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Feature


Down and out urban photographer Leon (Bradley Cooper) is inspired and pushed to capture the darkest reality of the city. After photographing and ultimately stopping the harassment of a young model, Leon discovers that the model was murdered briefly after their encounter. In double checking his photographs Leon decides to pursue a hunch, and looks into the personal life of a large, silent behemoth carrying a brief case (Vinnie Jones). Leon’s investigation doesn’t lead him places anyone in their right mind would ever want to go.

Midnight Meat Train: Unrated, The
Midnight Meat Train comes with three hard to match expectations. First off, it’s the first Clive Barker theatrical adaptation since the writer directed snore-fest Lord of Illusions, way back in 1995. Add to that Japanese action director Ryuhei Kitamura’s ( Versus, Azumi, Godzilla: Final War) making his Hollywood debut. The third, and possibly most unobtainable level of expectation, is the title, which after drawing guffaws from teaser trailer showings, embarrassed Lionsgate enough to make them effectively bury the film.

Lionsgate really shoved their tail between their legs on this one, but was not lacking in creative ways to keep the film from a mainstream audience. First they pushed back the initially announced release date, though not for reasons of unfinished product. Then they released the film to less than one hundred theatres. This wasn’t a rare move, but the less than one hundred theatres selected were of the second run variety, also known as ‘dollar’ or ‘cheap’ theatres. On top of this, which automatically set the film up for a minimal box office take for price alone, the majority of fans were able to first see the film through Lionsgate’s free On-Demand cable service Fearnet. Though some small budget horror films have been sold straight to the Sci-Fi network in the past, this particular treatment of a film (a $15 million film specifically) is quite novel, and bizarrely notable.

Midnight Meat Train: Unrated, The
But you're probably here to hear if the flick’s any good. The short story is that it's good, but it's not particularly original. Basically, if I’m breaking it down for the film buffs out there, I’d call Meat Train a mix of Argento’s Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Gary Sherman’s under-appreciated Raw Meat (aka Death Line), and Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, as filtered through the prisms of both Barker’s and Kitamura’s typical work. I’m unfamiliar with the original story, so I’m not sure what was added or subtracted by screenwriter Jeff Buhler, but this is a somewhat middling story. The characters are inescapably artificial, and their motivations are largely stereotypical for the genre. The ultimate familiarity is the film’s weakest element, but I’m personally enough of a fanboy to enjoy the whole recognition process. The similarities with various Argento features (including his greatly Weegee inspired half of Two Evil Eyes) were actually quite satisfying, as Argento himself hasn’t made a satisfying Giallo since The Stendhal Syndrome, though not for lack of trying.

The mix of Kitamura and Barker was the intriguing part of the equation for many fans, including me. One ingredient bereft of the other would be much less interesting. Kitamura control balances Barker’s tendency to take his stories too seriously, and Barker’s source material keeps Kitamura from tumbling overboard. We’re all adults here, so let’s not pussy foot around the facts—Kitamura makes junk food movies. He takes his favourite elements from more successful directors and ‘cools them up’. The good news for the fans is that he’s grown steadily throughout his very brief career (the Japanese film industry demands at least a few films per year out of their better directors). And in growing Kitamura has made his first real horror film. By the final act the Sam Raimi and John Woo worshiping director we’ve come to know and love rears his head, in a way Barker could’ve never manage on his own. Yet the left field nature of the final act is pure Clive. It’s the best and worst of both worlds.

Midnight Meat Train: Unrated, The

Video


No matter what we say critically about the depth of Kitamura’s filmmaking, most of us have to admit that his stuff looks fantastic on the surface. It’s no surprise that a slight increase in budget would make for an even more beautiful looking feature. Midnight Meat Train is a very slick film, with sharp foreground focus, tight edges, very specific lighting schemes, and just about zero natural lighting. Kitamura fulfils the stereotypes, but also takes the time to surprise us a bit. In hi-def the audience can appreciate the changes in image clarity and grain. Scenes taking place in the titular train or the station are steely blue, and unnaturally clean. Even the splattering black and red blood in these scenes looks like silk on screen. Outside night shots often revel in auburn hues, sharper contrast, and more grain, while daytime shots overrun with white glare, spiked with deep blacks, and poppy pastels.

