Like any self-respecting horror fan, there comes a point in your life where you stumble upon the works of Clive Barker. For most, (like me) their introduction was probably via the first HELLRAISER movie. But inevitably, every one of us eventually discovered the brilliant 3 volume anthology series BOOKS OF BLOOD, which boasts among some of the best horror fiction written in the last 2 decades. (And which, quite frankly in this writer’s humble opinion has gone unsurpassed since its arrival in the mid-80’s.) It’s a surprise that more of the stories from the collection haven’t already been adapted into feature length films besides RAWHEAD REX.
Thankfully, Barker’s production company Seraphim Films is out to change that as they are prepping several BOOKS OF BLOOD adaptations for the big screen. And the first, my favorite of the series is THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN. (Retaining the original title of the story in the credits, despite earlier rumors to the contrary.)

While some license is taken with the material in order to expand upon the original story and make it function better as a feature length film, THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN still keeps the nasty spirit of the original story and is essentially what I’d always imagined a big-screen adaptation would be like, only more so thanks to visionary director Ryuhei Kitamura. (VERSUS, AZUMI)
Bradley Cooper plays Leon Kauffman (channeling his ALIAS alter ego Will Tippin over the unsavory jerk he played in THE WEDDING CRASHERS), a struggling photographer living with his supportive girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb) & trying to make ends meet. When his girlfriend Maya and best friend Jurgis (HOSTEL II’s Roger Bart) arrange for him to meet with the very prestigious art dealer Susan Hoff (Brooke Shields) about showcasing some of his work, she gives him some harsh criticisms he’s not quite prepared for. Her comments in turn challenge him to be more daring with his photography. Unable to sleep, he starts exploring the late nightlife of the city for inspiration. He finds it by breaking up an attempted robbery in the gritty subway systems. Only problem is, the intended victim turns up missing the next day anyways. As he continues to explore the subways late at night and inspect his photographs more thoroughly, he becomes obsessed with the well dressed, mute Mahogany, played by the always imposing Vinnie Jones. We, the audience pretty much know right off the bat what Mahogany is up to, but its Leon’s obsession that drives him and everyone he loves closer and closer to the madness surrounding the subway murderer. The rest fiends… must be seen to be believed.
THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN is the first movie in over a decade worthy to carry the name Clive Barker. This is by far the best Barker adaptation to grace the silver screen since CANDYMAN back in the mid-90’s. Kitamura’s unique style is evident through out the duration of the entire film and is a perfect marriage to Barker’s material. When Mahogany swings that massive mallet, you absolutely cringe and prepare for the blow. And usually what follows is gallons of blood that you’re never quite prepared for, but that you immediately begin reveling in with all its gory intensity. Oh yes, these kills are quite brutal and not quite like anything you’ve seen before. The first half of the film keeps the intensity level high and much like the roar of a subway train, doesn’t slow down for quite some time. There is a point early in the 3rd act where the narrative shifts from Leon to his girlfriend Maya, who’s desperately trying to understand her boyfriend’s sudden obsession. I can see the average viewer losing focus here as the shift is somewhat abrupt, but it didn’t deter me personally from my overall enjoyment of the entire film. (Which if it wasn’t already obvious, I loved from start to finish.)

Also bold in this movie, most of the beats of the original story are in tact, including the stories surprising ending. So, if you’re a fan of the original Barker tale, you should definitely be satisfied with the theatrical results.
You have to hand it to screenwriter Jeff Buhler for delivering a solid script. While not perfect, it’s fairly close, and I can’t even imagine the daunting task of trying to successfully adapt one of Barker’s works, so Buhler’s expansions on the story (such as making Leon a photographer) all worked for me. And of course, credit must also go to director Ryuhei Kitamura, who is a self-proclaimed fan of the source material and it shows in his film. Thank you, Kitamura for finally doing justice to a Clive Barker story!

If THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN is any indication to what the BOOKS OF BLOOD adaptations will be like, then with the upcoming DREAD, BOOK OF BLOOD and PIG BLOOD BLUES all already in queue, we have some fantastic horror movies to look forward to in the next few years. –Robg.

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