Welcome to another installment of Archives from the abyss! Since the horror community has celebrated the anniversary of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood released 35 years ago, it’s only fitted I publish an older article I wrote when the movie came out. I shamefully have to admit I never read the short story until the movie came out. The theme was the same, but I was amazed on how different the story was from the movie, more so than usual when such is adapted into film. Anyway, read on and hope you enjoy!
Originally published in issue #11 of SCARS magazine:
BOOK VS. MOVIES: THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN
By J.C. Walsh
From the legendary Books Of Blood, Clive Barker’s The Midnight Meat Train is a dark and twisted ride that glimpse not only into the horrors that lives deep within the catacombs inside of us, but of the unimaginable existence of what could live underneath the places we call home.
The story focuses around two characters. An accountant named Leon Kaufman and Mahogany, the Subway butcher. For years Kaufman has been yearning to live in his dream city New York. He finally gets his wish, but after living there for a few months began to loathe the things it was built upon, death and violence. The headlines of the newspapers don’t help. Disgusted, he reads about the “Subway Slayings,” where the victims are brutally murdered, stripped of their clothes and hung from meat hooks, the grisly findings discovered inside of a train.
The story switches over to Mahogany’s point of view. A man that feels his job is sacred, serving “The Father’s” is a privilege compared to the mundane routines that humanity follows day by day. But age is catching up with him, he’s constantly exhausted and he continues to make mistakes, ones that cost him dearly, exposure constantly a threat as his kills are discovered and all over the news.
The way that Clive Baker switches back and forth between the characters give a unique sense of what they are about, so that when their worlds collide it becomes a battle of primal instinct and survival. The dark side of Kaufman is revealed and welcomes a knife fight against a man like Mahogany for all the murderous deceptions he stands for, while Mahogany wants to kill Kaufman because he was not worthy of the sacrament that The Butcher’s work was. The fight ends in intense blood shed. What follows is Clive Barker’s ability to impose in such frightening imagery of the things that lurk in the darkness, eternally starving for human flesh.
The Film adaptation of Barker’s horrifying story is directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, and produced by Clive Barker. Staying true to the short story’s theme, The Film also adds depth and creates a new approach to the classic work of fiction. The movie version of Leon Kaufman (Bradly Cooper) is a photographer, and much like the character in the short story has a love for the city and wants to capture it’s divine moments through his work. But when a girl Kaufman has seen disappears and her picture is in the paper, he begins to obsess with the man he believes not only killed her, is also responsible for the subway slayings that have been happening for years and could be the infamous Butcher.
Instead of keeping the change in Kaufman subtle like in the story, the movie shows how he endures the further his obsessing grows, illusions of slaughter and death haunt him and the police are no help for fear that there is a dark conspiracy in the grand scheme of all of it. What really adds to the dread and worry for the character is that his girlfriend and friend are worried and get involved by investigating The Butcher so they can uncover whatever trouble Kaufman in order to help him.
When there are scenes of the Butcher, played by the bad ass Vinnie Jones, The Film portrays his inhuman strength as he rips into his victims with a meat hook, pounds their flesh into pulp with a metallic meat hammer, or severs limbs with a cleaver. There was some enhancement to the gory effects by using CGI, giving some kills a strange surreal look but by all means keeping them brutal. But just like the story we see how vulnerable the Butcher has become of old age, and by mysterious tumor growths on his chest that cause him to cough up blood.
In the end, Kaufman fights to not only overcome his fear, but to save his sanity, and those of the people he loves. The final fight scene between Kaufman and the Butcher was relentless, nasty, and one of the best caught on film. Anyone who hasn’t read the short story will find the revelations of “The Fathers” a curve ball in the movie, turning a Slasher flick into something much more that’ll leave audiences either stumped or begging for more. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much about “The Fathers” in the movie like the haunting visionary in the story. Rumor has it, because of Film Company Lions Gates mishandling of the theatrical release of the film it might have prolonged any hope of future sequels as intended to go further into the history of the flesh- devouring inhabitants.
Whether you read the short story, see the movie or both, Clive Barker gives us a taste of what true horror is all about. It was full of originality, suspense, and ruthless gore that’ll make hardcore fans shudder with delight or stand up and applause.