After what seemed like a lifetime it is now time to board the Midnight Meat Train. The crowd inside the packed Odeon Cinema are here for one thing: to celebrate the macabre and the terrifying - it is time once again for FrightFest, and the UK premiere of Ryuhei Kitamura's Midnight Meat Train.
With this film, Kitamura (Versus, Azumi) embarks on his first US film making experience, and who better to help him along the way than master of horror Clive Barker (Hellraiser, Candyman), who acts as producer for the film, which has had a difficult time staying on the tracks. Changes at Lionsgate mean the train has been delayed for some time now, but thank god for it's persistence, because this is one movie experience you don't want to miss.
The story - adapted from one of Barker's Books of Blood short stories - follows Leon Kauffman, played by Bradley Cooper (Alias, My Little Eye), who is trying to get his big break as a photographer in New York City. After just a few minutes on screen, you already feel more attached to him than you did during the short story - we want to see him come out of this in one piece. The same goes for his supportive girlfriend Maya, played by Leslie Bibb (Trick 'r Treat) - the camera loves watching them together, and when the suspense starts to mount, you just want them to make it through.
Soon Leon starts to discover that people have been disappearing from the underground for years, and a classic murder-mystery sees him following Mahogany, 'the Subway Butcher', played by Vinnie Jones (Mean Machine, X-Men: The Last Stand). Although he says little, Mahogany is straight into action, disposing of bodies left and right while Leon struggles to convince his friends, and even the police of his goings on. Soon, he takes matters into his own hands and goes after Mahogany, concluding in a final face-off between hook and hammer.
You can tell from the very beginning that this is going to be a messy one; and it delivers. The gore scenes are off-the-wall and very imaginative - not just the same things we have seen hundreds of times over. Kitamura has brought a real 'Japanese feel' to the visuals of this film, and has delivered something fresh to a genre seemingly constricted to 'torture porn' and remakes at the moment. The cold blue/white of the trains is the tell-tale sign that the blood is about to flow, and the imagination behind the deaths is wonderful - we see a rather comedic build up to them, followed by the blood and gore flying everywhere. Like I said, this is a real messy one.
Yet in the middle of all the blood and guts, we have a story; one that could stand alone as a film away from all the nasty bits (a rare thing in horror). Leon is simply trying to make the big time as a photographer, and the support of Maya and friend Jurgis (played by Hostel 2's Roger Bart) gets him closer to that. "What do you love?" is the question that he is asked over and over; his immediate answer is "the city', but when he begins to find out more about the mysterious Mahogany, we begin to wonder about his sanity.
With Midnight Meat Train, a new series of horror films has begun. Clive Barker will helm the adaptation of more of his Books of Blood into 'Films of Blood', the next being John Harrison's Book of Blood; and after a special preview, it looks to be another gory delight. Time will tell if that is the case, but the only problem that I can see with this is now they have to top the fantastic Midnight Meat Train. Good luck Mister Barker, I'm sure you're up to the challenge.
Verdict: 5/5 Severed Heads
----------A delicious gore-fest with a great story at its heart - horror at its best.