Butcher Block is a weekly series celebrating horror’s most extreme films and the minds behind them. Dedicated to graphic gore and splatter, each week will explore the dark, the disturbed, and the depraved in horror, and the blood and guts involved. For the films that use special effects of gore as an art form, and the fans that revel in the carnage, this series is for you.
If there’s one thing you can count on in a Ryuhei Kitamura horror film, it’s the copious amount of bloodshed and gore. With Kitamura, gore is most definitely an artform. Based on Clive Barker’s 1984 short story of the same name, The Midnight Meat Train follows a photographer obsessed with dark subject matter getting in over his head when he discovers a serial killer that butchers unsuspecting night commuters in grisly fashion.
In other words, there’s probably not many movies as aptly titled as this one. There’s a lot of human meat, blood, brain matter, and limbs being carved up on the late-night subway train in this horror movie. Bradley Cooper stars as Leon Kaufman, the photographer that stumbles upon and then becomes obsessed with the ruthless serial killer. His concerned girlfriend Maya, a character not in the original short, is played by Leslie Bibb. But the real reason to watch this movie, aside from the gore, is the perpetually intimidating Vinnie Jones as killer Mahogany. Jones only utters one word of dialogue in the entire movie, but he’s such a strong physical presence that you’ll hardly notice. Or care. Also look for horror vet Ted Raimi in an eye-popping death scene.
Those unfamiliar with Barker’s original short story will be caught off guard behind the reveal of Mahogany’s motive. A gory cat and mouse thriller between photographer and serial killer doesn’t usually lead to a larger conspiracy theory involving sacrificial offerings to underground dwellers, but leave it to Barker, and screenwriter Jeff Buhler (The Prodigy, 2019’s Pet Sematary, Grudge) to go there. Along with it a not so happy ending, depending on your perspective.
Despite the carnage and mayhem unleashed at the hands of the butcher Mahogany, the kill sequences and gore took a lot of careful planning by Kitamura. Storyboard artist Todd Harris drew endless storyboards based on Kitamura’s direction and the script to meticulously plot out every shot. Though there were some digital effects, most of The Mightnight Meat Train’s gore was done practically. That meant a minimum of 3 gallons of blood needing to be cleaned up from the set daily; some days used at least 25 gallons worth of fake blood. But, the most impressive feat was the insane amount of prosthetics needed for this production.
Limbs, severed heads, and full-sized human bodies to be dangled like butcher meat or mounded in piles.
The extensive prosthetic work was done by Matthew Mungle (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Bram Stoker’s Dracula) and his team from his co-founded special makeup effects company W.M. Creations, Inc. Mungle, and his special makeup effects company specialize in aging and prosthetic makeup, one of the most challenging aspects of special makeup effects, and delivers some eerily lifelike human bits and pieces for The Midnight Meat Train. Look to the woman getting decapitated on the train, or Leon losing his tongue for great examples.
Barker, who served as producer on the film as well as provided paintings for set dressing, was pleased with the final film. Unfortunately, the movie was dumped onto brief limited theatrical release, showing only on roughly 100 screens, before DVD release shortly after. The move infuriated Barker, who notoriously blamed ego behind the scenes at Lionsgate for the less than ideal release. Luckily movies usually have a long shelf life and an ability to amass a following years or decades later, and the graphic reputation of The Midnight Meat Train along with Barker’s seal of approval means that we can board this bloody train whenever we’d like.