'The Midnight Meat Train': Blood On The Tracks, By Kurt Loder

All aboard...

Well, here it is, the little movie that Lionsgate dumped unheralded into about a hundred second-run theatres last month, consigning it to the trash heap of horror history — or so a legion of ticked-off Clive Barker fans feared. The Midnight Meat Train,"" based on one of Barker's 1984 "Books of Blood" stories, is now scheduled to make a proper debut on the FearNet channel on October 1, and on the channel's Web site on October 30. I'd suggest not missing it.

Unexpectedly — or unexpected by me, anyway — "MMT" is not a gore movie. Not in the way that most brain-dead blood feasts are, at least. True, there are some savage attacks, some queasy dismemberments, and a meat-mallet head-bash that knocks a victim's eyeball straight out at the camera. But these are surprisingly fleeting, for the most part. Japanese cult director Ryuhei Kitamura maintains impressive control of the story, ratcheting up tension along the way toward well-prepared and startling bursts of terror.

The story seems simple, at first — I say seems. Struggling photographer Leon Kauffman (Bradley Cooper, the obnoxious fiancée in "Wedding Crashers") is determined to penetrate deep into the nighttime heart of the big city (unspecified, but actually L.A., rarely scarier). One night, down in the subway, he sees a young Asian woman being harassed by thugs. He drives them away, and she gratefully boards her train — never to be seen again. (Although we see what happens to her — not pretty, of course.) Before long, Leon is on the trail of a strange, wordless figure in a too-tight suit and a tie, carrying a large satchel. This, we learn much later, is a character called Mahogany (Vinnie Jones), and the train he rides on a regular basis is a very special one — not just because of the gleaming blood lakes that slick its floors, but because of a very special stop it makes. As Leon draws closer to penetrating this mystery — and seriously alarming his girlfriend, Maya (Leslie Bibb, of "Iron Man"), in the process — the story opens up into something I wasn't anticipating, and won't even hint at here.

Kitamura bathes the movie in rich washes of light — not just the septic blues and greens of most contemporary horror flicks, but dustier hues that enhance the film's feeling of enclosure and entrapment. The cast, which also includes Roger Bart ("Hostel: Part II") and Peter Jacobson ("House"), is stronger than most movies of this sort ever deserve; and Vinnie Jones, with his big bullet head, grim visage and case full of fearsome implements, is a monster for the ages — well, for the immediate future, anyway. I don't want to curse this extraordinary movie by calling it a classic, but see no alternative to doing so. Horror fans really have to experience it. Company recommended.

Don't miss Kurt Loder's reviews of "Eagle Eye," "Towelhead" and "Choke," also new in theaters this week.

Check out everything we've got on "The Midnight Meat Train."

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