In The Midnight Meat Train, a photographer (Bradley Cooper), pursues the subject of a lifetime – the subway slasher and serial killer, ‘Mahogany’ (Vinnie Jones) – straight to the end of the line. Based on the acclaimed short story by novelist, Clive Barker, Midnight Meat Train, packed with unnerving, blood-soaked plot twists, could well prove the horror hit of the season… Or as Barker, who also serves as one of the film’s producers sees it, for generations to come.
THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN IS ONE OF YOUR FIRST, IF NOT YOUR VERY FIRST, SHORT STORY. COULD YOU TAKE US BACK TO THAT TIME IN YOUR LIFE WHEN YOU WROTE IT?
I was great friends with the two-time Pulitzer winner, William A. Henry III, who passed away at the age of 40. At the time he passed, he was the theater critic for Time Magazine. He was one of my best friends. When I was penniless – which was right through my 30’s until I published some books – he brought me over to America, on his own dime, which was incredibly sweet of him. I don’t think I would have become a resident or a citizen of America, had it not been for the fact that he did that.
He lived in Boston. And he worked at that time for The Boston Globe. Boston was amazing… But I wanted to see New York. And I wanted to go – don’t ask me where this comes from – but I wanted to go there on a bus. I was 19, 20-years-old. It was a long time ago. But I knew I wanted to get off an old Greyhound bus at Port Authority, which is what we did… Bill had lots of business in New York and I was on my own, which was wonderful. And a little scary. I got on the subway late one night and it took me to a place called Far Rockaway, the end of the line. I was asleep on the train. And when it ground to a halt, one of the guards shoved me awake and said, “This is as far as we go kid; get off” It was midnight. A completely empty station. I was the only person on the train…
HENCE, THE GERM OF THE STORY…
I hadn’t begun to write the short stories at that point… But it made a huge impression on me. At the same time, this would be, 1971, something like that, there was some kind of slasher guy going around the trains. He wasn’t doing anything like the things that were happening in The Midnight Meat Train. But he was getting a little bit of press. And the two things, being delivered to Far Rockaway and getting out and not knowing where the fuck I was, and the story that was going around about this train killer… It was enough for my imagination to sort of start to play around. I made notes when I got back to Boston. It stayed in notes for the next 8-years. I started, towards the end of my 20’s, to put together some stories. And that was actually the first one I wrote… Those early stories were just me mapping out my own primal instincts about what the writing of horror fiction was really about. So that’s where it all began.
I IMAGINE THE PASSAGE OF TIME MADE IT EASIER TO MAKE CHANGES WHEN IT CAME TIME TO MAKING THE FILM?
No question… But you know, I don’t cling to the stories and say, ‘you can’t change a word; it’s all sacred’. Partly because I’ve really run rampant through my own narratives for my own purposes… I’m not worried about other people doing reconstructions of the narratives. It’s a different medium.
I UNDERSTAND IT TOOK TEN YEARS TO GET THIS FILM MADE?
Yeah, it took a hell of a long time. I don’t know whether it was 10-years, but it was a long, long time. When [director] Ryuhei Kitamura came onboard, this man, who’s work in Japan I immensely admired, I felt very comfortable that he was going to give it his own signature. Which I think he did. I think it’s his movie. And I think it’s a very, very fine piece of horror filmmaking. And with the extra material that will go into the DVD… Oh boy! There’s another two minutes of stuff to go in there, most of which is stuff that the MPAA said, ‘You’re not going to show that to anybody’. I’ve always had arguments with the MPAA over the years. I’ve never put a picture out that they didn’t argue with.
SOUNDS LIKE A POINT OF PRIDE?
Oh, fuck yeah, of course. Excuse my French… On Hellraiser [which Barker directed], I had a lovemaking scene which was fairly graphic for it’s time… Both of my actors were wonderfully helpful and were willing to do anything. But when I sent the material over from England to America, I was told immediately that I couldn’t use it. Too graphic. So I said, what are the rules? And they said, ‘Well, you’re only allowed two consecutive buttock thrusts…’ That was one of the rules. Twenty-years ago, of course. But that struck me as so funny. I mean… I’ve always taken the MPAA after that as sort of a bit of a joke.
YOU FIRST CONCEIVED OF MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN IN THE 70’S. WHY DOES THE STORY, AS NOW SEEN ON FILM, STILL SEEM RELEVANT?
