September 21, 2008

Seen Between Fingers -- Stop The Midnight Meat Train, Chris Kelly Wants to Get Off

In this regular feature, wimp and noted horror non-enthusiast Chris Kelly reports back with his first-impressions of memorable scary movies. I'd promised you all Eraserhead for this week, but the Landmark Sunshine Cinema wound up hosting a midnight screening of Clive Barker's bedeviled new film The Midnight Meat Train, so we took a short detour. No spoilers ahead for those anxiously awaiting its DVD release...

The Midnight Meat Train is one of those movies that I should absolutely never see on the big screen. The goriness of bludgeonings, when paired with the realistic claustrophobia of a late-night subway ride, is way too much for my small tolerance. Luckily, I didn’t see this movie in the theater.

I mean, I was in the theater when it was showing. I just didn’t see it.

You get the sense from its title alone that a high ratio of violence is going to occur on said "meat train" (a term that I’m surprised wasn’t snatched up by the porn industry first). This gave me a good indicator of when to watch -- or not watch -- the film: as soon as the subway rolled into the station, I clasped my hands firmly over my face, allowing only a tiny crack through which to view the blurry corners of limbs and faces that had possibly already been detached from their owners. The resulting scenes presented me with only the vaguest idea of what was going on, supplemented with an array of admittedly skillful shrieks, groans, and squelches associated with the rendering of humans into their composite parts.

I have to say, the crowd was going wild as I sat there trying not to hyperventilate. If you’re into this kind of thing -- and I assume you are if you’re reading this column -- then whatever happened in those trains is probably going to thoroughly entertain you. I can say for certain that a man in a suit rides the train. He’s got a leather valise. In that valise is the largest, shiniest hammer I have ever seen. As the train enters the tunnel, he approaches unsuspecting riders menacingly and… whoops, look at that, the screen went black. Auditory cues indicate that they do something other than exchange business cards and plan to meet later for a networking luncheon.

Unfortunately, without the “benefit” of the many scenes in which people’s innards are revealed, MMT had only its scripted lines with which to entice me. As it turns out, no one making this film cared quite as much about dialogue, pacing, or internal logic as they did about hammer murder. Most of the scenes outside the subway drew unanimous laughter from the crowd. In particular, conversations that did not involve the subway killer fell flat. The further we got from the possibility of bloodshed, the worse it became. A confusing and unexpected sex scene, a viciously overacted visit from Brooke Shields, and an increasingly unbelievable series of choices from our lead characters all conspired to remove the horror from this horror movie, ruining the mood and leaving the audience scratching their heads or giggling. I won’t even talk about the ending, not because I want to avoid spoilers but because I find it too ridiculous to dignify with a straightforward description.

In the end, I’m glad for MMT’s flaws; if the tension had continued to build skillfully and insidiously manner, I might have died of a heart attack before the credits rolled. Instead, I was treated to a fun, mildly frightening melodrama interspersed with surreal, kaleidoscope-esque images viewed through my barely-parted fingers. If you have the opportunity to catch this one in the theaters (which most of the country will not), then go ahead and see it. Fans of the genre will enjoy the whole thing; wimps like myself will find that there’s a surprising amount of comedy buried in there if you’re willing to close your eyes and pretend that every subway ride sounds like... that.

Next week: David Lynch's Eraserhead (No, really, we swear!)

1 comment:

Tom said...

I'm going to chime in on this one, since I was in that theater as well (and actually saw the entire movie):

-- This is really one of the most violent films I've ever seen in the theater. The director, Ryuhei Kitamura, uses blood and pain like the late David Foster Wallace uses footnotes: copiously, rhapsodically, relentlessly. It was not only important to him that the blood poured, but that it looked like it hurt, and that the victims were terrified.

-- While this was a B movie plot all the way, I have to say that I was really intrigued by the work put into the storyline. The film starts out being about the main character's artistic identity, and while that becomes less important as the meat starts to fly, at least the movie was about something other than panty raids or popularity contests.

I can't altogether defend this movie against the charges you've leveled here, but this IS one of those cases where you'd probably have a lot more respect for the film overall if you'd been able to take in the big picture. But in your case, that might not be medically advisable...