Monday, 15 September 2014

Kweeny, Judith + Maynard riding the MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN

Sometimes you need to delve into the depths to pull yourself, kicking and screaming into the light. It's been a LONG TIME since this little blogger did a good old review style post, so I thought I'd bring you a treat. A TRIPLE THREAT OF MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN MADNESS! Of course I got some help from some people. One being my old blood soaked chum Maynard from Maynard's Horror Movie Diary, and a new friend Judith "Jue"! Together we will tackle another Clive Barker piece, because you know how hyped I get for Clive's work! I don't think the world is ready for this kind of crazy, but I am unleashing it anyhow. Maynard has also kindly posted our stuff on his page too, so you can read to your hearts content! I even have my trusty cleaver ready for some butchering! 

As Maynard says, "We're talking about the original story from 1985 by Clive Barker and the theatrical feature adaptation from 2008. What do we like, what do we hate,
what is better, film or story etc. etc.

All aboard, please take your seats. It's gonna be a long and weird ride full of glorious gore and ghastly grumesomeness :-)"


Alternate Title:
Clive Barker's Midnight Meat Train

Alternate German Title: 
Clive Barker's Midnight Meat Train - Mitternachtsfleischzug

USA, 2008
Director: Ryûhei Kitamura

It's time to get back to basics. What better way to do that than to connect with some of my blog friends like Maynard Morissey, and write a joint blog post about a man we both adore: Clive Barker.

Since I have done a lot of blog posts on his work, (and even write about him for the Living Dead Magazine when I can) I wanted to touch on something I haven't written about yet and that Maynard would also enjoy blogging about: Midnight Meat Train.

Oh Midnight Meat are a strange, and sometimes hilarious movie.

But before I get into the movie, I want to talk a little about the Books of Blood, and why the story Midnight Meat Train is superior to the film. Now the film has it's merits, and I will bring those up, but it falls short in many respects. Not to say Clive hasn't been lucky with his adaptations. Because most Clive adaptions (except for things like sequels) are pretty good. Most are loyal to the source material which doesn't happen for every writer who's work is adapted to film. But the story of Midnight Meat Train is just so good then what they show it on screen you expect the visuals to be as intense and poweful as the words written were, which is a bit of a bummer, but could be worse I guess. I know that's my bias showing though. I prefer to read things over watching things, because you can show more than tell with words. Film can get lazy and forget that showing can say all you need to say in a film as well.

But for a horror adaption, it's not bad. Not as good as Hellraiser was for Hellbound Heart, but it's still pretty awesome.
The Books of Blood have had some of their stories adapted for film as of late. The thing about the Books of Blood is, they are more than one little vignette. They are a collection of some of the creepiest, most depraved works of literature Barker has ever created. The stories within represent the worst of humanity, all the while showing some of humanity's vulnerabilities and beautiful flaws. The people in the Books of Blood make terrible choices, sometimes to fatal effect.

There are six books in total, each with their own feel and strangeness. The movies that have been adapted include Rawhide Rex, The Forbidden (later calledCandyman), The Last Illusion, (later called Lord of Illusions), The Body Politic (later called Quicksilver Highway), The Midnight Meat Train, The Book of Bloodand On Jerusalem Street (later combined to just be Book of Blood), Dread, The Yattering and Jack, which was adapted for Tales From The Darkside. Jacqueline Ess is set to be filmed and is going to be directed by one of my favorite rising star directors Jovanka Vuckovic.

