The Grab Bag: Midnight Meat Train (2008)

In the past few years there’s been quite a few horror films that have been shelved or screwed over by the studios. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane still languishes on a shelf. Martyrs only got released to a limited number of theaters. Trick R’ Treat is nowhere in sight. All of these are the little tragedies which beset the modern horror fan in their quest to seek out quality horror films in the land of banal remakes and teen baiting PG-13 fluff. There was one particular injustice which bothered me to no end. The newest translation of one of the most unique voices  in horror literature. A man who has brought us to the worlds of Hellraiser, Nightbreed, and whatever the hell was going on in Salome. Then add in the director of Versus and Godzilla: Final Wars, Ryuhei Kitamura. You can expect the bizarre, the macabre, and gore effects, but what if the studio was right? But what would I think after I got on board the….
Midnight Meat Train (2008) starring Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Brooke Shields, Ted Rami, and Vinnie Jones. Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura. 

Leon (Cooper) is a photographer out for a great shot to impress an art gallery owner (Shields). He follows a gang into the subway and captures them on film as they harass a woman. She boards a train, the train that stops at 2 am. It rumbles on down the line. She’s not alone in the car. There’s a butcher off work, and starting his second job. 

The next morning, as Leon takes his breakfast, he sees the a picture of the woman he saved in the paper, and now she's missing. He goes to the police with the pictures of her, but they dismiss him, even seem to suspect him. That night he studies the subway, and his path crosses that of the butcher. Leon becomes obsessed with following the man and soon finds himself following his path down a dark dark tunnel. 

The Bugg Picture

At the start o the film when the butcher, Mahogany played by Vinnie Jones, claims his first victim, he sneaks up behind her with a hammer raising it in the air. I was anticipating something great. I turned to my wife and said, “I bet this will look brutal.”. And it didn’t. Intead I got a computer enhanced shot that underwhelmed. So ’m just going to come right out and say it. This film was really disappointing to me, and the number one problem was the judicious application of CG gore. Ugh.  The worst lay ahead as Ted Rami’s eye gets smashed out of his head in a scene that looked more cartoony than scary, reflections of faces in shiny, almost metallic looking blood, and the red stuff spewing forth in waves. 

What has been one of the best things about many of the films based on Barker’s work has been the epic brutality that is brought forth with voyeuristic intensity. Frank's skin popping off in Hellraiser springs to mind immediately. The violence in Midnight Meat Train is plentiful, and Vinnie Jones strikes an imposing figure as the killer. However the film never manages to disturb or create any real tension,  and I put a lot of the blame for that on how bad the effects look. It took me out of the film, and I think many fans of horror films will find it similarly disappointing. 

Sadly if my complaints were to end there, the film may have been saved from itself if the performances had made up some ground. Unfortunately, Bradley Cooper was totally miscast. While I really liked his turns in Alias and Kitchen Confidential, in both of those series, and movies like He’s Just Not That Into You, play to his strengths as the affable, charming rogue. Midnight Meat Train begins with a bit of that character, but his turn to the dark side is just not all that convincing. As he becomes darker and more brooding, he just becomes less interesting to watch. When you add to that Leslie Bibb (Christine Everhart in Iron Man) as his girlfriend, things don’t really improve. While she is given little to do, she does even less with it. The only actors managing to impress were Vinnie Jones as the mute killer and Brooke Shields' small part as the art dealer. 

I did enjoy the direction of the film, and while I am pretty fed up with the trend of blue tinged films which has gone on far too long, many of the shots still managed to impress. Kitamura has proved with his past features that he is more than a competent director, and working her with Jonathan Sela, who also shot the underwhelming Max Payne, the shots are tight and interesting. Still I have to bring the terrible special effects into the conversation about the direction. I just cant see how Kitamura thought they were the way to go.

So was the studio right? The film was contracted to go into a certain number of theaters and they fulfilled that obligation. Sure they were dollar movies, but I can’t imagine how mad I would have been if I went to this film in theater and paid nine bucks to see it. I enjoyed the Friday the 13th remake more. I would rather watch My Bloody Valentine (2009) not in 3-D. So maybe they were not so far off on this one, but getting one right in a field of wrongs doesn’t give me any more faith in the system. So skip it, avoid it, deny you’ve ever heard of it. It’s just better off that way. Hopefully we can all put this behind us before Pacal Laugier (director of Martyrs) gives his vision of Pinhead and Co. 

Bugg Rating


  1. Very much agree with you here. I think Kitamura was just the wrong director for the material with his usual showiness and artificiality (which would be totally fine in a different context) working completely against the material.

    But I'm very much looking forward to the Hellraiser remake. Laugier's Martyrs was very barkeresque.

  2. the sneering (homo-phobic) snobApril 20, 2009 at 3:15 PM

    vinnie jones is a load of old rubbish.

  3. I'm glad to see I'm not the only person let down by this overrated misstep. I agree that the effects were pretty bad, and no tension is created. Worse yet, you can actually feel the screenwriter stretching himself too thin trying to make this rather short story conform to a feature-length running time format. Too much back and forth. And the Leslie Bibb character just made me want to eat a fucking bullet. I'm actually a fan of the original short story, so I was soundly disappointed by this ham-handed adaptation. I don't think Kitamura's direction was too bad. The overuse of lackluster CGI splatter was unfortunate and awful, and some of the action-y stuff was just ridiculous, but I think the visual look of the film was great, particularly in the city/subway/train compartment areas. I normally don't like when a movie makes the world look really sleek (like the look of Christoper Nolan's Gotham City), but I think it worked here, especially to add a layer of juxtaposition between the grimy, gory, pre-industrial cannibal underworld and the hoity-toity world of urbane, techno-dependent complacency we live in. I also liked the use of dull, sterile metal in the subway compartments, which drew comparisons between the cars of today's subterranean trains and morgue drawers, butcher shop walk-in freezers, and slaughterhouses.

    That Ted Raimi kill though, yeah. Fucking atrocious.

  4. I'm among the Godzilla fans who did not enjoy Godzilla: Final Wars while still appreciating it's "every monster you every wanted in one movie" approach. So I never really anticipated watching another film from Kitamura again. I might have approached out of "THE FILM THE STUDIO WOULD NOT RELEASE!" curiosity, so thanks for warning me away. After all, Disney was completely correct when it came to rejecting Lady in the Water, so sometimes the studio does get it right.

  5. house- i could not agree more

    snob- I know you have a distaste for all things British, but I enjoy Mr. Jones in many of his roles.

    Weirdo- I hadn't considered the mirroring of the freezers and the subway, very interesting, thanks

    ryan- glad i could warn you off of this one


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