Graveyard Shift (1990)

"Graveyard Shift", the short story from the collection of the same name, has long been one of my favorite Stephen King stories.  It is almost a cosmic horror story in the style of Lovecraft, building up until the ultimate horror is revealed and the protagonist realizes that the situation is beyond his understanding or control.  It is a well-done bit of claustrophobic horror and I am sure it is a nightmare for those who do not like rats.

The movie version forgets the entire idea of building up the horror and, instead, it is intent on building up a reveal of the practical monster that was created by the effects crew rather than building up any real tension.  Graveyard Shift is one of the King adaptations that was done solely to ride the coattails of Pet Sematary and other recent adaptations and doesn't try to do anything with the material other than set up some creative kills using some excellent practical effects.  Stephen King himself didn't care for it, thinking it was a cheap exploitation film.  He is right, but that doesn't mean it's not still entertaining. 

John Hall (David Andrews) is a drifter that arrives in the community of Gates Falls, Maine.  He applies for work at the Bachman Mill, the cotton factory that is the sole provider of economic stability to the town.  The mill's foreman, Warwick (Stephen Macht), hires him for the graveyard shift to run the picker as the previous operator has met an untimely death.  

The whole building is infested with rats and Warwick, rather than hiring a willing exterminator in Tucker Cleveland (Brad Dourif), decides to have some of his crew come in during the week of July 4 to clean up the basement and get rid of the creatures.  John earns his place by defying Warwick and also pursuing a relationship Jane Wisconsky (Kelly Wolf), a woman Warwick was hoping to manipulate into sleeping with him.  What they find is the basement is more than just an old storage area, as a subbasement leads to the old portion of the mill that was powered by the nearby river.  They also soon realize that something else is down there with them. 

David Andrews is okay, but for a leading man he isn't given much to do other than look pensive now and then.  Per Kelly Wolf there were more scenes that fleshed out the romantic subplot, but by the time the finished film him the theaters they were gone.  She is memorable, as is Stephen Macht with his weird attempt at a Maine accent and Brad Dourif just doing whatever he wants as the exterminator.  The rest of the group is the usual stock King characters, with many of the other workers hostile toward Hall.

While the movie falls a bit flat in the lead category it makes up for it in atmosphere.  Everyone is sweaty and dirty almost all the time and, when the survivors reach the giant bone pile left behind by the rats and the creature responsible for the killings, we get some great shots as well as a wild fight involving human and animal bones.  The ending is a bit abrupt and the closing music - a simple electronic beat with quotes from the movie - belies its cheapness, but the movie tends to hold the viewer's attention throughout even if a good portion of it might slide off and get confused with similar films.

Graveyard Shift (1990)
Time: 86 minutes
Starring: David Andrews, Kelly Wolf, Stephen Macht, Brad Dourif
Director: Ralph S. Singleton 



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