That's a lot of blood for one book to bear on screen isn't it? Well the thing about the collection is the stories are so well written, so personal in their horror that they linger well after you put the book down.
Midnight Meat Train is one of those tales that lingers. The story is haunting. We become obsessed with what Leon Kaufman is doing, as he stalks a strange man named Mahogany. Leon is just trying to get by, and has a lot of problems of his own. But when he wakes up on a subway and witnesses an act of terrible brutality done by Mahogany, he becomes obsessed with the man and needs answers.
The tale is a warning about obsession and putting yourself in situations you really have no business being in. Who hasn't been drawn to something they know isn't good for them, and yet they cannot pull away. Obsession can be as bad as addiction, and Barker isn't afraid to show you just how bad it can get. The thing that the book does better than the movie is capture that. I felt the film only scratched the surface of the whole Fear and Obsession idea, and pulled away before it could get deeply into it. While some scenes really captured the horror Leon witnesses on the subway train, some scenes were also made so over-the-top with gore that they were almost too funny to take seriously. When you read the story, you don't have to worry about that. Barker's prose is on point, and there is nothing funny about this story. You are sucked in, spellbound by is use of language as well as his scenes he paints with bloody brush strokes.

Mahogany is also an amazing character, and I will give the movie credit, they picked a fine actor to be Mahogany Vinnie Jones is frightening, and plays a silent, brooding figure well. He looms over the film, towering over Leon and his victims like a murderous Jotun. So much emotion is conveyed without words from Vinnie, and he makes the character come to life on film. It is one of the things I can say the film does better than the story, because Vinnie Jones really sells it.
The main character Leon in the film falls flat for me. I didn't care enough about him like I did in the short story, because the actor just wasn't interesting enough. He just seemed like another pretty face from Hollywood trying to do a horror movie, and it's a shame. Clive Barker's horror demands a certain level of acting that not every actor can pull off. Leon was just another generic actor, and he didn't capture the obsession levels I really wanted to see come from the character.

But for an adaptation of Clive Barkers work, Midnight Meat Train isn't terrible. It has some really good moments, the ending is still pretty great, and Vinnie Jones is just awesome in his role. He is a great silent stalker, doing is job with efficiently and brutality to feed the ones who demand to be fed.

And if you wanna know who needs to be fed, check out the story or movie for yourself. Both are worth experiencing.

Even though he's one of the horror genre's most famous authors, Clive Barker's work gladly has been spared with being adapted for the big screen hundreds and hundreds of times (like Stephen King's work). Also, the few Barker-feature-adaptations that have been made: none of them are really bad. Next to the awesomeness of "Candyman""Dread" or "Hellraiser" (*ignoring all the pointless "Hellraiser" sequels), there are only two adaptations that are weak:"Rawhead Rex" and "Book of Blood", though both are still rather watchable.

"The Midnight Meat Train" is to date the penultimate Barker feature adaptation. Based on the short story of the same name, which can be found in "Books of Blood - Volume 1", Japanese director Ryûhei Kitamura ("Godzilla: Final Wars")and screenwriter Jeff Buhler ("Insanitarium") created a stylish and wonderfully brutal horror film that works excellent as some kinda companion piece to the story.

Barker fans will hate me now, but I think that the film is better than its source material, even though both aren't perfect. Yet, in a weird way that probably only makes sense to me, they both somehow complement each other, resulting in a delightful multimedia package that pleases me quite a bit.

The story follows two people: Leon Kaufman, an office worker who becomes fascinated by a bizarre chain of murders that takes place in the New York City Subway, and Mahogany, the actual killer who butchers his victims like beef cattle and delivers them via Subway train to an underground cavern which is filled by deformed creatures who live on human flesh. After killing Mahogany, Kaufman gets forced to take his place, and eventually becomes the new butcher.

I love how the story starts out being told by both characters, giving us insight in both their lives (Kaufman's is boring, while Mahogany's is simply fucked up) until they finally meat... um, meet in the Subway train. There's some wonderfully insane descriptions of slaughtered people ["The meat of her back had been entirely cleft open from neck to buttock and the muscle had been peeled back to expose the glistening vertebrae."], as well as many carefully composed sentences, each one a little  masterpiece ["(...) this all too naked slab had been hung by the feet from one of the holding handles set in the roof of the car, and a black plastic bucket, lined with a black plastic bag, had been placed beneath the corpse to catch the steady fall of blood from its wounds. In that state, stripped, shaved, suspended and practically bled white, the body of Loretta Dyer had been found. It was disgusting, it was meticulous, and it was deeply confusing."]

