21 September 2008

At the movies: The Midnight Meat Train.

Dear Clive Barker;

I just had the chance to see the film of your short story The Midnight Meat Train that's been causing controversy all around Hollywood for the way the studio did you wrong, and I'm going to have to say that I agree with you on this one. It's a very good film, certainly much better than a lot of the horror that gets released in theatres, and light years ahead of some of the crap that Lionsgate themselves have been putting into theatres (Disaster Movie, I call you out).

I don't think that I can call it as good an adaptation of your work as Candyman, but that's one of the best films of the 90s, and, as such, a very tall goal to tackle. But Kitamura Ryuhei brings a great deal of visual strength to this one, and I think it can stand alongside the best filmed adaptations of your work. Some call Kitamura's visual aesthetic pretentious, but I don't even necessarily see that as a flaw. Horror fans (and I say this while being one) are a fickle bunch of people, and they'll find somethign to snicker at or find hilarious without any prompting from the filmmakers, so trying to stuff in any unnecessary leavening is pointless. I'd say Roger Bart handles that job admirably herein as comic relief, and more than that, he adds a certain kind of urbane queerness to the proceedings that is definitely needed.

And while we're on the subject of queerness, I've got to show the film some love for having such an expansive sexual discussion without ever really talking about sex. We've got Bradley Cooper as the world's first otter action hero, and he's up against Vinnie "human fireplug"/"Tom of Finland UK edition" Jones, and all flesh is stripped of gender and reduced to meat. It's stylish and classy and at the same time sexually-charged in the way that the best horror is.

I was inclined to like the film, just because I'm always up for a horror/suspense picture involving trains and/or subways. But more than that, I actually found the film making some rather interesting statements about art, and the merits of working in the intangible (like Leon's earlier photography) versus the tangible (like flesh). The sequence that introduces the Leon character in particular resonates in my mind (in part because of the way it is twinned by the film's final shot) in a way I find difficult to articulate. Are we, the audience, presumed to be who Leon is photographing? It's just a moment, and yet it sets up a whole new kind of expectation for how the film is going to work.

The DePalma-ish flair for baroque setpieces (the whole B&E at Mahogany's hotel room, specifically) also works well, and I am left to curse the fact that the film got treated so shabbily by its own distributors. But moving on from that- are we ever going to see a follow-up to Lord of Illusions? It really is a phenomenal picture on a lot of levels, and I'm sort of depressed that it doesn't get nearly as much love as it should. There's a viscerality in that film that I think still remains unsurpassed, and I'd like to see you return to that universe some day.

If the Hellraiser remake has to happen, please stay as involved as you can to keep them from fucking it up too badly. The "Inside" guys were an intriguing touch, but since they're out of the picture, I can't help but worry. Although I genuinely love Hellbound, and I think it does a great job of expanding the mythos and scope of its predecessor in the way that adventurous sequels should. Something that cannot be said for any of the myriad of sequels made since then. I'm sure that's got to piss you off, like how Scanner Cop has to just wreck David Cronenberg's day if he catches sight of it at the car wash in the discount DVD bin.

At this point, I'm rambling, but I just wanted to say, again, how much I enjoyed The Midnight Meat Train. Yes, Kitamura did much to be proud of, but I was never all that impressed with Versus or Alive, finding a good deal of flash but very little substance or ideas. Thankfully, in collaboration with your story and Jeff Buhler's script, something very satisfying and intriguing was the end result.

So hats off to you all, and keep doing what you do; you've made the horror fans proud.

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