October Horrorshow: Graveyard Shift

Here are a few indications that the movie a person is about to watch isn’t any good. One, I reviewed it (heyooooo!!). Two, the Wikipedia page for the movie barely breaks 300 words. Three, there is one item in the trivia section of the movie’s IMDb page. Four, I didn’t bother to use anything other than Wikipedia and IMDb when I researched said movie.

Graveyard Shift, from 1990, is adapted from the Stephen King story of the same name. Directed by Ralph S. Singleton, It tells the story of John Hall (David Andrews), a drifter who makes his way up the east coast, finally wandering into a sleepy one-horse Maine town. The town’s only features seem to be a poorly tended graveyard, a shitty diner, an outsized collection of asshole residents, and the most run-down, creepy-looking textile mill I’ve ever seen.

Hall needs some dough so he gets a job at the mill. Meanwhile, the mill is being overrun by rats. They, along with an unseen super rat the audience is introduced to in shadow form in the opening scene, have already killed one employee. Hall gets that guy’s old job. Run for the hills, Hall!

The mill is run by a man named Warwick (Stephen Macht). He’s a corrupt bully who seems to have been hired for his ability to intimidate every single person in the town. There isn’t a moment in the entire flick when this guy isn’t being either slimy or overly aggressive. Graveyard ShiftAnd his accent! I don’t know a real backwoods Yankee accent from a hole in the ground, but combined with his epic sneer and the sense he could snap at any moment, Warwick feels like every masochistic whip cracker stereotype rolled into one. In so many other films Warwick would be fantastically stupid. In this dog, he’s pure entertainment.

When he isn’t terrorizing his employees, Warwick does have a mill to run, and that mill has a problem. The rats are everywhere. Warwick already hired an exterminator (Brad Dourif), to take care of the problem, but all it seems to have done is piss the rats off. Dourif gives a performance that has to be seen to be believed. His monologue about Vietcong rats is just fucking precious. I want to take it home and feed it, and see if I can grow it into a full shitty movie.

Because of the rats and decades of neglect, the mill just failed a health and safety inspection, and only a bribe kept the doors from being padlocked. Warwick has to have the world’s worst basement cleaned out by the end of the July 4th weekend, or the mill will be shuttered. Warwick assembles a team (exploits a few workers, is more accurate), and sends them downstairs to do the deed. Hall is there, as are the town’s resident jerks, Brogan and Danson (Vic Polizos and Andrew Divoff), some guy named Carmichael (Jimmy Woodward), whose only job in the film is to be black and take needless abuse, and Jane (Kelly Wolf), Hall’s trailer trash love interest, who chain smokes Marlboro Reds, thinks Wheeling, West Virginia is “niiiiice,” was married and divorced as a teenager, and who is on Warwick’s wish list as an office couch conquest. Run for the hills, Hall!

I’m not going to give away any more. Just know that once these misfits are down in the basement, the movie begins to pick up speed as super rat makes its presence known.

This movie stinks, but I’ve always kind of dug it. Not because of the acting or the story, but because of the setting. The mill is a nasty little locale, and it has a fair amount of secrets down there in the basement. Forgotten trap doors, abandoned tunnels and rusty machinery — it’s all very urbex, and I love that shit. Comes from growing up in a city that had no less than four gigantic abandoned rubber factories, I guess.

Singleton managed to create an effective setting for his film, but it doesn’t make up for the rest of the movie. It’s a 50s monster flick, updated to the early 90s, and just as inept and not scary. Still, I’d watch Graveyard Shift again before Alien: Resurrection.

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