However, I've never been a fan of how the story ends. All the awesomeness and intensity ends with Mahogany's rather quick death, the arrival of the creatures who are actually New York's founding father(!) (for whatever reason, they are bound to eat human meat even though it disgusts them), the arrival of the slightly ridiculous Father of Fathers who is basically the “Bowels of New York”... I dunno. It's a strange and unconvincing conclusion. A letdown.
Thank goodness, the movie's super-grim ending was able to satisfy me a lot more. No founding father stuff here. The creatures are simply age-old creatures, and they're not disgusted by human meat, they actually love it. No Father of Fathers here either. It's the train conductor who tells Kaufman that he is now the new butcher. Plus. the death of Kaufman's girlfriend adds some more shocking tragedy.

Girlfriend, you may ask? Yes, Kaufman, who is simply called Leon here, is a fully fleshed-out character with a job (photographer), a girlfriend and a backstory. While the story is more about both characters, the movie fully focuses on Leon's attempt to become an art photographer, the way he stumbles over Mahogany and becomes addicted with him, with his behavior and with his relation to decades of mysterious subway killings. Mahogany is a much scarier character here, almost unkillable, barely saying a word and always bad-fucking-ass.

There's loads of violence and brutality (beheadings, hammer-smashed heads, naked corpses hanging on hooks), gruesome close-ups of teeth and eyeballs pulled out, buckets of blood and gore, and although there's lots of CGI blood (I despise CGI blood), I wasn't mad because nearly all of the CGI shots were done in a super-stylish slow-motion way; all fabulously filmed by the slightly under-used Jonathan Sela ("Grimm Love") and wonderfully accompanied with excellently atmospheric music by Robb Williamson & Johannes Kobilke ("Pathology").
Bradley Cooper gives a great performance as Leon, and Vinnie Jones is simply perfect as taciturn Mahogany. Leslie Bidd's GF characters is a bit annoying, but her acting is very believable and her character's death is an unexpected punch in the face. Also, worth mentioning: Brooke Shields as sexy owner of a gallery full of Clive Barker paintings, many superbly suspenseful pursuit scenes and a "Triple Kill" that has to be seen to be believed.

It's a bit too long and several scenes are either too tedious or simply unnecessary - nevertheless, I'm a fan of the movie and I'm not shying away from saying that I like it more than the story, which isn't bad, but IMO not as good as the film or other "Book of Blood" stories.

Film: 8/10 // Story: 6/10

First of all I have to admit I hadn’t read the short story when I first saw the movie and my honest unbiased first impression was ‘meh’. I didn’t hate the movie, I didn’t think it was especially bad, but I also didn’t think it was notably good. 

Not much later I borrowed the ‘Books of Blood’ from a friend and immediately fell in love with the series- I devoured the books. But ‘The Midnight Meat Train’ has never been one of my favourite stories of the bunch, so keep that in mind. ;)

My opinion is that especially for horror short stories work especially well, because they’re based on the concept that the plot starts very early on in the story and the reader is left with a relatively open ending. Sounds familiar? Well yes, that sounds like almost every good horror movie I can think of. So basically, the story starts with a quick pace, you are presented with all the background info you need, you have a suspending climax and in the end you’re not sure what happens after the actual ending.

I would actually go so far as to say that short stories are the easiest to adapt to screen, because one single movie in itself is the perfect length for this kind of plot. You don’t have to cover side stories like novels demand you to; you don’t have to split up the plot into several movies like epics such as ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Of course it depends greatly on the style the story is written in wether or not normal film length is enough (or maybe too much) to adequately transform it into a good movie- but in the case of ‘The Midnight Meat Train’ I think it was done well enough.

