Monday, October 20, 2008

31 DAYS OF FRIGHT: Takin' a Ride on the MEAT TRAIN

It's been what seems like a million years since I first read Clive Barker's breakthrough Books of Blood short story collections. At a time when Stephen King's much-ballyhooed work often seemed bloated and repetitive, horror authors like Barker and the team of John Skipp and Craig Spector (whatever happened to those cats?) rewarded readers with powerful tales often soaked in the blood and depravity. Yay!

Unfortunately, Barker's work has been a rather hit-or-miss affair when it comes to cinematic translations. RAWHEAD REX was laughed out of theaters, NIGHTBREED bombed (though I'm kind of a fan) and LORD OF ILLUSIONS seemed like a warmed-over cable movie. And while the original HELLRAISER is still a sexy, sweaty, bloody good flick, the sequels it spawned have been a prime example in the law of diminishing returns (though once they get to HELLRAISER 12: PINHEAD MEETS THE LEPRECHAUN I'm totally there).

So it was with a mix of equal parts trepidation and anticipation that I boarded the recent adaptation of Barker's THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN when it made its FearNet debut. It seems that Lions Gate – the film's backers – decided against a wide theatrical release and dumped the flick into a handful of bargain shoeboxes before it headed to cable, a decision that angered Barker so much that he pleaded with genre fans to ask the studio to change their mind.

They didn't.

Though I knew about these behind-the-scenes shenanigans, I hadn't paid much attention to the film's cast or crew, so I was sorta jazzed when I saw that TRAIN starred Bradley Cooper (THE WEDDING CRASHERS, KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL) as the film's photographer protagonist and Leslie Bibb (the young Jessica Lange look-a-like from TALLADEGA NIGHTS and IRON MAN) as Maya, his supportive girlfriend/the hottest diner waitress of all-time. Throw in the suddenly-everywhere Brooke Shields as a haughty art dealer, Vinnie Jones as the suspected killer, and HOUSE's Peter Jacobson as the diner owner and MEAT's cast was looking far better than the usual genre fare.

After being brushed off by art dealer Susan Hoff (Shields) for taking the safe approach to his photos of the city that never sleeps, Leon (Cooper) starts haunting the alleys and subways looking for pics with an edge. A chance encounter with a youth gang and beautiful model on a subway platform turns his life upside down when the model goes missing and Leon becomes obsessed with finding out what happened. His hunt leads him smack into the path of Mahogany, a burly but surprisingly well-dressed butcher who takes a very special, very late train under the city streets each night. The encounter draws Leon, Maya and Leon's agent Jurgis (Roger Bart) into the middle of an ages-old conspiracy.

Unfortunately, neither Cooper nor Bibb seems right for their roles. Leon goes from charming vegetarian photog to butcher-obsessed, bloodthirsty crazy guy with the flip of a switch and Bibb's attempts at shock and terror never really ring true. (Did I mention the fact that she's completely unbelievable as a diner waitress?) I really like both actors and was initially surprised by their appearances here, but after seeing the film I couldn't help but think it would've been better with other performers in the roles.

While performances are something I can overlook, FearNet's murky presentation of the film is something I can't. And I can only assume it was thanks to FearNet since I've read a handful of reviews in the wake of watching the film and none have mentioned the impenetrable darkness that the Comcast horror channel delivered. Coupled with director Ryuhei Kitamura's reliance on browns and blues, the 80s VHS-esque video quality made entire portions of the film indecipherable not to mention headache-inducing.

I'll probably give MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN another go when it comes out on DVD ( suggests January 2009), but it's not necessarily a return ride I'm looking forward to.


Greg Baty said...

I had a much different take on the movie in that I thought it was relatively well written and the FearnetHD channel was gorgeous.

Dan said...

Greg: If it was offered on our system in HD we couldn't find it. I actually did find another review on Amazon that mentioned how they couldn't see a dang thing. I'm willing to give it another shot, though... it was literally headache-inducing.

Dan said...

Turns out either I'm an idiot or FN added the HD version after I watched it. Then again, finding FearNet flix via the On Demand menu is NOT the easiest thing in the world. Watched a bit of the HD presentation last night and though it is a bit easier on the eyes I still think the darn thing's too dark.