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Saturday, October 03, 2009

Halloween Hoardefest 2009: The Midnight Meat Train and Halloween III: Season of the Witch

It's that time again, readers...

As in years past, The Metal Minute celebrates Halloween all October long as it's just plain groovy...or gory, depending on your tolerance level... Be on the lookout for brief horror film writeups in-between the metal talk throughout the month. Are the blades sharpened? Is your mask nice and snug? Good, let's rock...

The Midnight Meat Train



Ages ago I read Clive Barker's Books of Blood Volume 1 and was impressed back then someone could stand toe-to-toe with the master Stephen King on the visceral scale, much less employ the same sharp-fanged storytelling.

Books of Blood opens with "The Midnight Meat Train," which may seem tame to today's seen-it-all generation, but no doubt when Barker originally penned this short story in 1984, he had to have felt he was onto something. Indeed, "Train" left a brutal impact in print.

Finally more than 20 years later, someone tackles this bloody romp about a luckless New York photographer chasing down a serial killer in a subway by circumstance. Obsession overwhelms our photog Leon (played here by Bradley Cooper) to the point he continues to stalk the silent herc in a boiler suit and gets far more than he bargained for--as you would expect, naturally.

Director Riyuhei Kitamura (also of Azumi, Sky High and Godzilla: Final Wars notoriety) keeps a lean and smoking gun pressed against The Midnight Meat Train's script. His astute aesthetics in capturing New York City (assumedly filmed in the downtown district of Manhattan if you're familiar with it, particularly at night) adds to the haunted essence of the story.

As the "Subway Butcher" (aka "Mahogany," brought to life by Vinnie Jones) routinely appears on a specially-designated subway and grinds up his victims with a steel hammer and a hook, The Midnight Meat Train is naturally a bloody affair. Unfortunately, there's far too many CGI gore effects, such as those used to show jettisoning eyeballs (a slinky worked perfectly fine in Friday the 13th Part III, thank you), but the implications are nastier than the blood geysers Kitamura douses his audience with.

Leon scores the opportunity of a lifetime to capture raw photos of New York's underbelly for a top-dog art dealer (Brooke Shields in a far-too-brief cameo) and he sacrifices sleep to win her favor. When in Rome... Sliding after a trio of gang members who corner and attempt to rape a fashion model in a subway terminal, Leon's world changes forever.

Upon reading of the model's immediate disappearance (we've already seen Mahogany take her out at this point), Leon's photos he'd taken of the scene unravels clues to her assassin, namely a large ring yielding the mark of Mahogany. Though life is on the ups with Leon and his fiancee Maya (Leslie Bibb), his determination to prove Mahogany's guilt sucks him directly into the killer's den of sin. Leon is submitted to the brutal show Mahogany puts on by hoisting his victims upside down like cattle and stripping them down as sacrifices for mutants living beneath the city. By day, Mahogany is a meat carver, for the record. The film's tensest moment occurs when Leon has traced Mahogany to the meat packing plant and after being spotted by Mahogany while shooting his picture, runs through an effective cat-and-mouse game amidst the slabs of beef.

Kitamura gets to the nerve of Leon's compulsion to the point his relationship with Maya dances a razor's edge equal to his night life on the prowl. After proposing to Maya, he bends her over a counter and roughly nails her from behind. In another sequence, Maya has begun to fear her boyfriend, particularly after she coaxes him to stop photographing the Subway Butcher. As she entices him to shoot her in a gradual stripping state, Leon cannot focus on her, continuing to see the evil his camera's eye has submitted him to like an addiction.

The Midnight Meat Train is smartly executed and keeps moving with a purpose. In today's American horror scene where remakes are sadly the norm, this is exactly what the genre needs.


Halloween III: Season of the Witch



Is Halloween III: Season of the Witch as bad as history purports?

Well, yeah, exactly, but there's something about this goddamn flick that still draws me to it, regardless of it being a flea-gnawed mutt.

More than likely it's the wonderfully annoying Silver Shamrock commercial jingle that's already had me singing out loud 36 days away from the holiday: "36 days to Halloween, Halloween, Halloween...36 days to Halloween, Silllverrrr Shamrock!"

Yeah, it's the most likely culprit for my infatuation with this dumb movie. Then again, there's something about John Carpenter and Debra Hill's eyes (along with director Tommy Lee Wallce) which keeps you involved. The Fog was pretty alright but not a gate-crasher, yet you can't take your peepers away from it!

Ditto with Halloween III. Okay, so there's no Michael Myers to be found here, so what? History has already seen fit to rescue the pasty Shatner facade seven times since 1982 with yet another romp for Mr. Sandman's playboy slated in the works for next year and in 3-D, no less!

So there's a bunch of automatons crushing skulls, ripping off heads and making life miserable for anyone getting too close to a megalomaniacal, child-hating Druid wannabe set on recreating a centuries-old bloodbath. Not even Maulin' Mikey could kill so many that fast, come on!

