Leon is a photographer who is trying to get his foot in the door of the local art community. He meets an influential gallery owner named Susan who informs him he needs to find something deep and dark in the city to photograph if he wants to make it in the art world. What he finds is Mahogany, and the fact that Mahogany is a serial killer sends Leon on a dark spiral into hell on the Midnight Meat Train.
I was one of the few lucky ones who actually got to see Midnight Meat Train in the theater. The movie was unceremoniously dumped into bargain theaters (see: dollar theaters) in various spots across the United States. One of the cities that got a showing was Norman, Oklahoma, so maybe for the first time ever I was in the right place for a special theatrical event.
For those unfamiliar with the film’s long and windy road, here is a condensed version: Midnight Meat Train was originally published in the first volume of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood collection. Only five of the Books of Blood have been adapted into film although many have been attempted. Way back in 2002, it was hinted that both Midnight Meat Train and Down Satan were to be optioned for production. By 2004, nothing had been started so a new deal was worked out under the new label Midnight Picture Show, with eight full-length pictures in the initial plans. Since this announcement, there have been two stories already filmed, Midnight Meat Train and The Book of Blood. All the excitement turned into dread when Midnight Meat Train was initially pushed out of its original release date and finally kicked to the curb. Midnight Meat Train was released in only 102 theaters across the country, all discount and bowed out with a measly $32,000 opening weekend. Unfortunately, that number would not have been too much better in full priced theaters but at least more people could have had a chance to see it.
As I said, I saw it originally in the theater and enjoyed it for what it was – an R-Rated horror film that had no aspirations to be anything like the shit (see: Prom Night, The Uninvited) that we are getting served these days in wide releases. It is bloody and disturbing and holds nothing back. It is not a PG-13 soft horror film for kids; it is a dark movie for both fans of Clive Barker and true genre horror fans. I became very interested in what this Blu-Ray, the Unrated Director’s Cut, would provide me with. The director is Ryûhei Kitamura, best known for his Japanese film Versus, and I really wanted to see if there was more to this movie than even what originally drew me to it.
Leon (Bradley Cooper) is a photographer working in New York City. Unlike the original story where Leon is a solitary man, in this film he is happily married to a loving wife (Leslie Bibb) who supports his attempts to make it in the highly competitive art world. He is introduced to a famous art dealer (Brooke Shields), who tells him he needs to follow his subjects a little longer to show what they do after he takes their picture. He heads into a dark, dangerous world where he starts to see the disturbing underbelly of the city. He follows a girl into a subway and saves her from being raped, all while taking the photographs of the events leading to her attack. When she ends up dead, he remembers a man in the background, on the subway train the girl eventually entered.
He then starts to look for and follow a strange man named Mahogany, who he believes is the serial killer responsible for people disappearing in New York City for years. He finds no one to help him and learns the events might have deeper roots than anyone would ever believe. To say anything more would ruin the twists and turns of the movie, which leads to a very dark place at the end.
Bradley Cooper was spectacular in his role in this movie, and it was the first time I really believed he could be a leading man. I only knew him from Wedding Crashers leading up to this movie and have since been impressed with his performance in He’s Just Not That Into You. This guy is leading man material and has the look and talent to be a really big player in the years to come. He is also surrounded by a great supporting cast. Leslie Bibb (Ricky Bobby) brings the right amount of light and enthusiasm to the film, helping to make the horrific scenes even darker. Brooke Shields is on top form here as well, proving she is as good as she ever was.
Finally, I have to talk about Vinnie Jones. No matter how many times I see him in movies like Gone in Sixty Seconds and She’s the Man, I will always love him for his work in Guy Ritchie’s films. He brings a great level of evil to his character and this is the type of role he was born to play. I know he doesn’t fit the role written in the original story (out of shape and pathetic), but his portrayal of the killer makes this movie really disturbing, and lends it a strong sense of dread.
