CLIVE Barker hasn’t enjoyed a hell of a lot of success in recent times when it comes to how his stories have been adapted for the screen.
The horror author’s works provided the basis for a string of feature film hits in the late 1980s and early ’90s – Hellraiser(1987), which was based on the novel The Hellbound Heart, and its under-rated follow-up Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), as well as the unappreciated Nightbreed (1990), adapted from the best-selling Cabal, and finally Candyman (1992), taken from his story The Forbidden.
All we’ve really had in the 17 years since then is the six (yes, six) Hellraiser follow-ups, which have been either direct-to-DVD or made-for-TV releases, and the two occasions the dreaded Candyman has returned.
One of the very few original movies adapted from a Barker piece of work in that time is The Midnight Meat Train (2009), and while it’s certainly no Hellraiser or Candyman … at least it’s not another Hellraiser or Candyman, if you know what I mean.
The Midnight Meat Train, from Lionsgate studios and directed by Japan’s Ryuhei Kitamura, comes from one of the short stories found in Volume 1 of Barker’s Books of Blood (1984-1985).
And blood is no short supply when it comes to the film. It is extremely graphic, with the innocent passengers of a late-night New York subway train being gruesomely smashed and slashed to death by a brute of a mute, who’s a butcher by day and a butcher by night.
The Midnight Meat Train has eye-popping special-effects.
The filmmakers don’t hold back and neither does he. For some us at-times sadistic sons of bitches, it is what makes the film. Oh, the glorified brutality. It comes at regular intervals, and often shown in slow-motion. Eyes popping. Limbs extracted. Blood splattering. Gory. Gory. Gory.
English soccer player turned cinematic heavy Vinnie Jones (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch) is at his wooden best as Mahogany (boom boom), a mysterious man who wears a suit to his day job at an abattoir, before spending his nights waiting for the last train to come in so he can do some more carving up of cattle of the human variety.
The guy is one sick bastard, in every which way. Mentally and physically. At one stage he is shown slicing disgusting warts of what we learn is his ailing body, and then keeping the little off-cuts in jars in his bathroom cabinet.
The film’s lead is played by rising star Bradley Cooper (The Hangover, Wedding Crashers) though I doubt he will be using his performance in The Midnight Meat Train to help him get that next big role.
It’s probably not entirely his fault though with his character taking centre stage in an array of horror cliches. You know the ones, like those frustrating moments when someone ridiculously decides to go where they shouldn’t. Time after time. Yeah, it’s a horror. And, yeah, it can be very contrived.
Vinnie Jones gives Bradley Cooper an old fashioned nipple cripple.
Cooper is Leon Kauffman, a budding photographer who goes roaming the city streets in the middle of the night to try and capture that one brilliantly confronting image that will catapult him into his own gallery exhibition, which incidentally would be arranged by Brooke Shields’ Susan Hoff.
After pointing his camera at Mahogany one night – after the serial killer has gone about his regular serial killing duties – he becomes obsessed by him. Following him home. Following him to his work. Hiding out behind cow carcasses at the abattoir. All the while snapping away
Fortunately, for Leon’s credibility, and sanity, his own stalking mentality is far outweighed by Mahogany’s demented killer tendencies.
And Leon soon comes to the realisation that this guy who is hooked on hooks and waits for hours down in New York’s subway system before boarding the last train of the night is actually behind the publicised disappearances of several people – from the New York’s subway system. Then, seeing him actually doing the dirty deed kinda confirms it.
His girlfriend, Maya Jones (Leslie Bibb) and best friend, Jurgis Tompkins (Roger Bart) are initially dismissive of Leon’s ranting and ravings, believing him to be going mad, but they soon see for themselves after breaking and entering Mahogany’s apartment in one of those what-the-hell-are-you-doing moments.
‘Oh my God, I am so not hungry now’, says Maya.
(Spoilers ahead) In true Clive Barker fashion however, this ain’t no simple slasher pic. There’s a couple of twists and turns of the plot’s knife that keeps things rather interesting towards the ending. Some of the supernatural kind that give the film that extra spice.
An obvious one if the fact the train’s driver is also in on the human slaughtering, as well as one of the detectives on the missing person cases. Another has Mahogony merely the gofer for a race of blood-thirsty reptillian-type creatures, which dwell in the city’s underground.
Apparently called ‘fathers’, they are a type of grotesque secret society that are kept hidden by certain factions above ground, some of which provide them with their necessary daily intake of people flesh. Mahogany strings up his captured in one of the train’s compartments, and then the ‘fathers’ feast.
In the end they take an exceptional liking to Leon. They in fact like him so much that they do not devour him. Well, in a physical sense anyway, but mentally, making him their new ‘butcher’, or provider, after he gives Mahogany a taste of his own medicine.
It’s a changing of the guard, of sorts, with Leon giving in to the ‘fathers’ demands after Maya and Jurgis both come to rather bloody ending.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a sequel – this is a Clive Barker story after all. A more in-depth look at the ‘fathers’ sounds intriguing. But, if it does eventuate, expect a straight-to-DVD release … without Cooper (who’s gone on to bigger and better things) or Jones (because his character’s dead).
It’s not overly pleasant, but it’s worth the ride. Just once.