty dress and pale skin wet and red streaked. It’s a sad crawl, to inevitable death, Mahogany grabs her by the ankle like a beast and drags her across the floor, her red hands and fingers clawing at the slick floor uselessly.

Vinne rips her head off with his heavy mallet and the blond’s head flies across the train car. Out through her eye, her last sight is her own dead body with Mahogany lurching to her. It’s one of the most viseral scenes in horror, and staged so well it almost creates a ballet effect.

The tungsten lights of the night alleys vs the blue white subway gallows, cold and sterile waiting for the red blood to cover its floors. Vinne waits, tool bag on his lap. He waits for a certain train, as all pass him by, he waits for the Midnight Meat Train.

Back in the orange world of tungsten in the diner Maya is caught surprised by Cooper’s affections and an engagement ring to make her heart swoon. He is still capable of love and his heart is good but as they make love, things start to become violent, he twists her and become forceful, taking her harder without restraint. Suddenly cut to mixed images of bodies hanging from upside down from hooks on the Meat Train. Cooper cuts his own throat while seeing himself in a pool of his blood hanging from a hook. He is becoming tainted by something and it’s changing him.

Mahogany is dying, ugly growths on his chest under his clean white shirts. He cuts them off with a scalpel, puts them in a jar like relics on a shelf with other masons jars filled with his cut flesh. He’s isn’t long for the world but his work must be continued.

Leon’s descent into horror becomes inevitable, and his sacrifice is terribly frightening. The innocent are sacrificed and no one is spared the knife, for an ugly contract between those that live above and the mishapen demons from below.

Clive Barker’s strength with mythology and visceral physical fears are depicted beautifully under the skillful eyes of the director and his DP. This is one of Clive Barker’s best moments on the screen and though the studios failed to support The Midnight Meat Train with the proper opening theaters and marketing. There is sure to be a Dvd following for Meat Train in the years to come. I own the Bluray version and often revisit the morbid realms of Barkers twisted mind, though I admit that Ryuhei Kitamura is a huge draw with Johnathan Sela working the camera and lights. 

It’s magic that’s hard to resist.

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