The scenes that were added back into this Unrated Version includes a fabulous scene of Mahogany slamming a mallet into a guy’s (Ted Raimi) head and the eyeballs flying directly into the camera. In the same scene, he swings the mallet, knocking a woman’s head off, and lingers longer than the original version, with the camera slowly panning back to show the head, eyes still blinking, to the body many feet away, where the fingers are still twitching. The scene is in the original cut of the movie, but the over-the-top goriness was left out originally to appease the MPAA. It is all back here, and looks magnificent.
Originally, my biggest problem with the movie comes from the fact that adapting a short story into a feature film creates a lack of beef. The only way to stretch the story out to fill the length of a feature is to add events, characters and plot strands. I’ll start with the most obvious change to the story. In the original, Kauffman is a man who stumbles his way into the situation. The wife, the art dealer, and the close friend (Roger Bart) did not exist in the short story, as Kauffman was a man alone in dangerous New York City. Also, in the story Mahogany is a man nearing his fifties who you would never believe could be the killer. Vinnie Jones is not the man I pictured when reading the story, and it is hard to not believe he is the killer. When looking at features based on stories by authors like Dean Koontz, Stephen King and Clive Barker, there is always the disappointment factor by their fans. All three authors use internalization to tell a great deal of their stories. You are able to live through what the character is dealing with because you can see inside their mind. Because we cannot see into the mind of the most important character in this story, Mahogany, we are at a loss throughout the movie. He never speaks in the story or the film, but we are able to know why he does what he does in the short story.
The movie turns into a stalker tale with our hero, Kauffman, stalking the killer, Mahogany. Kauffman makes many decisions that are questionable and the things he does are completely stupid, sloppy and dangerous. The only explanation is when Kauffman says he sometimes doesn’t know what he is doing. The character of the wife is one-dimensional and annoying and I could never take her seriously. When Kauffman is explaining what he thinks is going on in the subways, she dismisses him. He even rationally explains it might be a copycat killer and she goes completely ballistic, telling him it is crazy and can’t be true. Her denials are so over-the-top and irrational, she comes off as a joke in the script. None of the characters in this script act in any kind of rational manner and that hurts the movie from beginning to end.
This movie endured a long, hard road to production. It is not perfect and is only a slightly average film. It has more flaws than plusses but I would still recommend this movie to horror fans. For one thing, this is a labor of love for Clive Barker. We get assaulted year in and year out with crap like Prom Night and to actually get a horror movie that holds no punches is refreshing. To support a movie like this is to support the horror genre. There is a lot of gore in this movie, from eye balls being ripped out of the head to an actual decapitation. There is no tacked on, false happy ending here. This is what a horror is supposed to look like.
Audio Commentary with Clive Barker and Director Ryûhei Kitamura – Barker starts off the commentary by saying they will tell everyone how the movie was made and “screwed around with by certain people.” Does the commentary live up to that great opening? It is really great as the two discuss the film Barker mentions how much he hates the tampering that was done with this movie, by both producers and the studio. Kitamura mentions how producers wanted no humor in the movie and also hated the creatures in the film, which were shown in greater detail in this version. The excess gore from the creature attacks were taken out due to fights with the producers – not the MPAA. They originally wanted the creatures to be removed from the movie entirely, but Kitamura said he would quit before he agreed to that. This is a great commentary track that pulls no punches.
Clive Barker: The Man Behind the Myth (14:54) – He brings up how Stephen King’s reference to him as “the new face of horror” was a selfless act that helped Barker become who he is today. The feature pretty much takes you into the life of Barker, primarily looking at his paintings. I’ll be honest, it is a boring feature.
Mahogany’s Tale (05:12) – Ryûhei Kitamura starts off this feature talking about creating a new horror icon. It is short, to the point, and another disappointing feature with little meat.
Anatomy of a Murder Scene (09:17) – This feature looks at the murder of the three victims on the train, the one I mentioned was forced to be edited harshly by the MPAA. We hear from the director, storyboard artist, stunt coordinator and the actors. This was a pretty neat little feature.