Friday, October 26, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Graveyard Shift (1990)

We're going to Hell... TOGETHER!
Graveyard Shift is the perfect late 1980s/early 1990s horror film. And what I mean by "perfect" is that it is the representation of all that is the horror films from this period of time. From the hair, to the clothes, to the acting, everything here is wonderfully representative of this time in horror... especially the dubbing. Man, I love that dubbing where a character is heard shouting a bloodcurdling scream but is barely opening their mouth. Even the credits get into the action, having lines remixed into the music. It's absolutely wonderful. This movie also has some great lines and much better acting than you might expect from a movie of this... uh... calibre. Yeah, I'm going to use that word here. Directed by Ralph S. Singleton, and starring David Andrews as the drifter Hall, it is a fun ride of a horror movie that has some genuinely creepy moments.

So, the story, based off of a Stephen King short story of the same name from his Night Shift collection, is only somewhat like its original story with a much more upbeat ending than the story at the very least. Well, more upbeat in that somebody actually survives the underground sub-basement of the story. That really doesn't mean the story has an upbeat ending though. It's honestly pretty dark. It's one of those movies people seem to forget about easily. It's fairly similar in premise to many horror movies, but this one is so well executed that I do wish that it was better remembered. With only a 13% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I have to wonder if that website is ever effective in telling whether a movie will be watchable or not. When Black Swan gets 87% and this great horror movie gets 13%... well, that's when I stop listening to Rotten Tomatoes (not that I ever have anyway).

Graveyard Shift starts out with an abandoned textile mill being reopened after somebody dies in the beginning, presumably from the very monster that is so central to the plot. The mill has a ton of water damage in the basement (and eventually sub-basement when the characters get there), and crews are hired to see that it all is cleaned out. The problem besides the water damage though, is that there are a ton of rats all over the basement and the mill itself. And these are no ordinary rats. They are much more than ordinary rats. They seem to have evolved in the basement of the mill to be incredibly intelligent, with at least one of them becoming a "super-rat" that is more like a giant bat creature of EVIL proportions. Throughout the movie characters are killed and eaten off by both rats and the super-rat alike. It creates tension and a great atmosphere for horror. The rat-creature is effectively terrifying, and never quite shown in full. It is like a hairless bat creature, and works to evoke terror in the viewer. It is often shown as moist, with red rivulets of moisture coming off of it at all times, probably indicative of the red water the sub-basement seems to harbor.

The rats used in the film seem to be all real rats, and the effects even besides the rats are actually all quite well done. It makes the movie much better when real things are used rather than some CGI nonsense. The acting is then related to what the actors can actually see and respond to, and it works incredibly well here. The acting is also legitimately well done, with really great performances from Brad Dourif, who plays a creepy rat exterminator, Stephen Macht, who plays the actually evil foreman/manager of the mill, Warwick, and Kelly Wolf, who plays the lead female of the movie, Jane, who is also the love interest of Hall. These three actually all have really good performances for a movie of this type. You don't expect much, and then are surprised by the great performances... at least I was. They have some really great lines too, much better than almost any given "great" movie today. (Okay, I'm a little bitter at the line-up of movies I see in today's market, okay?) Stephen Macht especially shines here as the major human antagonist as well as one of the sleaziest and most interesting characters ever put to film. His voice alone is brilliant and worth watching the film for, but honestly, I just truly enjoyed watching the man act. He definitely knows his craft. I could literally make this an entire review of how awesome Stephen Macht is in this movie, but I'd be digressing all over the place. While he is fun to watch, he is also easily hateable. And it works really well when you want him to die by the end of the film. Brad Dourif is always great, so it's hard for me to say anything else about him. He definitely has one of the best speeches in the film, but is also, sadly, absent from a good portion of the movie. Again, this movie should be seen for the performances alone, but the horror, the sets, and everything else in the movie really work quite well.

The red water under the graveyard and the mill is a nice touch even if it's never explained. I have no idea why it's red, and nobody else seems to either, but it works incredibly well at being different and interesting. The whole aesthetic of the movie is brilliant, basically being set in a crypt-set throughout the movie without the movie ever acknowledging it. It's all in the "basement" and "sub-basement" even though it always seriously looks like some creepy crypt or something. There is a beauty in the set design that is both wonderful and horrifying.

