The Midnight Meat Train


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Midnight Meat Train is kind of a hybrid between a very intense crime thriller and a stygian horror film with supernatural elements. While those two aspects of the film are revealed in concert, the major thrust of the film switches from one to the other in the final act.

Leon is a budding art photographer who wants to be the first to capture the true underbelly of the city in bleak black-and-white compositions. His first meeting with an influential art dealer results in a humiliating dressing-down in which she tells Leon that his photographs are cowardly failures which always stop short of telling the full, unvarnished story. Determined to prove his worth, Leon takes to the darkest urban haunts at two in the morning with a new determination to capture the ebony soul of the city. In so doing, he accidentally photographs a murderer and his prospective victim just before they enter a subway train. Of course he doesn't know at that moment what he has photographed, but realizes it the next day when he sees the victim's picture in the newspaper. He takes his story to the police, but his photos do not show any part of the murderer except an arm, so the detective decides that the story lacks enough substance to be helpful.

From that point on, Leon is determined to solve the mystery concerning the disappearance of the woman he photographed, who seems to have just vanished from the face of the earth, like many others in recent weeks. He soon focuses his investigation on a mysterious butcher who was in the subway station on the night the girl vanished. He follows the butcher, photographs him, and ... well ...

Meanwhile, Leon's adoring girlfriend is upset by the changes in her gentle vegetarian lover. He is obsessed with the butcher, and with a parallel set of disappearances which happened a century earlier. He is obviously undergoing a major psychological breakdown, which is changing him significantly. He starts to make love roughly. He starts to eat meat.

Let's pause for a moment.

Up to that point in the film, the audience has basically been watching a very gory version of a Brian de Palma movie. The photographer becomes obsessed with the murderer, and it is only a matter of time before the killer realizes that he's being followed and who is doing it. The best scenes in the film result from the dramatic tension generated by the killer's gradual awareness of the photographer's presence, the photographer's fear of discovery, and the even greater fear Leon must face when the killer connects the dots and starts to stalk back.

That much was a brilliantly realized psychological crime thriller. The only thing that made it a horror film was that the actual murders were pictured in far more graphic detail than de Palma would limn it.

Then the film takes a mysterious turn into the Twilight Zone.

The killer is about to be overpowered by one of his victims, a large brawny tough, when the subway operator appears, and intervenes ... on behalf of the killer! He tells the killer that he is sorely disappointed in him.

The killer soon captures the photographer, the latter passes out, but he awakens in another location, none the worse for wear except for some curious runes etched into the skin on his chest.

Say what?

Since the film is quite a good genre effort and I'm now straying too far into spoiler territory, I can't really tell you the rest of the story, other to say that the explanation places the film securely in the horror genre.

This film was the first American effort from Japanese hot-shot Ryuhei Kitamura, and was adapted (faithfully, by all accounts) from a short story by horror maven Clive Barker. The film was produced by Lionsgate in its drive to take over the gorehound and torture porn market, an effort which saw them reap substantial profits from such fare as the Saw and Hostel films.

That's a great pedigree for this sort of film. As this particular film was about to be released, however, Lionsgate had a change of management and a come-to-Jesus meeting with its bankers that moved it into mainstream Hollywood territory. The ultra-violent Meat Train was taken off the express line to a full-scale release, then shuttled off on a local line to nowhere. Instead of the anticipated wide release, it was released into 100 theaters on August 1 with no fanfare. Clive Barker fans called for some beheadings at Lionsgate, but those genre aficionados are relatively few in number and had no support other than from a few scattered critics. The brief trial turned up such dreadful box office numbers that the possibility of expansion was obviated.

There are some parts of the story that bother me, including a few inconsistencies in the plot. The murderer's strength and vulnerability, for example, seem to change from scene to scene, and that creates some confusion and exposes some typical horror film contrivance. And the ending, which includes an explanation of sorts, is either terrifying or silly, and I'm not sure which. In the main, however, this is a kick-ass horror story which could give your children nightmares for weeks. (Hint: don't let them watch.) It takes some time to develop the photographer's character, so the audience gets involved enough to care when he begins to disintegrate. It is filled with flashy direction, speeding the action and slowing it down, not just to show off, but to accentuate the action. The set design and lighting techniques are stylized and effective. There are some set pieces that are just dazzling in their ability to put the audience into the mind of the protagonist, highlighted by a cat-and-mouse chase among the carcasses in a slaughterhouse.

Fair warning. Meat Train is grisly, ugly, and unremittingly bleak. It makes SE7EN look like a brightly lit Sunday school picnic. You don't want to see this if you are repulsed by dismemberments, graphic butchery, and extreme brutality. I myself did not actually enjoy the film and would not watch it again, but that's just because this sort of unpleasantness is not my kind of experience. Setting my personal preferences aside, I have to say that I was dazzled by the film's brilliance and its unhesitating commitment to capture the true essence of Clive Barker's writing. Given the odd ending (which, I am assured, is completely faithful to the source material), I'm not sure about the actual meat on that midnight train, but this film makes up for any lack of steak with plenty of sizzle.


* Not yet available








50+ (of 100)


7.3 IMDB summary (of 10)








Box Office Mojo. It grossed only $83,000 in 102 theaters. It did better in some overseas markets. The international gross is above two million.









  • Leslie Bibb showed her breasts from the side.
  • An unidentified actress had quite a bit of screen time as a topless corpse. There were some other corpses hanging from the train ceiling, but they appeared to be mannequins rather than living actresses.










Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


It is only for genre fans, but it is absolutely top-notch genre fare.