AMC Network Entertainment LLC

This browser is supported only in Windows 10 and above.

Midnight Meat Train Review – A Glowering Vinnie Jones Is the Best New Monster Since Pinhead

Midnight Meat Train Review – A Glowering Vinnie Jones Is the Best New Monster Since Pinhead” width=”560″/>

Having started out directing shot-on-video, self-financed action and supernatural projects, director Ryuhei Kitamura’s big break came with 2000’s zombies vs. martial artists hoedown, Versus . The style-drunk story of a man in the woods who fights an army of zombies and an evil wizard, it is undeniably one of the greatest debut films ever made. From there, Kitamura graduated to Azumi (samurai chick in short-shorts takes on a massive army and ninjas), and then, Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). Kitamura chose to stuff his flick with aliens, wrestlers, mutants, superheroes and guest appearances by Hedorah, Rodan, Minilla, Ebirah and Monster X. It was an expensive gamble and one that Toho lost big time — their wacky, out-of-control pic became a monster-sized flop.

Enter Midnight Meat Train.

When Patrick Tatopoulos (designer of the 1998 Hollywood version of Godzilla)
dropped out as director, Kitamura stepped in. Based on one of Clive
Barker’s best-remembered short stories from his 1984 collection, The Books of Blood,
it’s the story of a man on the subway who discovers the hard way that a
killer is butchering passengers on the late night train and feeding
them to some kind of Lovecraftian Elder Gods who live beneath New York City. An executive shuffle at distributor Lionsgate has hobbled its release: Not only is Midnight Meat Train coming out on only 100 screens, and getting a DVD release probably in October, it’s not even being screened for the press.

MMT
is stylish as all get-out. Shot in some anonymous every-city, it’s
filmed in urine-soaked yellows, steel blues, medical waste greens and
spiked with inky, chewable shadows. Every piece of wallpaper is
artfully water-stained, every carpet carefully worn down to the
consistency of an old scab. In other words, it looks exactly like Se7en.
The tone is mostly hateful, with every single black character portrayed
as a potential mugger… which would be racist, if the movie didn’t
also ooze contempt and hatred for (in no particular order): Women, men, Asians, blue-collar workers, people who wear suits, subway
riders, art gallery owners, and civil servants. Then there’s Kitamura’s
signature hyperactive cinematography and the near-constant use of
digitally augmented, acrobatic camera moves and the sprays, gouts and
geysers of digital gore. Hmmm: Sterile color palette, bleak art
direction, lots of CGI effects, free-floating misanthropy… it’s like
the ’90s all over again.

That’s not to say it’s all bad. Kitamura
has a taste for the grotesque and this movie practically explodes with
the wet stuff — gore and crud oozing from almost every scene.
Fingernails are pulled, eyeballs are scooped and teeth are yanked in
non-hygenic settings. Oddly enough, given the amount of violence on
display, the filmmakers choose to use a scene of doggie style sex to
indicate that their lead character has gone totally over the edge, but
that’s American filmmaking: It’s OK to hit someone in the head hard
enough that their eyeball pops out, but any sexual position that’s not
strictly missionary is a sign that we’re in Pervert-ville.

The
actors — Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb — are mostly forgettable. Vinnie
Jones, on the other hand, becomes downright iconic, one of the best new
horror movie monsters to come along since, well, since Clive Barker
gave us Pinhead in his directorial debut, Hellraiser .
Sitting immobile on the subway for hours on end like some kind of
homicidal Forrest Gump, he’s a glowering, stalking, sad, Frankenstein’s
monster. The director does force him to head butt someone twice, which
lowers him immensely — Vinnie Jones has to head butt someone in every
movie — but at least here, he gets to do it with a human skull.

And,
towards the end of the movie, there is what might just be one of the
greatest scenes of 2008: As the camera swoops, jumps, leaps and rockets
around the subway like a chimpanzee on crack, two well-armed butchers,
each wearing aprons and wielding an arsenal from Williams-Sonoma, go at
it while an electric guitar goes completely nuts on the soundtrack.
Witnessed by a bunch of barely-conscious, freshly-tortured victims
hanging from meat hooks sunk into the subway car’s ceiling, these two
lunatics bash on each other with severed limbs, fists and cutlery while
a loaded and cocked police revolver skitters across the floor of the
out-of-control train. If the entire movie was this gonzo, MMT
fans would be justified in marching on Lionsgate HQ with lit torches
and pitchforks demanding the heads of those who dumped this flick. But
it’s just one scene. You can catch it on video. And thanks to
Lionsgate, you won’t have long to wait.

Grady Hendrix is one of the founders and programmers of the New York Asian Film Festival. He writes about Asian film for Variety at Kaiju Shakedown and should have found something better to do with his life by now.

Read More