Halloween Endurance Test: the Midnight Meat Train (2008)

I really wanted to enjoy the Midnight Meat Train. I really did. I remember enjoying it when I read it in Clive Barker’s Books of Blood Vol. 1-3, unfortunately, that’s all I remember about it. That it was a good read involving a psychopath who drives the midnight subway train and slaughters his passengers. To stand out in a horror anthology, that’s all the plot your story really needs. Sadly, what makes a frightening short story does not necessarily also make a good horror film.

The movie takes that basic, barebones plot and tries to elaborate on it. Our book passenger becomes Leon (Bradley Cooper), a struggling photographer trying to make it big. His one chance for making it big involves impressing Susan (Brooke Shields), a high-end art dealer with a taste for dangerous photographs.

So when Leon spies some kids accosting a model late one night, he figures he has it made. Snapping some photographs of the scene, thereby stopping the potential mugging/rape, and later learning that the girl has gone missing. Leon, as the last man to see the girl alive, is the prime suspect. He spends the rest of the movie investigating all the murders centered around the train.

The film has a number of flaws. The first being our photographer’s own equipment: his camera. I can understand his choice of still using a film camera; I can imagine many professional photographers making the same decision. What I can’t understand, however, is how he’s getting his great nighttime shots without using a flash.

Seriously, the flash on Leon’s tiny camera is built into it, and it doesn’t even go off when he shoots! No photographer, professional or amateur, would be using something like that for anything other than for aesthetic reasons. Yet his shots all come out perfectly clear instead as a mess of wavy lines that any other camera would take.

The Midnight Meat Train’s other big flaw is its over-reliance on CGI effects. Mahogany (Vinnie Jones), the butcher (seriously, his name is Mahogany!), uses a giant, shiny mallet to dispatch most of his victims. Instead of going the painfully realistic route, such as having slight camera movement prior to the headshot come to a jarring, abrupt halt when mallet meets head, the movie actually goes too far.

Every blow is followed by strangely translucent blood flying across the screen, usually with an accompanying body part. Eyes fly out of sockets, one girl gets her head knocked completely around. None work as well, though, as, say, the first kill in the original the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, when Leatherface opens the door then smacks his victim in the head with a hammer. Brutal and short, but certainly not bloody.

If you don’t have the type of Peter Jackson-money required to make your CGI believable, then you’re better off going the Eli Roth route. Hostel has some great CGI shots; mainly because they’re used to cover flaws. Roth didn’t have the time or money to shoot real train scenes, so all the train movement is CGI. Confined to the background, and seem through tiny, train windows, one doesn’t notice their artificiality.

This is not to say the Midnight Meat Train isn’t clever in its own right. One early, effective murder has the victim being hit in the head with the mallet. A rather mundane death here, except for how the blow is punctuated by the soundtrack. Immediately after the head is hit, static fills your ears; perfectly mimicking a hard trauma to the head.

It’s tiny digital (soundtrack) effects such as these that make the larger digital mistakes forgivable.

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