Midnight Meat Train pulls into the home video station : Blu-ray Review

Based on a story from the revered Books of Blood series by Clive Barker – actually the first story from the first volume – Midnight Meat Train was supposed to have been given a much more ‘red carpet’ theatrical release than it wound up with. A regime change at Lionsgate knocked MMT out of a wide theatrical release and into what amounts to little more than a handful of contractually obligated screens prior to a dump on DVD and Blu-Ray this week. It would be great to be able to champion the film without reservation, but it has a host of problems all its own that threaten to upturn several very effective moments.
Freelance photographer Leon (Bradley Cooper, resembling the love child of Josh Lucas and Ralph Finnes) attempts to “really capture the city” with a series of artistic photographs in order to impress gallery owner Susan (Brooke Shields in a truly dazzling bit of WTF casting) into a showing of his work. He ventures down into the Metro system of an unnamed American city and shoots the near sexual assault of a young model before chasing the attackers away. Later he learns that the young woman has been reported missing and that he was the last person to see her boarding a train. Intrigued, Leon begins hanging around the station and spots a large, formally dressed man carrying a leather bag (Vinnie Jones) who he begins to suspect may be responsible for not just the model’s disappearance, but many others going back almost a century. In spite of the warnings of girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb), Leon becomes obsessed with the man, following him to work at a slaughterhouse, and finally witnessing him brutally murdering passengers on a late night train – butchering them, almost as if for food…
Barker’s original short story was exemplary in its brevity, like much of the work in the Books of Blood volumes – short, sharp, visceral horror tales that blew the cobwebs off much that passed for literary horror in the ’80s. “Midnight Meat Train” would have made for a perfect episode of Masters of Horror, but the story can’t quite bear being stretched to 102 minutes and nearly collapses under its own length.
The film wants to create the atmosphere of a city in the grips of a fearful serial killer, yet Leon seems to be the only one noticing the staggering death toll associated with the subway system.  It’s a shame that director Ryuhei Kitamura didn’t think to better exploit the claustrophobic atmosphere of a subway car; the limited locations (Leon’s apartment, Maya’s diner, and Susan’s gallery) don’t offer much in the way of a comparative reality – just a fashionably dreary world of which the meat train is yet another, more deadly element. At least Barker’s story had a somewhat interesting “why” to end the story with, one that owes a small debt to Gary Sherman’s superb subway thriller Deathline, though Midnight Meat Train’s monsters were smart enough to have their meals catered.
It’s also more than a little depressing to see the energy exerted in setting up Mahogany (the killer’s name, which I didn’t learn until the supplemental section) as a next-gen Pinhead or Candyman, a new horror avatar with a signature weapon to sprout DTV sequels for the next decade. However, the silver-metallic sheen of the subway sequences are visually striking (and a welcome respite from the underlit stalking that populate most horror shows), and Jones makes for a physically imposing figure, visually striking in a wonderfully out-of-fashion suit. Watching him calmly walk up behind his victims and brutally pound them with a massive meat hammer creates a horrifically indelible image. We were also pleased to see Roger Bart (memorable in Eli Roth’s Hostel 2) and genre favorite Ted Raimi in supporting roles.
Lionsgate offers up the “unrated” version for Blu-Ray and DVD, adding some outlandish bits of gore, most of which is, unfortunately, rendered in unconvincing CGI – a crutch that too many horror films have been leaning on of late. The Blu-Ray image offers a very pleasing amount of clarity and detail, while some of the drearier locations can appear murky on SD DVD. The image can also appear excessively grainy during indoor scenes, of which this movie is nothing but. Both feature an identical set of special features, including a commentary track featuring Barker and Kitamura, the usual EPK-style featurettes, and a slightly longer docu on Barker himself, focusing mostly on his passion for painting (and for those wondering about the author’s health, his raspy voice has apparently been the result of polyps in his throat, a condition the he discusses in brief here). Midnight Meat Train is certainly worth a rental, and is a good shade more interesting than most of the derivative junk that washes up week after week on home video, but beware the tendency to rally support around pictures merely because they were ill-treated by their studio.