One of the most disturbing urban legends is of the once human, now mostly demented people who supposedly live in the never explored caverns and tunnels of the underground subway and train systems. You could say it’s a breeding ground for inbred horror movies. So let’s step over the homeless man covered in newspapers, jump down onto the tracks as the rats scatter (hopefully), and enter those black holes that are so scary even subways race through them at breakneck speed.
RAW MEAT (1973)
Raw Meat as it’s known in the U.S. (Death Line in the U.K) stars Donald Pleasence as the detective on the case when people go missing in the London subway system. Yes. Donald Pleasence: the king of horror movies. The man whose role in this film seems to be attempting farce, takes up way too much screen time, and disrupts the otherwise grisly happenings, as does the asinine cameo by Christophe Lee, which seems to serve the singular purpose of having these two horror icons on screen at the same time.
Raw Meat gets credit for inspiring all the cannibalistic humanoid underground dweller movies that follow. For me, the “monster” running rampant in the subway tunnels in this film, along with the gore-ific setting, has much of the look and feel of the film Anthropophagus that came after it, which I blog about here. And just like that film, you have to put up with a lot of filler and nonsense to get to, dare I say it, the raw meat of the horror.
The most effective and unnerving scene is when we are introduced to the monster’s lair. The camera simply pans around the room in a long single shot, capturing every detail of the gruesome space, including corpses in various states of decay and devour. The only sounds are the slow dripping of water (or blood?) and a heartbeat. If you immerse yourself in the moment, you begin to anticipate one of those cheap scares like the ones you get when your friend sends you an email saying, “Stare at this picture and see something beautiful!” You know the ones. You become virtually hypnotized when all of a sudden a horrific demon face flashes on screen, accompanied by a bloodcurdling scream, and you have to sop up the puddle of piss under your cubicle desk…
The monster does not stay in shadows until the finale. We get to see him in full lighting early on, and he is portrayed as having some human emotions…even if he is feeding human flesh to his dying loved one. The kills in Raw Meat are top notch and deliciously bloody, even by today’s standards. The atmosphere (when Pleasence isn’t on screen) is dark, bleak, and ominous. Plus there’s a great jump scare, a suspenseful chase scene, and the promise of a sequel. Instead, we’ve gotten a variety of imitators over the years…
THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN (2008)
This movie is amazing because Bradley Cooper is shirtless. Just kidding (sort of). I actually do love it from a horror perspective as well. Next to Rawhead Rex (the movie adaptation that Clive Barker apparently hates and which I blog about here), The Midnight Meat Train is my absolute favorite film based on his writing because it doesn’t travel into sci-fi territory and otherworldly realms.
Yet, it gets brutally criticized because of the use of CGI, which I personally think is intentionally made into an art form here; it’s a highly stylized medium as in the show Spartacus. The stark, icy blues, silvers, grays, and blacks of the film’s palette and the gloriously symmetrical and architectural setup shots are the canvas for intensely dramatic CGI violence and buckets of red paintbrush splatters across the camera lens, often in slow motion.
CGI or not, this is some of the most brutal, disturbing violence committed to screen. It’s unrelenting, and the gore isn’t completely reliant on CGI. There are genuine special effects used as well that will have you cringing. The visual transformation of a simple subway car into a meat locker alone leaves a gruesome impression that will have you clutching onto your iPhone for dear life the next time you ride one. “Please take me! Just don’t hurt my phone!”
The bone-chilling concept is a departure from your standard underground humanoids horror. If you’re the last unlucky sucker on the subway in the wee hours of the night, there’s this very sexy hot mean military type butcher in a business suit carrying a black leather bag who pulls out this awfully large silver mallet and bashes the fuck out of you! He then proceeds to slice and dice you, disembowel you, rip out your teeth, fingernails, and eyes, and hang you upside down in the train car by inserting your ankles onto a meat hook. Many times, you’re still alive during various steps of his process. And don’t think that traveling with a group is going to be safer. This monster will bash all your fucking heads in.
So what does any of this have to do with Bradley Cooper? Bradley is a very sexy hot but not mean photographer trying to get his work in an art gallery. Brooke Shields, who owns the place, tells him his work sux and he needs to go capture the real grit of the city. It doesn’t get any grittier than in these subways. Very sexy hot photographer Bradley becomes obsessed with the very sexy hot mean military type butcher in the business suit and begins stalking him (Nice. The very sexy hot stalking the very sexy hot). Soon, the butcher is on to him, which leads to loads of wickedly suspenseful chase scenes.
If you love TOTAL carnage, you’ll love The Midnight Meat Train. And just when you think you have the monster in your sights, the movie jumps tracks! Oh. You’ll also learn a wickedly racist lesson on how, aside from the evil white butcher with the mallet, the other ominous men you should beware of on the subway are all black. It’s like watching a stereotypical early 80s New York City movie all over again. Not to mention, much of the plot is derivative of other stories and there are tons of plot holes. But who cares? It’s still not a train wreck. It’s one hell of a train ride…
This is one of those films in which you simply cannot fuss over all the plot holes, absurd logic, and ridiculous actions of the characters. You just need to immerse yourself in the terror of the situation. Because the attempts the film makes to hint at the origins of the underground “creep” just manage to confuse viewers or leave us coming up with our own theories, which is probably the way to go.
