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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 5.26%
Average: 10.53%
Pretty Bad: 36.84%
Total Crap: 5.26%

2 reviews, 7 user ratings

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Midnight Meat Train, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Kitamura and Barker prove to be a fantastic match."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: Assigning a star rating to "The Midnight Meat Train" puts me in a quandary. On the one hand, I think that something like 90% or more of this is fantastic, some of the best recent horror filmmaking you will see. On the other, I really like endings, especially ones where the end feels like the logical culmination of what had come before, and my reaction to the movie's ending was, well, that it was something else. And yet, I'm told that most of the original short story is contained in that ending, and it's handled faithfully, which is generally a good thing on principle. So, you see, there it is: A quandary.

We start with Leon Kauffman (Bradley Cooper), a young photographer making ends meet with crime-scene work while hoping to put together better things. His girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb) and friend/agent Jurgis (Roger Bart) have finally gotten noted gallery owner Susan Hoff (Brooke Shields) to look at some of his work, which elicits a comment about how he's not really capturing the city the way he wants to. What he does wind up capturing is the last shot of a model before she disappears on the subway. He connects it with another picture, this one of Mahogany (Vinnie Jones), a silent, imposing butcher whom we've seen ambushing people on the late night trains, brutally murdering them. Soon, Leon becomes obsessed with proving that this man is behind a rash of disappearances.

Clive Barker's short story is apparently a popular one among horror fans, though I've never read it. For me, the big drawing card was Ryuhei Kitamura's English-language debut, and Barker's fans should be pleased to see that the story is in good hands. Often described (or accused, depending on who is making the statement) of having a Hollywood sensibility in Japan, and he doesn't make The Midnight Meat Train into a J-horror-styled picture at all. He and director of photography Jonathan Sela do shot the heck out of the film, though, finding all the nifty angles and great compositions that a movie about a photographer really should have. He does a lot of nifty things with the camera, from the continuous static shot of Mahogany's first kill to the way the point of view whips around the subway car in the big climactic fight, emphasizing the cold brutality in the first and the increasing frenzy in the latter.

Another thing those two scenes have in common besides great camera work is plenty of blood and guts. Kitamura and screenwriter Jeff Buhler don't pussyfoot around, giving the gorehounds who have been waiting years for this movie plenty of the red stuff. It's occasionally a little over the top - one CGI eyeball looks kind of odd, for instance - but for the most part, it's good mayhem, more often unnerving than "funny".

Also thoroughly unnerving is Vinnie Jones's performance as Mahogany. People have been using Jones's distinctive physique to intimidate for years, but Kitamura has him stay silent and still to create the impression that Mahogany is nearly an automaton, although he moves smoothly and with purpose when he undertakes his grim work. Bradley Cooper and Leslie Bibb are good as the protagonists, although the transition from them being generally positive to frazzled and on edge seems kind of abrupt; maybe there's a scene or two cut out to get the film down to a lean and mean running time. The movie is also stocked with entertaining supporting characters played by Brooke Shields, Roger Bart, and Peter Jacobson.

A few hours to mull it over has allowed the ending to grow on me a bit, although I do still sort of think that the revelations and reversals of the last act are a bit much: Even though it's probably what I should have expected from Clive Barker, and there are bits planted earlier on that this is more than just a serial killer movie... it had been an excellent serial killer movie, and although the ending (which, again, I am told is true to the source material) isn't bad at all, it's the sort of thing I tend to pick at, even though I know that providing enough details to satisfy me would completely derail the movie.

Horror fans, though, should love the movie in its entirety. It's a great American debut for Kitamura; I hope we see much more from him in the future.

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originally posted: 07/21/08 02:07:57
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/05/12 Langano Laughable, couldn't wait for it to end. Check out Martyrs for a real scare. 2 stars
12/29/11 Justin Ahh, the good ole days before Bradley Cooper turned into a giant bag of douche. 5 stars
8/14/09 ES Lots of Lovercraft underpinnings but the CGI gore sucked and the ending was to slap-dashed 3 stars
4/02/09 Raul Valdez Jr like the book, a bit long, but satisfyingly PURE HORROR MOVIE 4 stars
3/08/09 blah blah pure class and a great ending 5 stars
10/10/08 Matt Like being hit over the head repeatedly with a hammer. ok but predictable and overstylized 3 stars
8/21/08 Jenny Tullwartz Every time you think it can't get worse, it does. Plus too much unexplained. 1 stars
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  01-Aug-2008 (R)
  DVD: 17-Feb-2009


  DVD: 17-Feb-2009

[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Ryuhei Kitamura

Written by
  Jeff Buhler

  Bradley Cooper
  Vinnie Jones
  Brooke Shields
  Leslie Bibb
  Tony Curran
  Roger Bart

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