Schlocktoberfest #22: The Midnight Meat Train
Who wants to ride the Midnight Meat Train? I know Clive Barker is gay, but was this story title his way of announcing it to moviegoers? Not since Rob Halford of Judas Priest penned “Hell Bent for Leather” has there been such an urgent declaration of one’s sexual orientation. The movie itself is decent slasher fare, and feels like a “Masters of Horror episode dragged out for 90 minutes; it entertains in spots, but it mostly panders to the bloodthirsty.
We want to see people cut up like hogs, and it provides, with a little bit of style. It’s a short story expanded to movie length, and sometimes you feel every minute. In a nameless City- which turns out to be Los Angeles, which actually does have trains- a photographer tries to capture the gritty “heart of the city.” He’s rebuffed by a gallery owner who wants to see the real nasty shit, which is apparently supposed to be “deep,” even though Weegee’s heyday is many decades past.
Our hero Leon is played by Bradley Cooper of “Alias” and The Wedding Crashers, and really should stick to TV. He wanders the subways and takes pictures of a woman about to be raped; he stops the thugs by pointing out the security camera, it’s okay. But hey, the audience paud to see people cut up, so she gets on The Midnight Meat Train. That’s the MM Express to Canarsie, in case you wondered. He catches a glimpse of her getting on, then a splash of red as she is dispatched to the meat locker. His photos wow the art dealer, so he hunts down the train the next night.
Eventually he sees Vinnie Jones, a butcher in full apron, riding the train with a huge fuck-off tenderizing mallet. More people go missing; our photog friend becomes obsessed with the train, to the detriment of his health and relationship, as the story goes. He has a sexy girlfriend (Leslie Bibb) but of course he’s too tired and distracted to screw, to the late-night cable viewer’s lament. Me & Milky watched this on FEARnet, the on-demand Comcast station, which puts horrible commercials at points. So let me get this straight: Fuck you, FEARnet. I don’t pay $120 a month for cable to deal with commercials, and your shitty logo, and little ads across the bottom. It ruins the atmosphere of a movie.
Leon takes his time getting on the train, mostly to give us a better body count; he hunts down The Butcher at his job- a meat packing plant, of course- but nothing comes of it. We see Vinnie at his apartment, readying his butcher tools in a medicine bag, and cutting bizarre barnacle-like sores off his chest with a scalpel. He puts them in a little jar. Nothing comes of this; and sadly it was one of the more interesting parts of the film. A creepy reveal often works well in a short story, but the secret of the Midnight Meat Train is anticlimactic; this is one time where less is less.
This is not the first story to posit that the “heart of a city” is a dark beast that must be fed, and that our lives are based on the murder and suffering of others. There’s a cocktease of a scene where Leon dreams that he is hanging from meathooks in the train, while a grimy tentacle gives him a taste-test; I imagined that Vinnie was slaughtering the commuter cutlets to feed a bizarre, Cthulhu-like growth in the underground, but when we get to the end of the line, we just see some monster-humanoids come out for a nosh. The train’s conductor monologues at the end- explaining just what Leon has stumbled into- but it’s brief and unsatisfying, not conveying any message or the true horror of the situation. I was let down.
Should you bend over for the Midnight Meat Train? It’s an enjoyable ride for horror slasher fans, but there’s little else else. Director Ryuhei Kitamura is new to the genre, and seems to be having fun with CG blood effects; he did Azumi, one of the better “ninja teenager” movies, and Godzilla: Final Wars, but other than some silly shots like the POV of a woman whose head’s knocked clean off by a mallet, he didn’t bring much to the table here. There’s another shot of a bullet going through a Guardian Angel’s head (played with delight by UFC champ “Rampage” Jackson) that was kind of fun, and a few mallet-happy face-smashings to make you flinch, but it’s all CG and never really looks like more than slasher porn.
However, with a movie named Midnight Meat Train I can’t complain about the porn aspect. I knew what I was getting into.