In this one, some chick (who bares a striking resemblance to Natasha Bedingfield) leaves a party and enters the London subway system, passes out after chugging some booze, and wakes up on the platform to discover she missed the last train. And dammit, just like in Raw Meat in 1973, 30 years later, they still lock the place up in London (thank God I live in the city that never sleeps and therefore stand a much better chance of getting away from Penn Station’s CHUD—and having cherry cola at my disposal all night). Pretty soon, the chick meets the first “monster”—a guy she knows. Because we need a body count…
Creep is loaded with suspense, gore, a dude who looks like Jason at the end of the original Friday the 13th, and a bunch of flaws. First off, it seems this lone underground dweller knows just how to keep a woman trapped in the subway system, killing any train conductors, security guards, and homeless people who could help her escape (why did he never kill them before?). Then we have subway tunnels that appear to be connected to water-filled sewers and an abandoned hospital where the creep performs much of his hacking and slashing. There’s a guard who refuses to help a woman he sees on a security monitor until she can prove to him that she’s actually trapped down there with a dead man. On top of all that, the lead be-otch vacillates between smart moves and some of the dumbest decisions ever. And we’re left with one of those completely unsatisfying, ambigious (aka: WTF?) endings.
I guess I’m not heeding my own advice, here, huh? Truthfully, all the problems only bothered me upon a rewatch. The first time I saw the movie, I was too impressed by the horror aspect to nitpick. Like I said, the film has jump scares, blood and guts, shock moments, a hella creepy creep who screams like a banshee and bone-chillingly mocks the reactions of his victims, plenty of tension-filled chase scenes, and some freaky instances involving the dark and a flashlight. Plus, it doesn’t even run an hour and a half, so the ultimate goal is to watch it just to be spooked, not to have the thinking part of your brain stimulated.
STAG NIGHT (2008)
Finally, we have Stag Night, in which four dudes out for a bachelor party end up stuck in the New York City subway system with two strippers.
The male clichés are all here: the honorable lead; the loyal friend who knows every move is a bad idea; the horn dog; and Breckin Meyers doing what he does best—playing the dick. And the women are classic extremes: the simple-minded slut ho who just wants to have fun and the strong, domineering smart girl.
After the dick pisses the girls off on a subway train in—imagine this—the middle of the night—their train comes to a temporary stop. So, to get away from the dick, the girls force the doors open and leap out into an abandoned subway station, with the boys following. The train continues moving, and they are now stuck because the station is all locked up. Soon, the underground dwellers come out to play. They’re mega hairy dudes (basically a pack of Rob Zombies).
The funny thing about Stag Night is, while we assume these underground dwellers are supposed to be cannibals because that’s what horror clichés have taught us to assume, we never actually see them partaking in any maneating. The most they do is feed body parts to their pen full of dogs. So in essence, we really don’t get any sense of their motivation—other than the fact that they’re out of Alpo.
As in Raw Meat, we get to explore their underground lair, where they keep a mannequin sitting in a chair watching television. These guys really need a woman! But why isn’t the mannequin in the kitchen cooking up human stew while the men watch TV? Other clichés fill their home, including loads of bugs, a noxiously filthy bathroom (men!), and plenty of murderous weapons (Republican men!).
Despite predictable actions by the predictable characters, Stag Night is loaded with plenty of suspenseful chase scenes, tension, violence, and blood. Plus, it doesn’t suffer from problematic CGI or a dependence on torture. It’s good old hack n’ slash. If you’re in the mood for a mindless The Hills Have Eyes 2006 or Wrong Turn type movie, this is the way to go. My personal favorite parts include a train track head smash and the wicked close-up on the tight ass pants of the horn dog. Me-OW.
Speaking of, the usual annoyances abound, beginning with several cheap scares that turn out to be animals—but not cats this time! The underground dwellers will have a character totally trapped (more than once), and suddenly get completely distracted by a noise and head off to check it out instead of finishing the job. A terrified character standing alone calls repeatedly out to another character who went to check things out, and instead of saying “I’m here!”, the missing character appears silently beside the terrified character for a cheap scare. Why does this always happen in horror movies?
I have to give the film credit for having a couple of very unique annoyances as well. After the group realizes they’re stuck at the subway station, one guy suggests they’ll just catch the next train (dude…it’s an abandoned subway station!), and the lead chick says that it’s four in the morning so another won’t be coming for another hour. Clearly the filmmakers don’t live in New York City. No subway for an hour?
And next, and finally, there’s Breckin Meyers. Okay, his character’s a dick. We get it. But after watching the underground dwellers slaughter a cop, running in terror while being pursued by them, entering their hideous lair to see the back of a woman’s head on a chair in front of the television, he reacts with goonish mockery when one of the other guys freaks out at the head falling off the woman (aka: mannequin). REALLY? Is a dick THAT much of a dick in life that even under these circumstances he would still be a DICK?
BTW: Isn’t it amazing how similar all those DVD cases are? You could make a Freudian flip book out of them…