A well-dressed, barrel-chested man enters the New York City subway at midnight and stalks the late-night passengers of a subway train. He assaults and kills several people with a meat hammer and a butcher's hook. He dispatches his prey wordlessly, and with an unnatural strength. He wears a ring on his finger, adorned with an eight pointed star.
Leon is a vegan amateur photographer who wants to find unique spots of the NYC landscape to shoot, and at the advice of his contractor heads into the city's subway system at night. He is criticized constantly by other photographers for fleeing danger before shooting a full reel. One night, in a decision to break this trend, he saves a woman from a gang that is abusing her. The next day, he discovers this girl has gone missing. Leon is intrigued by the mystery, and begins to investigate newsreels about similar disappearances. His investigation leads him to a butcher named Mahogany, whom he suspects has been killing subway passengers for the past three years.
Leon attempts to turn some of the photos he has taken of Mahogany in to the police, but they refuse to believe him, and instead cast suspicion on his own motives in photographing the victims. Leon's involvement quickly turns into a dark obsession, upsetting his waitress girlfriend Maya, who is as disbelieving of his story as the police chief. Leon takes matters into his own hands, entering the subway train at midnight, only to witness a shocking bloodbath, as the butcher kills several passengers, then hangs them on meat hooks. Passing out on the subway floor, he awakes the next morning in a slaughterhouse with strange markings carved into his chest.
A concerned Maya and her friend Jurgis begin to examine the photos Leon has been taking of Mahogany, leading them to the killer's apartment. After breaking into the butcher's home, Jurgis is captured, and brutally killed. Maya goes to the police, but finds that they are as unwilling to consider her story as they were of Leon's. A police official then directs Maya to a trip on the midnight train. Leon, unaware of Maya's involvement, finally decides to put an end to the butcher's crimes. Leon heads to the hidden subway entrance in the slaughterhouse, arming himself with several slaughterhouse knives, and wearing a butcher's apron.
Leon enters the train as Mahogany has completed his nightly massacre, and has cornered a helpless Maya. Leon attacks the murderer with a knife, beginning a climactic battle between the photographer and the butcher. They fight in between the swinging human flesh—Leon's knives against Mahogany's meat hammer—and human body parts are ripped, thrown, and used as weapons. Finally, Mahogany is thrown out of the train by Leon, but not long before it hits its final stop. The train has entered an underground cavern, filled with skulls and decomposing bodies. The conductor of the train enters the car, advising Leon and Maya to "Please step away from the meat." With these words, the true purpose of the underground station is revealed, as horrible reptilian creatures enter the car, consuming the meat. Leon and Maya leave the carriage into the cavern.
Mahogany, in a battered and bleeding state, returns, barely alive, and engages in a death struggle with Leon, who finishes the job at last by impaling the psychotic butcher's skull on a blade. Mahogany grins in his dying throes, speaking the single word "Welcome!"
The conductor appears and explains to Leon that the creatures have always existed below the city, and that the butcher's job was to keep them satisfied by feeding them every night. He picks up Leon, and with the same supernatural strength as the deceased butcher, rips out Leon's tongue, throwing him to the ground and eating the tongue. The conductor brings Leon's attention to Maya, who has been knocked unconscious and is lying on a pile of bones - presumably this took place some time during Leon's fight with the butcher. The conductor then forces Leon to watch as he kills Maya with one of the butcher's knives. When he is done, he tells Leon that, having killed the butcher, Leon must take his place.
Finally, the police chief hands the train schedule to the new butcher, who wears a ring with the eight pointed star on it, a symbol for the group that feeds the creatures. The killer walks onto the midnight train, and turns his head to reveal that the new butcher is Leon.
