A Classic Horror Short Story

Author: Clive Barker

The Midnight Meat Train is my first encounter with Cliver Barker in book (ok, short story) format. It was chosen as the monthly read by one of my horror book clubs, and focuses on a famous story (The Midnight Meat Train) written by Baker in 1984 and included in his Books of Blood collection. This story garnered quite a following, and many tried to repeat its gory glory and bring it to the big screen. That finally happened, with Barker fully onboard and participating. As such, the special edition of this book includes the original short story (with drawings) and juxtaposes it with the screenplay, giving a behind-the-scenes look at how the story was adapted for the big screen.

The story itself is just as inherently gruesome as it is simple. A man, Leon Kaufman, accidentally discovers the answer to a series of bizarre subway train murders. His obsession with the killer and his desire for answers leads him on a truly wild ride where a grizzly history is unraveled and a calling discovered. The story is powerful, transitioning between the view of the killer and the view of Leon. It’s something that paints itself vividly into the corners of the mind – rushing midnight trains, tired commuters, compartments filled with blood, skinned bodies dangling from hooks – all rushing into some unknown place in the night. It’s spooky and will totally ruin any midnight metro runs you’re planning.

The screenplay is less engaging, more Hollywood-ised with a romance thrown into the forefront and a strange ending that tries to make everything more horrible and sadder but fails to re-create the resonance of the revelation from the initial tale. It’s interesting, however, from an artistic side to see how the written word must be changed to become a visual drama and how that impacts characterization and set-up. One note – part of the promised screen play is missing (seems like about a page) at a pivotal scene.

Image by Vicki Hamilton from Pixabay

Personally, I’ve never seen the movie, and while this was an interesting book club read, and taught me a bit more about the craft of writing (something great for someone who occasionally bangs out a novel or short story and once played around with a screen play), I doubt I’ll ever seek out the movie. The screenplay . . . it’s not bad, but it’s not calling to me either.

All in all, this book seems like something geared towards fans of Barker and of the movie, especially those who recall reading the original Books of Blood and watching this new author grow and evolve into the king of horror that he has become. For the rest of us, outside the fandom or only newly reading Barker, it’s a bit anticlimactic. What’s the fuss, we say. It’s good, but not let’s-dedicate-an-entire-book-to-it-great. This is a niche read, for sure. Before you dive in (unless, of course, your book club makes you), I think it’s worth reading the actual Books of Blood or other, more complete works by Barker before going deep into the fan-service works.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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