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August 6, 2008 |

By Brian Prisco | Film | August 6, 2008 |

Pardon me while I sharpen my knives. It’s been quite some time since I came across a movie that so offended my delicate sensibilities and needs to be taught a lesson. I am prepared to split this miserable waste of light and sound from scrotum to sternum, scoop out the gristly bits, and scatter them across the pavement. Once the meat’s gone bad, I don’t think you can spoil it any worse, but be forewarned. To show you how badly this train did the Amtrak shuffle into the murky depths of shit-o-city, I need to unravel these slippery intestines to the bitter finish. If you’d prefer to savor this particular delicacy without knowing that by the end you’ll probably be spewing bile and chunks of marinated horse after consumption, then please, enjoy your meal. For the rest of you, wade on into the mess.

I remember weaving through Clive Barker’s Books of Blood after a recommendation from a friend and co-worker, as well as hearing Stephen King declare him the “Future of Horror!” No good can come from a proclamation like that, and Barker’s been wearing the accolade like a former pageant princess stretching her Miss Ohio sash into Miss Ohhellno. The collection is excellent, sort of an heir to Poe and Lovecraft. As I pored through the various stories, I came upon “The Midnight Meat Train.” I thought the title was so ridiculous and asinine I immediately stopped reading, put the book aside, and didn’t manage to pick it up until three books later. When I finished, I was sorry I had waited. “The Midnight Meat Train” tells the story of Leon Kaufman, a loser who falls asleep on a late subway train only to wake up to a nightmare. He has entered a secret station where a creepy man named Mahogany butchers passengers and strings up their corpses. He has been doing this for years as a means of feeding a cabal of gruesome monsters who covertly rule New York from below. Kaufman then ends up taking the place of Mahogany, serving these beasts.

What pains me so much is the movie retains every single one of these plot points. It’s in the embellishment for the screen where they manage to fuck the balls off this story. Midnight Meat Train was supposed to be a story about the value of humanity in this day and age, how we’re nothing more than cattle for the greater good. It’s a treatise on how far a man will descend to become a monster, a morality play about decency and the meaning of life and what it means to actually have a life. This had such promise! Clive Barker was allegedly heavily involved in the process, so much so that he demanded they retain the faux porn title at the cost of marketing. Instead, we end up with another pathetic thriller/slasher mashing The Bay Wave of 80’s Horror with the new Swamp Thing Cave Dwelling Vampire Craze with cut-up chunks of Basic Instinct 2 until we’re left with a lump of congealed crap about as satisfying as microwave reheated fast food burgers.

In the version coughed up by Jeff Buhler and directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, Leon Kaufman (Bradley Cooper) is a photographer desperate to sell his pieces to a chi-chi art gallery owned by ol’ Manshoulders herself, Brooke Shields. She tells him his work lacks passion, or danger, or any other number of cliché buzzwords art dealers say in movies. I’ve always been fond of panache, which sounds like a pâté made from ill-mannered children. So Kaufman decides to go down into the subway at night and take photos. You know, of black gangs menacing Asian models because that’s what often happens in a New York subway. At least it does in a world imagined by Japanese directors based on stories by British authors. The pictures of angry black rapists are what the white bourgeoisie loves to purchase, so Caterpillar Eyebrows demands two more to get his gallery opening. The decision to make him a photographic artist could have been used to make clever inroads towards our society’s obsession with brutality, a clever commentary on the whole torture porn mentality that’s prevalent in horror and video games. But this will be the first of many instances where the movie glosses over a potential avenue of interest that would have added depth in order to make this a B-grade splatterflick.

Cue the entrance of Mahogany (Vinnie Jones), a suit-wearing automaton who dispatches people on the late train with meat hooks and a vicious-looking metal tenderizing hammer. Instead of allowing the charming big-man to play suave, Kitamura decides to have him scowl and jerk like the black sheep cousin of a rusted-out Tin Man. Making Mahogany a speechless killing machine that doesn’t interact with Kaufman takes all the juice out of the story. It reduces it to a cameraman versus butcher slasher showdown — Jimmy Olsen versus Solomon Grundy. Which I would have no problem with if the movie were toned with black comedy or even a little camp, like Freddy vs. Jason. Instead, they try to make a serious suspense film about a supernatural subway serial killer.