The bone pit that shows up late in the movie is also an oddity. Why are there so many bones? How can there be so many bones? Are they all human? I can't imagine they all are, although in a movie like this you'd better damn well believe they're all human. A movie like this doesn't mess around. It doesn't lightly tip-toe over the fact that a thousand people were murdered by the rats, their flesh eaten away, and their bones left in a pit in the ground. I suppose the bones could be from the graveyard too... the graveyard that sits in water inexplicably above the subterranean cave of rats and super-bat-rat. It doesn't matter that none of it makes any sense. It just matters that it looks fantastic and does work.

There are some random slowdowns throughout the movie, often highlighting ACTION SHOTS. It's a very 1990s thing to do, but is also a nice touch. I can't say that I didn't enjoy almost every ACTION SHOT even if they did feel slightly out of place. Ralph S. Singleton does a great job directing, even if this was his only movie direction. I feel like this man should be directing everything and was sad to find out he's directed almost nothing at all. He makes this movie feel like a John Carpenter movie. In the Mouth of Madness and Prince of Darkness have very similar feels to them, and They Live! has so many similarities (in some ways) that I actually have a hard time believing that Singleton didn't borrow a bit from Carpenter. And this is me praising the direction of the movie. I think Singleton did a great job making this movie feel great. I can't complain about a job well done.

The music is very good as well, definitely putting me in the mood for horror. It does a wonderful job at playing the tension up as well as exciting the movie-watcher for any particular scene. And, you know something? The scenes often work. The set-up is all very good, and the pay-off at the end is satisfying even if it is depressing. And the end of the film is incredibly gory even if it is a wonderful pay-off, but gory works for a gritty film like this. Gritty makes this film work on more levels than just cheesy 1990s horror. It makes it work as a great horror film as well as a little cheesy in parts. The funny thing is that I found this film much less cheesy and much more terrifying. But I think others might have other opinions on that.

One last thing before I do my best to recommend this film, Warwick is always there. Dude seems to always be skulking in the dark of the room, appearing whenever anybody complains. I have no idea how he does it, but every time you think something bad is going to happen or people are getting riled up, it's either going to be rat-bat-monster eating somebody, or Warwick suddenly there with his smug face on, ready to call out or backhandedly insult somebody. As I said before, this movie is worth watching for Warwick alone. He is literally the worst person on Earth, but I love this character. He's so unapologetic and terrible, and with the amount of screen-time and lines the guy gets he's almost the main character. So, seriously, watch this film for him if nothing else.

Now, I have to recommend this flick. It is a wonderful watch from beginning to end. While it does have some drier parts, it often moves at a good clip, and never overstays its welcome. Clocking at only ninety minutes long, it doesn't drag, and has enough characterization, horror, and good times to go around. It's a forgotten gem, as well as being a great movie for this time of year. It works well as a horror movie, and I just can't help putting my seal of approval on this interesting slice of the 1990s.


  1. I too have learned to not go the ways of Rotten Tomatoes. I use the Blockbuster @Home app on my Hopper weekly to watch movies. Each movie comes with a short synopsis, a Rotten Tomatoes rating, and a viewer’s rating which I find very helpful in deciding whether to watch the movie. I noticed a correlation with me loving movies that have low RT ratings, so I’m sure that Stephen King’s Graveyard Shift is going to be worth of my time. I used to only watch movies that were recommended to me by my coworkers from DISH, but I started to realize that they were only suggesting huge blockbuster hits. I appreciate your review and I like that you can call effects good without them necessarily being in CGI. I’ll definitely watch this one through my Hopper tonight; thanks again!

    1. Here's a belated "You're welcome!" I love seeing people interested in the films that I enjoy, and I hope you enjoyed the flick as well!

      I know that some of my likes are not exactly popular, and that most critics scoff at what I enjoy, but I really find a great enjoyment at recommending some forgotten or lost gems. There are a ton of movies out there, and most of the ones that people watch are the "popular" ones or the ones that have amazing rating attached to them.

      I'd rather watch and review movies that most people haven't heard of and recommend them from that angle. Everybody has heard of Cujo and The Shining and even Misery and Pet Sematary , but how many have honestly heard of Graveyard Shift? Certainly nowhere near as many. I get a kick out of people thinking that my recommendations are somehow worth something, and I really hope I've recommended some lost wonderful movies over the nearly three years of this blog.