>> The Midnight Meat Train (6.5/10)

midnight meat train

My first major clue that the suits at Lionsgate don’t understand the movies they try to market (at least not the ones with Saw in the title) was with their inability to create any decent hype around the excellent film 3:10 to YumaThe Midnight Meat Train is no 3:10 to Yuma, but it’s a slick, memorable chiller bearing the Clive Barker brand name and directed by a Japanese cult fave, Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Godzilla:  Final Wars).  They released an interesting trailer for this film months ago, got people a little interested, and then…the movie vanished.

The Midnight Meat Train opened this week on roughly one-hundred screens at second-run, discount theatres across the U.S., which is, to put it kindly, a contractually obligated theatrical dumping, earning a whopping $30,000.  Lionsgate apparently has no interest in making money with this film, and, while it probably wouldn’t have broken any box office records, it could’ve made between 15 and 20 million dollars with a little advertising finesse.  The truth is that Barker made his multi-picture deal when he had a supporter at Lionsgate; someone who understood Barker’s specific appeal.  That person left the company.  The new suits looked at the film, noticed it wasn’t called Saw, and did what they were contractually obligated to do with the movie (release it in theatres), then close the book on a film that will end up looking like a black eye on Barker’s box office pull.

That’s the part that bothers me as a movie-goer, and why I bring it up in this review.  Barker’s an inconsistent filmmaker, but with a distinct and unusual voice–the kind of creative force who will always give you something interesting, even when you don’t like his stuff.  It’s been over ten years since something based on his work was released theatrically, and, for a horror fan like me, that’s too long.  The Midnight Meat Train could’ve easily been Barker’s biggest commercial and creative success since Candyman, but no.  And the sad truth is that it has everything to do with show biz and nothing to do with the film itself.

The movie itself is a simple, gruesome story about a photographer, Leon played by Bradley Cooper, who accidentally discovers what appears to be a serial killer (Vinnie Jones) lurking in the New York subway, bludgeoning people to death with a silver mallet, then hanging them up on hooks like cuts of meat.  The Midnight Meat Train appears to be a fairly routine slasher mystery (although a brutal and stylish one), but as the plot thickens, the film begins to reward the viewer with Clive Barker’s usual sinister supernatural bent.  The end result is violent, creepy, and unique–as the best of Barker’s work always is.

It’s not a perfect horror film.  The casting of Vinnie Jones might have been a mistake, as his persona as All-Purpose UK Thuggernaut threatens to overwhelm his quiet role.  The movie, while engaging, is rarely genuinely scary.  It’s more interesting than terrifying most of the time, and the d-grade cast (Brooke Sheilds?  Ted Raimi?) is sort of distracting.  But you know what?  It’s different than 99% of other horror films, just like Hellraiser was, just like Candyman was, just like Lord of Illusions was.  Clive Barker’s just not going to give you Prom Night or The Eye, to name a couple of theatrical horror turds flung our way this year by movie studio monkeys.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda, Lionsgate.  Barker could be a minor cash cow for you right now, but I see you are busy promoting Disaster Movie and this Dane Cook thing you have coming out.  No, really, I understand.  There are more important things in this world than money.  Like making sure Dane Cook has work.  Or something.

6.5 on a 1 to 10 scale

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