The Midnight Meat Train

The Midnight Meat Train

DVD Rating: ****

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Read Anton Bitel's film review of The Midnight Meat Train

This DVD of The Midnight Meat Train (also available in Blu-Ray) has been dubbed the 'extreme edition', thanks mainly to the reinstatement of several gore scenes (and one sex scene) in their full, longer versions (after they had been cut at the insistence of the MPAA for the film's limited theatrical release).

In the excellent full audio commentary, director Ryuhei Kitmura and cult author Clive Barker (from whose early short story the film has been drawn) offer a spirited defence of these longer versions, on the grounds that they make better sense of the sequences in which they appear and, in the case of the sex scene, actually reveal something significant about the characters. And as Barker asserts, this was never intended to be "a soft horror movie" anyway.

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Not that what we get here is quite a full director's cut. Kitamura, who first read (and loved) Barker's story back in 1987, when the future director was 17, makes clear that he was arguing with his producers about the film's tone and direction long before the censors got a look in, and that many of the more humorous, character-driven scenes have remained on the cutting room floor. While Kitamura was setting out to make what he describes as "not the typical Hollywood slasher", his producers apparently thought otherwise and struggled to understand their director's vision, so that his own cut, completed within just two weeks of the shoot finishing, was then subjected to six months of "producers' cuts". "Art", as Barker puts it, "isn't made of democracy." Fortunately, for the most part at least, Kitamura won out, not least because his preference for unconventionally long and complicated one-shots (without further coverage) left little room for tampering.

In fact, part of what makes this commentary unique is that Barker and Kitamura's abiding enthusiasm for the film is tempered by an unusual degree of candour about the business end of their art. They openly criticise Lionsgate's new head honcho Joe Drake (and yes, they name names) for his decision first to delay the film's theatrical release (in favour of his pet project The Strangers), and then to release it to a tiny number of screens, without any advertising, so that, in effect, "the work is unseen by people", even though it could, and should, have been a real "moneymaker" (not to mention a film whose stylish grand guignol really benefits from a big screen).

The commentators express their undying gratitude to Guillermo del Toro, whose supportive intervention ensured that, at least in Mexico, The Midnight Meat Train received a proper theatrical release. Barker, however, concedes that thanks to Lionsgate's poor handling of the film's distribution, the two sequels that he has conceived to explore the film's mythologies more deeply will now have to be done "with hand puppets".

Away from the politics of film production, Barker offers some interesting commentary on the queer subtext of his protagonist's descent, and is persuasive in his unexpected comparison of the story's structure to that of William Friedkin's Cruising (1980). Kitamura, meanwhile, discusses the changes that he made both to the original story and to Jeff Buhler's screenplay (where apparently Mahogany had several more speaking lines), and explains the climactic meatwagon showdown as coming from his desire to do "the most bloody, brutal fight in movie history".

The disc also includes three featurettes, wisely kept brief. Clive Barker: The Man Behind The Myth comprises several interviews with Barker interwoven into a punchy 15-minute unity. Describing horror, his writing and his painting (the last of which he began in his mid-forties), Barker has plenty of interest to say, but the many macabre artworks glimpsed in the background also speak for themselves.

Mahogany's Tale, on 'new horror icon' Mahogany, is more throwaway, but perhaps can afford to be at a mere five minutes in length. After Kitamura, Barker, and co-stars Leslie Bibb and Bradey Cooper all wax rhapsodic about the killer's complex bittersweet qualities, Vinnie Jones cuts to the essence of his character: "Well, he's got a lot of tools..."

Finally, Anatomy Of A Murder is a nine-minute behind-the-scenes look at an elaborate, blood-and-effects-heavy triple murder, with everyone from the cast to the cleaners offering their perspective. Ted Raimi, who plays one of the victims, comments, "Sometimes you're just lying in a pool of blood and you wonder what you did with your life", while Kitamura is more succinct: "Blood blood blood, you know, killing killing killing."

Reviewed on: 02 Mar 2009
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The Midnight Meat Train packshot
A photographer stalks a serial killer who picks off his victims on the LA underground.
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Product Code: LGD94059

Region: 2

Ratio: 16:9 anamorphic widescreen

Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1

Extras: Audio commentary with Clive Barker and Ryuhei Kitamura, Clive Barker: The Man Behind The Myth, Mahogany's Tale, Anatomy Of A Murder, Lionsgate Trailer Reel

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