Alright, so the plausibility of stealing an actual pillar of Stonehenge, one of the most sacred manmade wonders of the world, is pretty much a queef. But in keeping with the plot of Halloween III, after losing one of his patients to one of those double-breasted machina meanies (I guess last night was theme for me...well-dressed killers...might as well get American Psycho off the shelf while I'm at it) Dr. Challis (Tom Atkins) allows himself to get sucked into the mystery surrounding this particularly nasty death. The victim in question is a toy store owner named Harry who sells Silver Shamrock Halloween masks. His misfortune was discovering the truth about the witch, skull and pumpkin head drapes, i.e., something truly hellish lurks inside them.

When she comes to identify her father, Ellie Grimbridge (Stacey Nelkin) inadvertently lures Challis into an investigation of her papa's death. They find themselves in a sprawled burg called Santa Mira populated by Irish (?) which goes on full lockdown after 6:00 pm. The Silver Shamrock factory is the lifeline of the town, even when its frosty owner Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy) refuses to hire certain locals into his service. If they bitch, they bite it. If the townsfolk don't produce for him, they bite it. If they don't kiss his hedonistic ass...you get the picture.

Upon confirmation Ellie's father had come to Santa Mira on business, she and Challis are foiled when they attempt to infiltrate the Silver Shamrock factory. Not before screwing a hundred times first, though. Jeezu... They learn about Cochran's foul plan to kill oodles of children who buy his masks. They have microchips ready to trigger death shocks coutresy of seismic waves produced by the aforementioned Silver Shamrock commercial, which hums to the tune of "London Bridges."

Where Halloween III works is its visual style, be it the condensed setting of Santa Mira and the looming Silver Shamrock compound which really gets to the guts of Carpenter's weird tale. Even the second sequence in the film where the steel assassin takes out Harry in the hospital then douses himself with gasoline in the parking lot and sets himself on fire works. Never mind it strongly resembles the fiery finale of Carpenter's Halloween II.

Carpenter playfully shows an advertisement of his original film in this one and likewise shows a scene of Jamie Lee Curtis skulking around the fateful house while Challis is strapped to a chair with one of the death masks on his head. A fun touch, but even when trying to distance himself from Michael Myers, you can tell there's a bit of a wish at stake for his famed deathstalker. Even Nancy Loomis (billed here by her married name Nancy Kyes) makes an appearance in Halloween III as Challis' ex-wife. Remember, she had her throat slit in the first Halloween and took a corpse cameo as Annie in the second film. Also remember she too appeared in The Fog along with Curtis. Carpenter and Hill kept in the family back then...

The closure of Halloween III really sucks the big one, save for the final frame when Challis has managed to get the t.v. stations to shut down the Silver Shamrock ad which is about to strike its killing mode during "The big giveaway at 9:00." Yet one station hasn't gone off the air. Challis' pulverizing "Stop it!!!" screams into the fadeout is actually quite brilliant. Never mind Challis has already had to suffer the indignity of seeing his sudden-girlfriend Ellie replicated as a machine. Worse, he has to fend off an attack by her--and her lopped arm! Blech. Also, I've never bought Challis' relatively easy dispatching of Cochran and his robots with the pesky microchips which also triggers off Stonehenge to exact its own vengeance. Puh-lease...

However, Halloween III is quite messy with its effects, a plus in this respect. The scene where Marge Guttman (Garn Stephens) accidentally triggers a "misfire" from one of the mask chips is one of the moistest kills the entire series has seen. The wretched offing of the Kupfer family is poorly realized, however, seeing Little Buddy lying on the floor with a smoking mask and insects and snakes pouring out is quite horrifying, if not preposterous.

Of course, the score to Halloween III is great (if you're a fan of early eighties synth) with Carpenter and Alan Howarth teaming up yet again. The Silver Shamrock theme is genius, as is the cerebral opening tones which accompaines the blipping computer grid during the opening credits.

I doubt highly I sold you on this one if you've never seen it. Even the current Michael Myers Tyler Mane avoided this one while boning up during his character study. Somehow, though, I can't get away from this clunker. I just can't. 28 days to Halloween, Halloween Halloween...

7 comments:

DPTH International said...

I can honestly say that Halloween III is absolutely terrible. You do make some vary valid points, some of which may be lost on me as I'm not a huge Horror fan.

My buddy is a big Halloween fan and he threw this one on one day while we carved pumpkins. I guess he figured I'd be ok with this one as opposed to the others.

I am not sad to have seen it though. It was truly an experience!

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

No doubt! I cannot make any excuse for watching HIII other than those I outlined, lol...it definitely reeks...I'll bet your friend did it BECAUSE of the experience, just like my wife and how she loves The Pirate Movie from the early 80s (THE worst movie EVER made!)....some films are so bad they're good, though not in the case of The Pirate Movie, blec

DPTH International said...

The Pirate Movie ..?!? Now you've peeked My interest! Actually, I just looked it up on IMDB and it turns out to be a parody of Pirates of Penzance.

I sat through about an hour of Pirates of Penzance with Kevin Kline, but it was an old recording of the stage production which made it hard to watch.

I imagine the movie "version" would be far more campy.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

dude, I freakin' DARE you to watch that garbage...travesty, not parody is the operative word, lol...you have your homework assignment

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