Leon (Bradley Cooper) is a photographer looking to capture the brutal heart of New York City. He gets more than he bargained for when he comes across Mahogany (Vinnie Jones), a serial killer who hunts his victims on the late-night subway (as suggested by the title). Leon, intrigued by Mahogany, tracks him, and finds out his dark secret, which involves taking the bodies to a meat plant where mysterious creatures eat them. And he’s not alone—Leon uncovers a city-wide conspiracy. Meanwhile, Mahogany knows that Leon knows, and will stop at nothing to make sure he keeps his mouth shut.
The first time I saw The Midnight Meat Train, I was very confused. First of all, the monsters are never fully explained. Then there’s the scene when Mahogany opens his shirt to reveal a bunch of weird growths on his chest, which he cuts off and saves in a jar. Therefore, I was relieved and excited that the DVD had commentary by Clive Barker, (the writer of the story the movie is based on), and director Ryûhei Kitamura. Unfortunately, those guys are less than helpful about clarifying what’s going on, for example Clive Barker’s explanation for the scene with the growths: “I don’t fucking know.” (He goes on to say the jar is a tribute to The Fly, and that mostly it just signifies that Mahogany is dying.) In addition, Barker’s voice is gravelly and rough, and Kitamura has a thick accent. He has an adequate grasp of English, but he talks like this: “It has much more bloody and gore stuff.” Thus, after listening to most of the commentary and even re-reading Barker’s novella, I was still mystified.
In terms of the deeper meaning of the film, a possible interpretation is that we have become desensitized to violence. But, as Leon’s girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb) points out, “There never were any good old days”—we have always lived in violent times. In fact, that Leon has to seek out violence implies that it’s not part of everyone’s day-to-day life anymore. You could see Leon as the quintessential civilized man who wants to get back in touch with his brutal roots.
The film is very gory. (I was amused that every time there was a super bloody scene, Barker would marvel at how beautifully it was filmed.) Case in point the scene when a character (Ted Raimi, who also plays a victim in Barker adaptation Candyman) is hit on the head with a sledgehammer and his eyes pop out on their stalks. There’s also a really creepy scene when the first victim is sitting on the train in the foreground. Mahogany is in the background, out of focus. He creeps up and hits her with a mallet, all while still out of focus.
There are a few changes from the story (book-Leon is an accountant for example), mostly in the addition of new characters, like Leon’s girlfriend Maya and their friend Jurgis (Roger Bart). But Barker approves, so that’s enough for me. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for social commentary along with gallons of blood.