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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Day 229: Graveyard Shift

Graveyard Shift
Sure he's missing his eye and skin, but he still has his smile

Stephen King is a household name. While the mainstream audience knows him from his work on The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and Stand By Me, we horror fans love him for his work on such classics as Children Of The Corn, Cujo, The Stand, and The Shining. King is able to create horror movies in believable setting and weave tales that are both compelling and horrifying. His stories are full of suspense yet we cannot look away. Being a superstar writer whose movies have also become big hits, I find it strange when I come across a movie based on his work that I've never heard of before. What could possibly be the reason?

Graveyard Shift is a 1990 horror movie based on the short story of the same name by Stephen King. The movie stars David Andrews (Fight Club, Apollo 13) as John Hall, a drifter who has just arrived in a small town in Maine. He goes to the local textile mill and is able to procure a job from the manager, Mr. Warwick (Stephen Macht, General Hospital, The Monster Squad), a sadistic man that enjoys verbally abusing and punishing his workers. John works the graveyard shift, 11 pm to 7am, pulling cotton from a separating machine. The mill is infested with rats and John tries to scare them off by throwing empty soda cans at them with a slingshot. Warwick employs Tucker Cleveland (Brad Dourif, Deadwood, The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers), a disturbed Vietnam veteran, as the mill's exterminator, but he is unable to keep the population under control. The mill should be closed down due to the infestation and potential fire hazards, but Warwick is able to bribe inspectors and keep it open. Workers sent down to clean up the basement start to disappear. When the exterminator goes into the graveyard next to the mill to kill rats, something pulls him down into the ground. Warwick send Hall and several other workers to clean up the basement. They discover a subterranean maze beneath the mill that leads into the adjacent graveyard. They also realize that they are not alone. Something is done their with them, picking them off one by one and eating them. Hall, an unraveling Warwick, and the rest try to flee onto to come across a mound of bones, belonging to missing workers and the graveyard. What is this horrible monster and how will they survive?

"Oh yeah, you're going to need that tooth removed."

Well, there's a good reason why I've never heard of this Stephen King movie: it's just not good. Graveyard Shift is a simple monster movie that takes way to long to get to the point, forcing the audience to sit through a whole lot of nothing. There are a few hints at the monster living beneath the mill, barely enough to keep things interesting. Despite John Hall being the main character of the movie, more time is spent on Mr. Warwick. He's the most developed and entertaining character in the movie, so I understand why, but then why bother with focusing on the background of Hall when it really doesn't matter. There's no need to make him a drifter if it really makes no difference. He could have just as easily been a regular worker. They tried to make him interesting and set him up as a hero, but it feels too hollow, mostly due to the story being stretched out. As a short story, I can see the appeal of Graveyard Shift, but as a full-length movie it doesn't work. The plot is very basic and when you stretch it out over and hour and a half, you realize how thin it really is.

The movie tries to make up for the lack of entertainment by cramming in a lot of excitement and violence in the last twenty minutes or so. When it finally becomes a horror movie, Graveyard Shift becomes far more watchable and fun to watch. The sets used for the underground tunnels look adequately creepy and the dark atmosphere plays nicely with the violence. The monster looks pretty good when it was finally revealed as some kind of giant, mutated bat. Making the monster a bat does beg the question of why were rats a big focus for most of the movie. Shouldn't the big monster be a rat? The inclusion of rats made me hope that the movie would be similar to H.P. Lovecraft's “The Rats In The Walls,” one of my favorite Lovecraft stories. While the stories are separate, the scene where Hall is climbing a huge pile of human bones in an underground labyrinth is straight out of “The Rats In The Walls” and was very cool to see. One thing that wasn't a problem in the movie was the acting. Everyone plays their part well with Stephen Macht and Brad Dourif putting in the best performances. 

"Have I ever told you about the time I was a doctor in the Old West?"

Graveyard Shift is a good short story, but as a full-length movie, it just doesn't work. Some short stories have enough going on with them that they can be stretched out and easily fill an hour and a half of screen time. The acting is good, so that's not the problem. Unfortunately, Graveyard Shift is unable to do this, leading to boring scenes and weak character development. Nothing of real importance happens until the last twenty minutes or so, which is a shame, because they are a pretty entertaining twenty minutes. They have action, suspense, scares, lots of blood, and even a fight between Hall and Warwick in which they hit each other with skeletons and bones. It's just not enough to make for a better movie.


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