Execrable: The Midnight Meat Train

The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura
Written by Clive Barker, Jeff Buhler
Produced by Clive Barker, Gary Lucchesi, Eric Reid, Tom Rosenberg, Jorge Saralegui, Richard Wright, Beth DePatie, James McQuaide, Peter Block, Jason Constantine, Joe Daley, Anthony DiBlasi, Robert McMinn, John Penotti, David Scott Rubin, Fisher Stevens
Starring Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Vinnie Jones, Roger Bart, Brooke Shields, Barbara Eve Harris, Tony Curran
His movies have only ever been tolerable — and occasionally enjoyable — for their expert choreography, involving production design and photogenic performers; with only the last of those three elements present in this dreary, typically overproduced American foray, the limits of Kitamura’s directorial deftness are particularly prominent. To satisfy the demands of an influential gallerist (Shields) and his ambition to capture treacherously intriguing imagery, a photographer (Cooper) stalks, then investigates a spruce, burly butcher (Jones) who extends his labor into an avocational late shift by hammering, hooking and exsanguinating passengers of a subway’s nightly route. Very few of Barker’s stories have been competently dramatized, and the antic appeal of Kitamura’s cartoonishly artificial CG and gimmicky, slow-mo or whirling panoramic and perspective shots mesh poorly with Buhler’s tiresomely prosy, humorless screenplay. Digitally rendered trains, bullets, blood, limbs amputated, organs eviscerated and enucleated appear doubly fake in contrast to several impressively realistic practical effects. In observance of two cinematographic trends, Jonathan Sela’s photography is nicely shot in very high contrast, but many scenes are ruined by their excessively applied tints. Cooper and most of his co-stars have screen presence to spare, but they’re unmemorable for dialogue so musty that it sounds like mad libs. Shields makes the best of her role as an imperious socialite, and thewy footballer Jones is certainly imposing as the industrious serial killer, but neither are framed effectively. Now lagging well behind Larry Fessenden in their unwitting(?) undertaking to match John Hurt’s mortal onscreen record, Ted Raimi again plays one of several brutalized victims. This is somewhat engaging until its insufferably inane third act, which leads to a predictably cyclic conclusion from which the Lovecraftish abominolatry of Barker’s short story was expunged in favor of still more gore that’ll only satisfy the most undemanding splatterhounds.

Instead, watch The Taking of Pelham One Two Three or Train to Busan.

Mediocre: Nightbreed

Nightbreed (1990)
Directed and written by Clive Barker
Produced by Gabriella Martinelli, Joe Roth, David Barron, James G. Robinson, Mark Alan Miller, Michael G. Plumides Jr., David Robinson
Starring Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, David Cronenberg, Hugh Quarshie, Charles Haid, Doug Bradley, Catherine Chevalier, Kim and Nina Robertson, Hugh Ross, Malcolm Smith, Bob Sessions, Oliver Parker, Debora Weston, Nicholas Vince, Simon Bamford, Christine McCorkindale

The prophet perceives the whole world in terms of justice or injustice.

–Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets

His therapist (Cronenberg) was the last person to whom a welder (Sheffer) should’ve reported his dreams of larking, noctivagous freaks and monsters (Bradley, Chevalier, Ross, McCorkindale, et al.), for they’re just as perturbingly real, and ready to initiate into their haven tucked away in the Canadian backcountry anyone whose bloodlust jibes with their own. For all its ace artisanship and conceptual inspiration, Barker’s second feature (adapted from his novel Cabal) is defeated by its self-reverence and bathos, and far too silly to scare. Sheffer’s barely fair as a perplexed, persecuted protagonist, his strapping screen presence compensating for want of aggression his role requires; diametrically, doxy Bobby’s an aggravating ham opposite, especially when belting out a rankling rock song as frontwoman for a local band. Both leads are excelled by the villains: Cronenberg’s outrageously pestilential psychiatrist steals his every scene, allied with a Procrustean, provincial police chief (Haid) whose sadistic officiousness is matched only by the destructive overplus of the arsenal allocated him and the deputized yahoos under his command. However, all of this picture’s players are belittled by grotesque makeup with which scores of imaginative monstrosities are realized, and Steve Hardie’s phenomenal production design, best manifest as the modern industrial swank of Cronenberg’s offices, and a massive, subterraneous sepulture where the last remaining members of species eradicated by barbarities of homo sapiens reside under prophetic idolatry. Barker’s depiction of Baphomet assumes a countercultural import, allusively assimilating its downtrodden anathemas to the Knights Templar in as heretical a tale as anything he’s authored. His direction’s increasingly refined, but hasn’t the visceral punch of Hellraiser (or its first sequel helmed by Tony Randel), and it’s undermined as much by comedy as overperformance, neither of which Barker plies proficiently. Composed and arranged similarly to his synchronous scores for Beetlejuice, Batman, Darkman, Edward Scissorhands, etc., Danny Elfman’s playfully minacious music is fun but absurdly applied to nearly every running second, disrupting atmosphere and whelming attention. For this, misdirection, an initial theatrical cut of Barker’s butchered vision (since redressed in two expanded versions), and too many abysmal commixed with creative ideas, its mythologic and idolomantic promise is largely thwarted…and despite its excitement, it isn’t at all frightful.