I am well aware that books are a whole different field of creativity than movies. Techniques that can excite or amaze a reader with words can not directly be taken over into film- while certain scenes that we remember from the scariest or most exciting of movies only work because and with the pictures we are presented with. The important thing is that by whatever means the emotions or thought processes the story should invoke in the audience stay the same even after the adaption, and I think this movie accomplishes that task.

Sure, you could argue that details were changed, but in all honesty I think if you adapt something, you have the right to make it your own- and in most cases it is even impossible to simply copy a written work to screen and yet allow it to evoke the same sort of reaction in its audience. (On top of that, how boring would that be if a movie was an exact replica of a book? If you want that, just go read the book.)
Nevertheless it’s also my right as viewer/reader not to like certain changes, so here you go:

One thing I loved about the written version and I felt was left out in the movie was the first few pages, describing that feeling of being in ‘pink hued glasses’-love with a city (or a place in general if you want) and how that infatuation turns to familiarity once you live there and the routine of your daily life catches up with you. While reading I felt like that feeling plays an important if small part throughout the story. There was something there once, something you couldn’t put a name or tag on, but it was this feeling of speciality that haunted this place, and you forgot about it once it became your every day surroundings. But if you took enough effort and time to look into it, you could find that almost supernatural aspect again- the question is, how much of it do you really want to discover and what will you do with your discovery?
The movie never actually covers this aspect, rather focuses on the general filthy gruesomeness of the core of “the city” as object of Leon’s photography. In the book Leon feels betrayed by the true face of his once beloved city, whereas in the movie it seems as if this is exactly what he loves about the place and has been obsessed with since he started taking photos. I know it’s just a little nuance change but I liked where the book was going with it, so I missed it in the movie.

The one thing that annoys me most about the movie is this weird relationship between the main character Leon and his girlfriend Maya.
Now, mind you, I’m not a fan of romantic relationships in movies in general- most of the time they seem either too idyllic or too forced to be believable, but for some reason the film industry apparently thinks every movie needs one; wether we’re talking about a comedy or a gore fest.

What this forced relationship brings to this movie are a few pretty tedious romance/problem scenes that really don’t go anywhere except for both characters freaking out for no apparent reason. They made me a bit uncomfortable because I wasn’t sure if the characters are both supposed to be going insane that quickly or if the actors are just over-acting. For instance there’s a scene where Maya comes home and Leon is immersed in his photos and the conspiracy theory he’s developed and she is very quick to lose her shit over it, following a mild breakdown from her and then him photographing her and having flashbacks/panic attacks during it. Erm, yes, ok.
I didn’t care that much about either of them- both their characters are so one-dimensional, you never really feel for them and therefore never actually fear for them. Seriously, the small insight we get into the butcher’s background is far more intriguing than anything about our protagonists.

The only positive thing about Maya’s character I can point to- if she didn’t exist in the movie, we wouldn’t have this great suspense scene where she and her friend break into the killer’s flat and he comes home to discover them and start a little cat and mouse game.

But I don’t mean to say that I didn’t enjoy watching this movie, the overall melancholic dark look of it is beautiful and it does have all the important plot points of the original story.
The hilariously bloody train scenes are a pleasure (or discomfort if you have a weak stomach) to watch and I don’t know why but I guess I’m a sucker for chase scenes- and this movie delivers a few exciting ones: on the train of course, and in a slaughterhouse  to name the prominent scenes.
The ending is haunting; the simple old recipe of becoming what you fear still works and even if in the end all of Leon’s attempts to fight or flee his fate were futile, they make for a very entertaining time for the viewer and a few pictures that stick in your head long after the movie is over.
All in all the movie is at times way too overdramatic and trying too hard, it could have taken a piece of the simplistic style in which the original is written and might have produced a more eerie effect with it, but if you enjoy bloody butchering scenes and a good old government conspiracy theory, you’ll have a good time with it.

PS: I still have no idea what the movie wants to tell me with these weird warts that grow on Mahogany’s body >.>

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