- Bradley Cooper as Leon Kaufman
- Leslie Bibb as Maya
- Brooke Shields as Susan Hoff
- Roger Bart as Jurgis
- Ted Raimi as Randle Cooper
- Vinnie Jones as Mahogany
- Peter Jacobson as Otto
- Barbara Eve Harris as Detective Lynn Hadley
- Tony Curran as Driver
- Stephanie Mace as Leigh Cooper
- Quinton Jackson as Guardian Angel
- Allen Maldonado as Lead Gangbanger
The film's original director, Patrick Tatopoulos, originally planned to shoot the film in 2005 in New York City and Montreal. Tatopoulos left the production in 2006 and was replaced by Ryuhei Kitamura. Shooting was moved to Los Angeles, due to the prohibitive cost of shooting in New York City. Various locations, including the L.A. Metro subway system, were used instead. Shooting began March 18, 2007.
The "official" soundtrack from Lakeshore Records (only containing two remixes of the separately available actual film score) was produced and remixed by Justin Lassen and includes the bands and artists Iconcrash, Breaking The Jar, Blind Divine, Manakin Moon, Three Dot Revelation, Apocalyptica, Slvtn, Alu, Robert Williamson, Johannes Kobilke, Second Coming, Illusion of Order, Jason Hayes, Gerard K Marino, Penetrator, and Digital Dirt Heads.
Initially, The Midnight Meat Train was set for a May 16, 2008 release but was delayed. Ultimately, the film's release on August 1 was limited to the secondary market - of which only 100 screens showed it - with plans for a quick release on DVD. The world premiere was on July 19, 2008 at the Fantasia Festival in Montreal, in the presence of director Ryuhei Kitamura. An internet campaign was started by several horror websites to draw attention to the scaled-down theatrical release.
Barker was angry with Lionsgate's treatment, believing that the studio's president Joe Drake is essentially shortchanging other people's films in order to focus more attention on films like The Strangers, where he received a producing credit: "The politics that are being visited upon it have nothing to do with the movie at all. This is all about ego, and though I mourn the fact that The Midnight Meat Train was never given its chance in theaters, it’s a beautifully stylish, scary movie, and it isn’t going anywhere. People will find it, and whether they find it in midnight shows or they find it on DVD, they’ll find it, and in the end the Joe Drakes of the world will disappear."
The Midnight Meat Train was released theatrically in Australia on 19 February 2009, with a rating of R18+ for high level violence, blood and gore. DVD and Blu-ray releases followed on 14 July.
Critical reaction to The Midnight Meat Train has been mostly positive; IGN said, "Director Ryuhei Kitamura ... brings an incredible level of polish and visual sophistication to what is essentially a mid-range script. ... There's an energy to the film's final 10 minutes that's unmatched in recent horror films, and Kitamura's penchant for hard-hitting action, while suitably controlled, is always just below the surface. ... Overall, The Midnight Meat Train is a simple, bloody, hardcore offering certain to satisfy fans of the genre." Twitch Film said, "On most counts, The Midnight Meat Train succeeds. It's visually engrossing, the acting and story are (mostly) solid and it has a great lead villain in Vinnie Jones. It only falters in an illogical last act. No matter, the gore factor is selling point to the genre crowd and they don't have to worry. No punches are pulled. If this is the kind of quality material that Kitamura's going to deliver in Hollywood, I hope he stays there."
Cinematical called the film "easily the best Clive Barker adaptation since the first Hellraiser film," saying that "screenwriter Jeff Buhler manages to maintain the sly sense of dread that permeates the best of Barker's horror tales." Bloody Disgusting said that "Clive Barker fans will rejoice in what director Ryuhei Kitamura has given them. In the Japanese director's first English-language film, he has taken his visual genius from Alive and Versus and translated it into an action-packed blood fest. It has been a long time since a major horror film has been given such loving treatment by its director." Conversely, DVD Talk said that while the story is "an interesting concept," it's "subpar" compared to the rest of Clive Barker's work, and criticized the film's "melodrama" and computer-generated effects. The film currently holds a 71% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes; the consensus states: "A creative and energetic adaptation of a Clive Barker short story, with enough scares and thrills to be a potential cult classic."