Filming on THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN’s 35-day shoot commenced March 18, 2007 in Los Angeles, but it was a long process before the film was put on track.
THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN is based on The Midnight Meat Train, a short story from Volume I of legendary horror writer Clive Barker’s best-selling Books of Blood collection. When Volumes I-III of Books of Blood were published in 1984, they prompted Stephen King to declare that Barker was “the future of horror,” a statement that would jumpstart Barker’s long, acclaimed career as a novelist, screenwriter and director. Over the years, Barker has become one of the world’s most famous and honored writers. And during those years, The Midnight Meat Train has been one of – if not THE – most popular of his stories, and one that was always on fans’ wish lists for a movie adaptation.
According the Barker, “Books of Blood were written back in the early eighties as my attempt to put into short story form all the wicked, dark ideas that I had had through my twenties. I really wanted to prove how broad a genre horror actually is. In the six volumes, I wanted to say, ‘Look, horror can be funny, it can be bloody, it can be subtle, it can be about the supernatural, it can be about the human heart, it can be so many things.’”
Barker was in New York in the late 1970s, a time when people were being murdered on trains. It was these news events that provided the initial creative spark for his story.
Barker notes that for the legions of fans, the essence of the original story is all there in the movie. “I don’t think anybody who likes the short story is going to be disappointed by the movie at all,” he assures.
Midnight Meat Train was the first story in the first volume of Books of Blood and it is one of the first stories Barker ever wrote. “It is a relentlessly horrific descent into madness and darkness and all things forbidden,” Barker says. “Joseph Campbell speaks of this being one of the primal forms – the idea of the hero descending into darkness, descending into the underworld, which our hero Leon does. The underworld happens to be below New York, but it’s the same thing.”
Barker hopes that the film will offer audiences an experience that will dare them to keep looking at the screen. And he notes that there is also a lot of character development in the film. “I think you’re going to care about these people,” he says. “We’ve got some wonderful performances and marvelous actors. It’s not a simple story. It’s a complex tale of somebody giving up their social identity and their identity as a lover to become something else, to become a servant of darkness, which is a choice we perhaps all sometimes have to make.”
To help adapt the original 27-page short story into a feature-length film, the studio turned to Jeff Buhler, who marks his first produced screenplay with THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, having previously written numerous original works.
An old friend of Clive Barker’s producing partner Joe Daley, Buhler had been trying to find a project with which to work with Barker for as long as he can remember. “I feel like a kid in a candy store,” he says, now that his desire had been fulfilled. “This is one of those things that came about where they were pondering going back to Clive's original anthologies of short stories, Books of Blood. And Joe brought me a nice signed, collectors' edition and said, ‘Go through these again and see if there's a story there that strikes you as one you want to bring in as an idea for a film.’ And, and I said, ‘Thank you very much for the book. I'm definitely keeping this. But The Midnight Meat Train is the story I really want to tell.’"
In developing a structure for the screenplay, Buhler first set focus on the classic serial-killer story. But then he says, “There comes a moment when it turns a corner where you have absolutely no idea what is going on.”
As Buhler explains, “The movie THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN follows a man's obsession, a man who believes that he has stumbled upon a killer who's terrorizing the city. And his obsession is manifested through his photography. This is one of the things that I brought to the screenplay that's not in the short story. In the book we live in Leon's head, and this works amazingly well in that form. But of course as a film we needed a way to see Leon's obsession with the city, what goes on in the dirty alleyways, what goes on below the surface of the city. And to do that we made Leon a photographer so there was a visual means of seeing what was going on in his head. This photographer stumbles upon a man who he believes is terrorizing the city. He soon learns that there's a lot more to that story than meets the eye and he becomes sucked into this underbelly of what's going on below the city. That's where the real Clive Barker-ness comes out.”
In addition to being a celebrated author and director, Clive Barker is also a celebrated and prolific painter. As such Barker did many drawings for THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN that helped inform the look of the film. “I think it’s a good way to help a director share my vision,” Barker says.
To fulfill that vision, Lakeshore Entertainment enlisted Ryuhei Kitamura, a Japanese director who has garnered widespread international acclaim for his ultra-stylish thrillers and fantasies. With THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, Kitamura incorporates many of his signature visual styles and storytelling skills to the film.