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By James Whittington, Sunday 8th March 2009
Clive Barker is a legend in the world of horror entertainment. But did you know that one of his earliest works has been adapted and recently arrived on DVD? 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 Barker's acclaimed short story, The 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.
ZH: 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?
CB: 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…
ZH: Hence the germ of the story.
CB: 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 f*** 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.
ZH: I imagine the passage of time made it easier to make changes when it came time to making the film?
CB: 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.
ZH: You chose not to direct this new The Midnight Meat Train. Why?
CB: I chose not to direct at all for a while. Until I finish all five Abarat books. 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.
ZH: As a producer, what was the biggest challenge in making The Midnight Meat Train?
CB: 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.
ZH: When in fact it was…
CB: Three carriages, you know. A build. A beautiful, beautiful, build.
ZH: How did the casting of Vinnie Jones come about?
CB: 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.
ZH: Was there anything that surprised you about the experience?
CB: 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…
ZH: What are your expectations for the film… your hopes?
CB: 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’.
ZH: What’s next for you?
CB: 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!
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