Sunday, October 5, 2008


The sad truth known to everyone who can read is that solidly and faithfully transferring a book -be it short story or novel- to the screen is almost always met with lackluster, and often times hideous, results. Couple that fact with attempting to birth such masters as King and Barker to the movies and you've got a real issue on your hands. Still, of the two horror authors mentioned above, Barker has had a much easier time of it since, frequently, he's in the driver's seat. So, as we come to Clive's newest outing, The Midnight Meat Train, at least it was only a short story so not too much could go wrong, right? Well, for the most part.
Initially, I was right there with this film. The story was decently adapted and the characters, especially Bradley Cooper as knowing but lost photographer, Leon Kauffman, and the ever imposing and sadistic Vinnie Jones as the 'Mad Butcher', Mahogany, were easily identifiable and even tragically likable. The biggest problem came from leading lady, Leslie Bibb as Maya. Unfortunately she really just seemed to be there as waifish eye candy and supporting tension grabber. Not wholly disappointing, but I coud easily have placed half a dozen other actresses in her role who'd have given it the nuance it seriously deserved. Conversely, acting brilliantly as Leon's new art gallery frou-frou lass-about-town, Susan Hoff, is Brooke Shields whom I'm enjoying more and more lately. She's a dry as a good wine.
The trip opens on a train. No spoiler there, it's in the title so... there you go. Immediately we see Mahogany eradicate a lone passenger with perhaps the biggest tenderizing hammer I have ever personally seen. So now, we've been dragged right into the antagonist's handywork and his brutality. This I liked. Soon we meet Leon and Maya as they discuss Leon's artwork and the prospect of a particularly famous gallery hostess, Susan Hoff, seeing his work. Hoff finds them less than invigorating, but gives Leon a little more than the time of day as well as a little clue to, "not be afraid" and stick around in the forboding situations a bit longer to capture that one moment that is pure "The City". Leon agrees and goes out to find what he can leading precariously to a mild situation where he ends up shooting (with his camera) a near-raping while simultaneously saving the victim and shooing away the trio of attackers. However, his heroic deed does not go without consequences as the lady is rapidly slaughtered by Mahogany.
Exposed clues from the snapped shots lead Leon on a skittish manhunt where he follows Mahogany from one end of the city to the next; to his apartment, to his workplace at a butchery, and, eventually, aboard the late train. As one can imagine, Leon has fallen into his 'work' all the way to his fleshy chest, soon to be carved with symbols as a reminder to back off or risk an even more tragic demise.
Maya screams and begs her lover to bag the trail and get out before it's too late, but all is for naught as Leon manages to drag her in, too. Inside Mahogany's home, Maya and her friend, Jurgis (Roger Bart), search relentlessly for Leon's stolen camera, only to stumble across a virtual library of medical and dental tools ranging from the archaic and horriffic to the standard scalpel collection. Then Maya finds something that even surprised me a bit, even having read the book. Sorry, no spoilers here. She tells the police who only prove to be ultimately useless and potentially in cahoots with Mahogany himself.
As the tide begins to ebb in the story, it rapidly becomes almost too Clive Barker-ian, and this is where it kind of deflates just a bit. It's not that it isn't cool, because it really is, it's just that it's a little to convoluted over all. It was a bit like getting hit with a pie in a hardware store: just not quite what you were expecting, but the pie is still pretty yummy just the same. Anyway, there is absolutely no shortage of juicy gore and very creative kills that, thought not necessarily the most innovative, are satisfying indeed. You will like it, if you enjoy a good Barker tale, as even the modicum of suspense holds up pretty nicely.
All in all, The Midnight Meat Train only 'goes off the tracks' for a bit. For the most part, it's a 'fun ride'. No more puns, I swear.

S. Miller 10-5-08

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