Audio


Of course, you can’t have a total sensory overload without audio extremes, and audio extremes can never go wrong with DTS-HD Master Audio. The sound effects in this one aren’t quite as Raimi-fied as the silly bits found in Kitamura’s Anime inspired work, but the extreme nature of each ear-splitting splat, and each gut punching bone crunch should probably still make Mr. Evil Dead proud. Surround effects are fiercely impressive, and go great lengths in creating a larger canvas for what is ultimately a monetarily bereft production (comparatively speaking, of course). Directional spacing is usually spot-on, and the immersive effect of the mix is quite nice (check out the railcar three-sixty during the fight for a good time). The LFE channel belongs to the punches, kicks, hammer throws, and the electronica-meets-brass-band score. A very busy track indeed.

Midnight Meat Train: Unrated, The

Extras


The extras begin with a great commentary featuring Barker and Kitamura. Barker’s commentaries are always good, but this is my first time listening to Kitamura share his thoughts on the filmmaking process in English (and pretty good English too). Ever the storyteller, Barker, who’s mostly in charge of the track’s pace and structure, saves his juicy behind the scenes information until the last act, but previews it constantly. Time constraints initially made me think I was going to have to watch the track in chunks, but I found myself listening to the entire thing without checking the clock. We still don’t get the full story behind the film’s mistreatment, but we get plenty of clues. It seems that Meat Train, along with Repo! The Genetic Opera, was the victim of a regime change at the studio (though this is of course only part of the story). Surprising to me is the lack of talk concerning Argento, Raw Meat, or the legends that I had assumed inspired the story. Perhaps Barker added these elements subconsciously, or perhaps I misread the images, because both commentators are sure to mention all the other homage they toss about.

‘Clive Barker: The Man Behind the Myth’ is a general look at the dude that wrote the story. Barker only spends about four minutes discussing Midnight Meat Train, or movies at all, before quickly moving on to his paintings, which are still relatively new to him. As a painter I’m impressed with the quantity of Barker’s output more than his skill, but some of the hundreds of pieces strewn across his studio are genuinely fantastic works of art. Barker’s dribbling descriptions of his art are pretty pretentious and fully over thought. The featurette runs a healthy fifteen minutes.

Midnight Meat Train: Unrated, The
‘Mahogany’s Tale’ is five minutes plus concerned with all things Mahogany. Mahogany is the film’s killer, as played by the immortal Vinnie Jones. Apparently Barker and Kitamura were trying to create the next horror icon. They’ve come up short, but it’s not entirely easy to say why. The character’s costume and public image is in direct conflict with Jones’ on screen persona, which is kind of unintentionally amusing—sort of a 300lb Forest Gump.

‘Anatomy of a Murder Scene’ is a fluffy, ten minute look at the film’s best (if not most realistic) murder—the death of Ted Raimi and friends. Kitamura’s love of storyboard pre-production is not a surprise. Things end with a trailer, and trailers for other Lionsgate horror releases.

Midnight Meat Train: Unrated, The

Overall


Cautious optimism ended up being the ideal manner in which to approach Midnight Meat Train, which is a good mix of the specific talents of its respected writer and energetic director, but not a great film. I happy I skipped the free On-Demand R-rated version, because based on the facts gathered from this commentary track, the cuts to maintain the rating were deep. There would be no reason to see a neutered version of such a bloody, violent, and just downright gooey film. Brutal and funny, though just as predictable and maudlin, Midnight Meat Train is mostly for Barker and Kitamura’s fans, but may transcend a few mainstream barriers.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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