The story of Midnight Meat Train is a long and complicated one. It was originally published in the first volume of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood collection. Only five of the Books of Blood had 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 its 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 (see: dollar movies), and bowed out with a measly $32,000 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.
With that out of the way, is it worth the hassle?
Midnight Meat Train, the short story, introduces us to Kauffman, a normal man who finds himself in an extraordinary circumstance when he ends up alone on a subway train with the “subway butcher.” The movie opens with a scene that comes straight out of the story, shot for shot, as Kauffman (Bradley Cooper) wakes up to find himself alone on a subway train. He hears a noise from the next car and when he goes to look sees a horrible gory scene that cuts into the opening credits.
My biggest problem with the movie comes from the fact that I am very familiar with the original story, and those complaints go in two different directions. I’ll start with fans of the original story. The biggest problem with adapting a short story into a feature film is the 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. Kauffman in the film is a photographer. He follows police scanner reports to get pictures of tragedies to sell to papers. His girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb) gets him a meeting with an art dealer (Brooke Shields) through a close friend of the couple (Roger Bart). None of these characters exist in the short story, as Kauffman was a man alone in dangerous New York City. The dealer informs Kauffman that if he lingers and gets the aftermath of the horrible events he shoots, it would be something she could sell. Kauffman sets out and finds a young woman being assaulted by three men. He waits and takes pictures of the assault before speaking out and stopping it before it gets out of hand. The three leave him alone because of security cameras and threaten to kill him.
Kauffman learns from reading a newspaper the girl he saved has disappeared. He is asked by the art dealer to get more pictures like this, so he sets out to the subway station again. This is where he finds a man named Mahogany (Jones). This is also my biggest problem with the changes between the movie and the short story. 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 that 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 then turns into a stalker tale with our hero, Kauffman, stalking the killer Mahogany.. Kauffman makes decisions that are questionable, to put it lightly. The things he does are completely stupid and sloppy and dangerous. The only explanation is when Kauffman says he sometimes doesn’t know what he is doing. The character of Maya is so one-dimensional and annoying that 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 that it might be a copycat killer and she just 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.
My final complaint is the ending of the movie. If you read the story, you understand exactly what happens at the end. However, the original story is short and brutal, but the end of the movie this movie is a generic rehash of every other slasher movie. Instead of a quick and brutal climax, the movie chooses a route that is so overused it was spoofed over ten years ago in Scream. I don’t think fans of this story were hoping for a smackdown. That’s not what the story is about. For those who have not read the story, the very end of the movie will probably be a head scratcher. It is faithful to the source material, but really comes across as a “what the fuck” moment for those coming in blind. It never explains why that final decision had to be made.
None of this means the movie is a failure.
In a time where many movies ply their horror to the PG-13 crowds, it is refreshing to see a movie that is so devoid of humor and bleak. This is a throwback to the days of 70s horror films where you were meant to be disturbed, not entertained. There is nothing in this movie that is uplifting or encouraging. This is the most horrific horror movie I have seen in a long time. If you are tired of generic movies like The Eye or Prom Night, this is the type of movie you would be interested in.
The acting by Bradley Cooper is fantastic. Maybe best known as the asshole boyfriend in Wedding Crashers, he takes the character of Kauffman and portrays a man slipping into madness almost perfectly. Since he is backed in most of his scenes by the hysterics of Leslie Bibb’s Maya, he comes across even stronger. There are a number of directorial choices that seem to be forcing us to understand he is going crazy (rougher sex, sloppier tendencies) but none are needed because Cooper delivers all we need to know through his acting abilities. Vinnie Jones, while I still stand by the fact I don’t agree with his casting, was solid in the role he was asked to portray.
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 eyeballs being ripped out of the head to an actual decapitation. There is no tacked on, false happy ending here. This is what horror is supposed to look like. To support this film is to ask for more of the same. The biggest problem is that Lionsgate buried this film in 102 discount theaters around the country.
Here are some numbers. If this movie had been released in 102 regular theaters, instead of the discount theaters, and the same number of people went to see it, the film would have averaged $3000 a screen. That is more than Swing Vote made in its opening weekend. I can’t guarantee it would have carried over with a raised ticket price, but isn’t that up to the consumer to decide? In this case, the seller blocked any chance the movie had of being financially successful in its theatrical release. This is unfair to both the filmmakers and the investors who both had a great deal invested in this endeavor. This tells me the studio believes a dark, bleak horror movie like this is not what fans want to see and they would rather put their support into PG-13 crap like The Eye. Prove to the studios they are wrong. Find a theater showing this and support this project.
The Midnight Meat Train is one of the best stories in Clive Barker’s Books of Blood collection. Barker has stated he hopes this film will be a start to what he has titled his Films of Blood. He has found a group of investors that are willing to support him in this endeavor but, thanks to a butchering by the studios he entrusted his stories, it was buried. It is a bleak, honest horror movie for true fans of the genre. There is no bull shit happy endings or family-friendly ratings to be found here. This is brutal, an in your face slasher flick. It has problems, but it has the chance to be the start of something special. If this is showing anywhere in your area, go out and see it. Prove that the studios aren’t always right when they are determining what is best for us.