Midnight Meat Train Review

It’s late at night, you’re on the last tube. Do you really sit in the same carriage as Vinnie Jones? John looks at the UK BD…

The Film

Clive Barker’s early writings were about discoveries of self and awakenings of the soul. His Books of Blood, which yielded the story of Candyman, and his novella Hellbound Heart, which gave us Hellraiser, were often about people following their urges and curiosity into unspeakable terriroies. Barker’s early work capture a De Sade like sense of spiritual adventure, and the joy of going against orthodoxy and limitations. His transgressive monsters would tear human flesh, yet his human heroes would grow, become wiser and get lost in the subcultures they uncovered.Masochism, physical experimentation and discovering the awful adult world were themes of Barkers’ work and the phatasmagorical slant of his horror owes much to Lovecraft. I remember a rather nasal Liverpudlian talking about these works back in the eighties, and twenty years on the same man sounds like Orson Welles with a bad cold and haunts Los Angeles on the back of his reputation as the “future of horror”. Barker’s more recent work has not interested me greatly, but the tremendous potential of those first writings has ben tapped again with Midnight Meat Train.

The original story has been translated Stateside, and flash harry Ryuhei Kitamura is making his American debut with this adaptation. Kitamura’s previous films have left me a litlle cold because of some of the reasons that caused others to flock to them. His kinetic camera work, apparrent amoral approach, and rapid editing, have entertained me for about five minutes before I have realised that the work underneath is very hollow indeed.With Barker’s extensive involvement and a clear brief to let his characters develop, Kitamura delivers a steely, shocking gut punch of a horror movie. By keeping his tricks limited to the actual killings and embracing a realistically gory approach, Kitamura allows the intelligence of the original story to prevail. I might quibble that the director minimises the story of the vegetarian photographer who becomes a meat eating buggerer to a simple animalism, but he does surprise me with his hold on the narrative as the misadventure into self discovery reachs a natural conclusion where a torch of sorts is passed on.

Midnight Meat Train gets its underworld of shiny metallic trains and sleazy dark streets bang on. The world above ground is smoky and filled with potent shadows, and the underground trains below are too clean, sterile and chilling. This setting needs to be dirtied up and the film achieves its aim of demystification by delivering the final explanations of the plot as revelation. In the end, there are no easy escapes, there is no authorial wishful thinking or facile tying up of loose ends; there is only a deadly momentum which leads to awful and obscene truths.The acting is mostly good, and even Vinnie Jones as Mahogany gives his thug a surprising pathos. The female lead is profoundly annoying though and her partners development is tempting to be seen as a rejection of her for her whiny spoilt character. The cast are encouraged to find an honest tone which allows a bit of satire aimed at artworld grotesques when they are brought into contrast, and this grounded emphasis does serve to sharpen the climax.

This is this year’s first excellent horror movie, made by a mature and thoughtful Kitamura enabled by Barker still mining the preoccupations of younger days. Midnight Meat Train is an intense and gory ride to a shocking destination, and my advice to potential passengers is all aboard!

Transfer and Sound

The high contrast and metallic aesthetic of the movie is well handled in its sharp 2.35:1 AVC encoded transfer. The darker overland sequences yield good if not outstanding levels of detail, black levels are strong throughout and the strongest colour in a desaturated presentation is cleverly blood red. Edges look fine and film grain is minor but thankfully still present. Very occasionally, skintones lack some detail but this looks very good.The DTS HD MA track boasts a marvellous bitrate of about 5500kbps and is the only option available here, and for those of you without the ability to enjoy this track at its best I apologise. Extremely impressive use of the full speaker range, ominous lower frequencies and incredible richness serve up a superb and intoxicating listening experience.

Discs and Special Features

The transfer is given 18.8GB on this single layer disc which is Region B encoded only. The main feature includes a surprisingly good commentary between an appreciative Barker and a relatively humble Kitamura who discusses the issues in delivering a film to the producers’ specifications. Barker sems genuinely surprised when Kitamura points out that the exterior of the train journeys are CGI and the two get on rather well.

Barker appears again in a featurette where he talks about his writing and Stephen King’s famous backing, before going on to talk at some length about his paintings. Barker seems genuinely proud of his art but I was less impressed with work that seemed a bit of mix of Bosch and Munch.

He also contributes to a short piece on the character of the butcher. Other main cast talk about Vinnie Jones’ performance as if they were reviewing the latest performance from a top British thesp, and thankfully Vinnie is more down to earth about being big and scary and carrying a heavy hammer.

The final extra examines the handiwork of the world’s most unlikely Welshman in the film’s second murder sequence. Kitamura revels in “blood, blood, blood” and the effects guys get to do some cool stuff with decapitated heads and fixed cams – the POV shot from the severed head as it roles to see its own spurting body is gloriously sick.


It could all have gone so terribly wrong but Kitamura’s relative restraint, a focus on the characters and some great scene setting help Midnight Meat Train to deliver(last pun, I promise). This is a fine treatment of a film dumped out of the cinemas, the Region A disc has slightly more extras but is also region locked.

John White

Updated: Feb 20, 2009

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