THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!
Graveyard Shift (1990)
Directed by Ralph S. Singleton
“GRAVEYARD SHIFT is a mean, darkly funny and f*cked up film that seems to have a good time killing off characters and letting the rats run free.”
In the book world, Stephen King remains an untouchable force, with a new best seller every other weekend. In the movie world, well, his reputation isn’t as strong. For every MISERY, there’s a THE MANGLER that’s quickly forgotten. Now I haven’t seen his latest adaptation CELL, but judging from the trailer (and our review), it looks like it could end up lumped into with his “lesser” flicks, the garbage pile. But that doesn’t mean some of the other movies that live there actually suck.
One such movie is the water soaked thriller GRAVEYARD SHIFT, which has been mistakenly placed into the garbage bin for way too long. While it obviously barely enters the spectrum for art cinema, it’s a damn entertaining movie that doesn’t give a shit; it knows exactly what it is. This is horror entertainment. GRAVEYARD SHIFT is a mean, darkly funny and f*cked up film that seems to have a good time killing off characters and letting the rats run free. (BTW, don’t make my mistake of viewing the movie while enjoying a healthy Mexican meal. Watching a movie that stars legions of filthy rats = not a smart move.)
In case you missed this King adaptation (one of four King movies released in a two year span…his 19th in 14 years!), GRAVEYARD SHIFT revolves around an old textile mill that has two severe problems: 1) lots and lots of rats 2) lots and lots of mysterious employee deaths during the graveyard shift. Foreman Warwick (Stephen Macht) is a heartless asshole who just keeps sticking up a “Now Hiring” sign and avoids the problem until an inspector threatens to shut the place down. Enter drifter John Hall (David Andrews), a man just looking to make a buck and takes on the graveyard shift. Warwick decides that during a holiday break that he will recruit six non-union workers to rid the mill of the rats in exchange for cash money. Unfortunately, they soon find themselves beneath the building, where something much worse than rats waits. Oh, and Brad Dourif shows up as an exterminator who specializes in chewing scenery. He’s kind of wasted.
What’s great about GRAVEYARD SHIFT is the silliness of everything yet the grim gore that’s continuously there. When someone isn’t getting pulled into a massive cotton picker/grinder, then something else bad happens (like being eaten by one big ass rat). Another element that really stands out comes from the production design. The sets look fantastic, which makes sense considering GRAVEYARD SHIFT was filmed at the oldest cotton mill in the US located in…Maine.
The deeper the characters venture beneath the surface, the creepier things get with a great mix of quality sets and matte paintings that make the scenes really pop, It creates a unique, authentic environment that looks as uncomfortable and unpleasant as any set ever created (minus those massive, soft looking bags of cotton). At the same time, with a budget reportedly of $10 million, first time director (and outside of TV…last time feature director) Ralph S. Singleton smartly went the JAWS / ALIEN route and never revealed the monster until the third act. That approach works dandy here as viewers have no idea what the creature might be (I suspected a seven-foot rat with a bad attitude).
Something like GRAVEYARD SHIFT wasn’t made in order to change the world, to make a deep social statement, or to examine human nature (well, yeah it does explore the theme of corrupt companies taking advantage of poor workers…but come on). Nope. This remains a straight up old school horror movie. It doesn’t bother with heavy plot or characters thicker than a stack of post-it notes.