The gore itself is creatively shot and perhaps the only good thing about this otherwise odious film. Having seen Versus, I know Kitamura knows how to kill up people but good. And here, he’s able to ramp up the violence to epically cartoonish levels of gruesome. While it detracts from the seriousness of a film to have your killer bludgeon a commuter in the back of the skull so hard his eyeballs actually pop from the ocular cavity, it’s still pretty fucking awesome to see. There’s plenty of brain bashing gore scattered gratuitously throughout, along with plenty of “slaughterhouse preparation”: meathooks in ankles, eyeballs scooped out, teeth torn from mouths. Again, if Kitamura chose to make a movie focused on the serial killer, it would have been still mildly salvageable. Instead, he wants to focus on Kaufman and his attempts to track down this killer he obsesses over.

In the movie version, Kaufman is given a love interest, Maya (Leslie Bibb), and some sort of best friend/business associate, Jurgis (Roger Bart), to flesh out the story besides showing the same shot of a subway train running through a tunnel eighteen times. Roger Bart I can understand, as I firmly believe studios are contractually obligated to include him in any movie where somebody is hung up on a meathook or killed for sport. But the love interest angle is written as if Buhler has never seen a vagina in the flesh, and if he did, he would run screaming to the warm glow of digitalized hoohahs in abject terror. I’m not sure if it was the scene where Kaufman weeps while taking pictures of his maybe-fiancée undressing as she heads for the bedroom or the actual “proposal” when he gives her a pre-engagement ring in the greasy spoon where she works and then sexually assaults her against the countertop. I’m not sure if he gives her the Redenbacher (a pop in the cornhole) or if he merely goes in for the roughfuck, but either way, the future Mrs. Kaufman is not enjoying herself. It’s another instance where the relationship could have been used as a barometer to gauge Kaufman’s mental instability, but they decide to make Bibb Dr. Mrs. Action Girlfriend.

And now the grand finale……SPOILED MEAT, CONSUME AT YOUR OWN RISK. Kaufman goes to the meat packaging plant where they decided to have Mahogany work and dons a chainmetal apron and a series of larger butcher knives in a scene that only lacks in a flashy Def Leppard soundtrack for stupidity. He boards the train where Mahogany has Maya unconscious and Jurgis strung up on a meathook naked, along with various other corpses as he preps them for slaughter. They battle among the corpses, Mahogany knocking limbs off of the swinging cadavers while Kaufman slashes with his knives. At one point, Kaufman throws an arm at Mahogany. Again, all of this is supposed to be serious and exciting. Maya, because she’s the girl, stands to the back of the train crying and covered in blood. The train stops, and we get our first glimpse of the patrons of this banquet de sanguine. This is after the conductor has boarded telling them this is the last stop, therefore creating another potential for the complicity of the government in our being butchered for the greater good but….aaaaah, you get what I mean. I’d say that you get the first glimpse of our monsters here, but you’ve seen them before. In The Descent, From Dusk til Dawn, Feast, and every fucking movie where a monster eats people. That same bat face, same bat charnel. Kaufman, who has dispatched Mahogany after he gets to utter his one word of dialogue, is now forced to replace him as the subway slaughterbot. His tongue is ripped out, his Missus is corpsed up with a knife to the chesticles, and he’s given a shiny new suit and apartment. COMMENCE VOMITUS.

The entire movie is full of complete and utter disarray. You have no idea what’s going on, or more importantly, why. By the time they get around to explaining it, you just don’t care anymore. The actors in this movie have all been much better in just about everything, and you almost feel bad for them. Lionsgate raped this in the name of Saw V, kicking it out in limited release to dollar theaters before giving it an unauspicious DVD release later this month. If you’re into things like watching a whirling POV shot as Mahogany knocks off a woman’s head with his meathammer, go for it. I’m all for forcing Kitamura to direct Saw VI through Saw MCMLXXXVII, or until a jury of his peers (the directors of Three…Extremes) see fit to release him. As for Buhler, his only other movie was about a mental institution, so we won’t be seeing him ever again. And Clive Barker gets remanded to Miskatonic Asylum, next door to Arkham where all authors of horror must go to prevent them from adapting their own material to the screen. He can play ping pong with Stephen King. Just not Dean Koontz. Because nobody gives a motherfuck about Dean Koontz.

Brian Prisco is a warrior-poet from the valley of North Hollywood, by way of Philadelphia. He wastes most of his life in desk jobs, biding his time until he finally becomes an actor, a writer, or cannon fodder in the inevitable zombie invasion. He can be found shaking his fist and angrily shouting at clouds on his blog, The Gospel According to Prisco.

Mental Wounds Not Healing, Who and What's To Blame?

Midnight Meat Train / Brian Prisco

Film | August 6, 2008 |

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