Monday, 20 July 2009
The Midnight Meat Train (Ryuhei Kitamura, 2008)
The involvement of Clive Barker in any project – be that a novel, film, art work or console game – is often a sure sign of quality. Regardless of format, Barker’s distinctive vision of the world of the real, of fantasy and of horror consistently emerges and confirms him as one of the greatest creative minds of the genre. Imagine then the potential of a film adaptation of one of his ground breaking short stories from The Books of Blood – The Midnight Meat Train.
The title alone is enough to get the genre fanatic salivating. The imagery it conjures up – the dark, cold, and rickety corridors of a train slick with blood and littered with meat – is ideal material for an era of horror cinema preoccupied with Painography. Yet, even though the film has a reasonably small body count, the gore content of Midnight Meat Train is quite obtrusive: fast and bloody, the violence perpetrated by Mahogany seems strangely at odds with the rest of the narrative. Although the explicit nature of these events will slake the thirst of the average gore hound – as fingers are mashed, bodies butchered, limbs carved and brains are tenderised all in sickening close up – these scenes actually detract from the tension the film is trying so hard to generate. The potential horror of Mahogany lies in his menacing presence, the contradiction between his normal appearance and Everyman quality with his brooding nature and seemingly endless repressed rage. Watching him act out his fury in a frenzy of explicit violence only manages to dissipate whatever fear that surrounds him.
This is no Hellraiser nor was it ever intended to be but the shadow that film has cast is long and deep, making it difficult not to measure any film that is Barker related against it. Where the film does succeed is in its depiction of the contemporary city as a space of concealed horrors, the anonymous nature of city life and the immense claustrophobia of the tube trains. All are admirably constructed by director Kitamura and provide an interesting foil to the gouts of blood that are freely spilled. Yet, for all this, the film feels way too long and stretches Barker’s original material to the limit before the concluding payoff. Die hard Barker fans will not be overly disappointed given earlier filmic treatments of his work (Underworld and Rawhead Rex) nor will those who like blood and brains sprayed and splattered across the screen. But for those looking for the melancholy in Barkers work and manifestations of his immense imagination may be disappointed.