Graveyard Shift (1990)


“We’re going to Hell together!”

Main cast: David Andrews, Kelly Wolf

Director: Ralph S. Singleton

As a long-time factory worker, I appreciate the subtext of a movie like 1990’s GRAVEYARD SHIFT, adapted from Stephen King’s short story of the same name and published in his NIGHT SHIFT collection.  I can appreciate the us vs. them theme as Warwick, the foreman of Bachman Mills, is the great evil in the lives of his union workers, especially when the health department comes calling and Warwick has to buy a little extra time to get the basement cleaned up and workable.  He enlists the time of half a dozen of his least favorite workers to do the job, and while the promise of double pay is a good hook, the place is infested with rats and more than a few workers have come up missing recently.

I think writer John Esposito (The Walking Dead) and director Ralph S. Singleton (Cagney and Lacey) did an admirable job showing the real brunt of that us vs. them work mentality, labor vs. management and how most workers in those situations feel put upon by the tie-clad overlords.

However, as an even longer-time movie fan, this one is crap.

Made on a budget of $10 million, and sporting only a couple of barely-recognizable faces (Stephen Macht–Warwick the foreman–is a “that guy” actor from way back) and Brad Dourif as “The Exterminator”, GRAVEYARD SHIFT has the look and feel of a movie that cost a quarter of that.

The acting is weak and while Singleton managed that oppressive feel of factory life okay, he also managed to direct his actors right into more of the worst action clichés than I can name in one review.

A few examples, however, would be the drifter hero who doesn’t lose his cool, and will stand up for the underdog when necessary.  He’s got a smoldering look all the ladies want trained on them, and he’s a whiz with a slingshot and an empty Diet Pepsi can, winging rats left and right.

The foreman is a tough as nails no nonsense company man who likes to drink booze and sleep with his female workforce–and if they get out of line or refuse his advances, it’s to the graveyard shift cleanup crew with them!

There are the requisite townies who’ve been in the mill probably since high school graduation, they hang out at the local bar, hassle the new guy the moment he walks in the door, and when one of them is given a fire hose during cleanup duty, he fires the thing and screams like he’s in the jungle in the middle of a firefight.  Sit down, idiot, you make us all look bad.

GRAVEYARD SHIFT has long been one of my favorite King stories, one of the first true monster stories I remember reading that stuck with me long afterward, and I remember being on the fence when the movie came out.  On the one hand, it is a great horror story with great potential for serious scares.  On the other hand, it’s a really short story, so any attempt to make it a movie is going to require adding a lot of extra story elements that weren’t originally there, with no guarantee those extra elements aren’t going to make for a really bad story.  As it happens, those extra elements don’t make for a BAD story, they just make for a lame one.

David Andrews (WORLD WAR Z) may be a good character actor, but he’s no leading man, and he’s certainly no mysterious drifter with a haunted past type.  Kelly Wolf (LESS THAN ZERO) had a 50/50 tomboy/waifish thing going on, but as a romantic leading lady this was a case of wrong part, wrong movie.

Macht did an admirable job of being despicable, but there came a point in act three when over the top took on a whole new meaning.  And as for his accent, pick a region and stick with it.

The monster effects were impressive enough, but could have been even moreso had we gotten to see the beast all at once.  As for the matte effects toward the end, they looked like matte effects, and that’s bad enough.

This movie is definitely not for the squeamish, though, especially if it’s rats and mice that are your main bugaboos.  I friggin’ hate rats and mice and it was difficult to watch this one in the dark.

The reality is, GRAVEYARD SHIFT was nothing more than a cheap and fast attempt to knock off one more King movie and hopefully let Hollywood make a few more bucks off the famous name, even if no one involved was up to this particular challenge.  In the annals of King on Film, GRAVEYARD SHIFT is one of those forgotten ones people don’t talk about, and with good reason.

King on Film

Carrie (1976)

‘Salem’s Lot (1979)

The Shining (1980)

Creepshow (1982)

The Boogeyman (1982)

Cujo (1983)

Disciples of the Crow (1983)

The Woman in the Room (1983)

The Dead Zone (1983)

Christine (1983)

Children of the Corn (1984)

Firestarter (1984)

Word Processor of the Gods (1984)

Cat’s Eye (1985)

Silver Bullet (1985)

Srazhenie (1986)

Gramma (1986)

Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Stand By Me(1986)

The Lawnmower Man (1987)

Creepshow 2 (1987)

A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987)

The Running Man (1987)

Sorry, Right Number (1987)

Pet Sematary (1989)

The Cat From Hell

The Dark Half (1993)

The Tommyknockers (1993)

Needful Things (1993)

The Stand (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

The Mangler (1995)

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

The Langoliers (1995)

Sometimes They Comes Back … Again (1996)

Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (1996)

Thinner (1996)

The Shining (1997)

Ghosts (1997)

Chattery Teeth (1997)

The Revelations of ‘Becka Paulson (1997)

Trucks (1997)

The Night Flier (1997)

Chinga (1997)

Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (1998)

Gerald’s Game (2017)

1922 (2017)

The Stand (2021)

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