Two things there… As I put those short stories together, I would never name anything by brand. It’s the reverse of what Steve King does. Steve, brilliantly, uses brand names to lock you into the moment… The Pepsi Cola that you’re drinking, the beer, the cigarettes, the show they’re watching on television – Steve is there in the moment. I’m doing the reverse. My models are people like Arthur Machen (1863-1947; The Three Imposters; The Great God Pan). He is a huge influence upon me, just because he seemed to be reaching for the primal, constantly. His stories read as fresh as the day they were written. That’s what I was looking for… To make these stories as timeless as they could possibly be.
THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF KING.
Absolutely. Chalk and cheese… You know, horror fiction is many things. But one of them is an encoding of our fears and an encoding of our responses to fear. Obviously, many of the things that were encoded in 19th Century horror fiction were sexual things. Because they were so repressed within the culture. Really, the first Vampire story with real sexual energy is Camilla, which was written in the 1850’s. She’s a lesbian. Nobody calls her a lesbian. But that’s what the encoding is. She’s ‘other’… And that is the key. That is the big key. As a homosexual man, as an overweight shortsighted kid who got kicked around a lot, I was always, ‘other’… And so I always aspire to have a balanced vision of what’s going on inside the head of what we’ll loosely call ‘the good guys’ and the head of what we’ll loosely call ‘the bad guys’. Because, according to the Reverend Phelps (anti-homosexual campaigner, Fred Phelps), for instance, as a homosexual, I’m one of ‘the bad guys’. And there’s no escaping that in our culture.
YOU MENTION YOUR SEXUALITY.. WAS THAT A FACTOR IN YOUR DECISION TO PRODUCE GODS AND MONSTERS (1998; DIR: BILL CONDON)?
Of course. Absolutely. James Whale was born in the North of England, came to America, reinvented himself and became a sort of legend… making movies that he didn’t have a high opinion of… Ian McKellen, whom Bill and I persuaded to embody Whale… Bill and I were talking to him. And I said, ‘You, know Ian, you me and Whale are three peas in a pod.’ I mean, there may be generations between us, but I’m also a Northern homosexual who came over here and made a new ‘self’, if you will… Ian got that in an instant…
YOU CHOSE NOT TO DIRECT THIS NEW FILM, MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN. WHY?
I chose not to direct at all for a while. Until I finish all five Abarat books. I hand write my novels as you know. I do four drafts. And I’m about 20-pages from the end of Abarat 3. I’m on page 2,079… You know there’s a lot of people around the world who want to know how this mega-story is going to reach a conclusion (laughs). I mean, you know, I’ve got two more books to write. And I certainly won’t think seriously about movies, as a director, until I feel I’ve finished the Abarat books.
AS A PRODUCER, WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN MAKING THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN?
The train… To get the train to be a believable thing. That you are on that train and it’s moving and racing along the tracks. I think that comes off. I think we sell quite well the idea that this is a real train.
WHEN IN FACT IT WAS…
Three carriages, you know. A build. A beautiful, beautiful, build.
HOW DID THE CASTING OF VINNIE JONES COME ABOUT?
It was just one of those glorious, glorious, ideas that somebody had which was just completely right. You know, he is the stone heart of this movie. That grim, joyless face. And also the pain in him, which is even more acute… The written story shows even more, you know, the failing of his system, in literary terms. But Vinnie’s acting is so smart and clean and full of subtlety that the he… I think the movie completely communicates what you need to know about his character, Mahogany.
WAS THERE ANYTHING THAT SURPRISED YOU ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE?
Yes. Our director’s vision…. His take on it made me love the process again. Because it’s been a while since we’ve had a movie that I was, you know, really a part of from the beginning. I’d been involved with some of the Hellraiser sequels over at Miramax, but they weren’t very satisfactory experiences because very often I was just called in at the last minute. Here is a picture that my team, the Seraphim guys (Barker’s production company, Seraphim Films), were there from the beginning and carrying it through to the end…
WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THE FILM… YOUR HOPES?
I hope that in ten years time, people are still watching it. I mean, Hellraiser is still a picture that people will rent out on a weekend, which astonishes me. But there it is. It’s good. It cost 900,000-bucks, but people still watch it and are scared by it. I think in 10- years time, 20-years time, people will still love The Midnight Meat Train and say, ‘that’s a damn good movie’.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
Dread. Which another story from The Books of Blood, which is being directed by Anthony DiBlasi, who joined the company as an assistant, six, seven, years ago. He’s done a magnificent adaptation of the story and he’s directing it. It’s just gone into preproduction. So I’m heading off to London this weekend, to be as supportive and useful as I can. I’m very proud of this guy. This man has just gone for it!
The Midnight Meat Train is available from March 2nd – buy your copy today.