Release Date: October 26, 1990
Director: Ralph S. Singleton
Writers: Stephen King (Short Story) John Esposito (Screenplay)
Starring: David Andrews, Kelly Wolf, Stephen Macht, Vic Polizos, Andrew Divoff, Brad Dourif
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
I can’t think of another author who has had more of his stories turned into feature-length films and television programs than Stephen King. For over forty years King has terrified us with his novels about haunted cars, a pissed off teenager and an alien who appears in the form of a clown. When King’s novel ‘Carrie’ was adapted into a feature length film and released in 1976 it became a huge hit. Studios were buying up the movie rights to all of his stories. It’s safe to say a lot of King Adaptations are either hits or misses. You have some that have stood the test of time and you have some that have faded into obscurity. In 1990 audiences were treated with a TV miniseries of his most infamous novel ‘It’ and were treated with a typical Halloween released monster movie ‘Graveyard Shift’. Both of these movies have not stood the test of time (for many reasons), but they are cult movies. This review will focus on the latter.
The film ‘Graveyard Shift’ is about a local textile mill that is run down and infested with rats. The manager of the mill, a man named Warwick (Played by Stephen Macht) has bribed and greased every local inspector from shutting the mill down. The town of Castle Rock is dependent on the mill since the majority of the townspeople work there and it is the economic lifeblood of the town. Slowly, the workers inside the mill disappear one by one. No one seems to have a clue why they’re gone. A drifter named John Hall (Played by David Andrews) arrives in town looking for a job at the mill. After having a short interview with the sleazy and creepy Warwick, he is hired on the spot to work the Picker during the graveyard shift hours from 11PM-7AM. Hall is bullied by several of the workers, but strikes up a friendship with Wisconsky (played by Kelly Wolf, even though throughout the movie no one mentions her by first name nor her last name). Warwick recruits several workers including Hall and Wisconsky to clean up the basement of the mill during the fourth of July holiday. As they are removing debris and spraying out the rats, Hall comes across a trap door which he believes could be the source of the rat infestation. They open it to reveal a labyrinth of caverns and old machinery. Once down there all hell breaks loose as each of the workers are picked apart by a strange bat/rat creature. It’s up to the survivors to find a way out and avoid the creature at all costs.
‘Graveyard Shift’ is based off the short story of the same name by King which appeared in the book ‘Night Shift’ which is a collection of short stories by King during that period of time. The stories in the book are indeed short. The “Graveyard Shift” story is about thirty pages long. Now you’re probably asking yourself this question, “How could anyone make a movie about a story that is only thirty pages long?” Well, they did. The core of the story takes place in the middle of the film where they find the trap door and the story ends with the encounter of the creature. Everything else in the film was created by the writers. The names of the characters remain the same in the movie as they were in the film with the exception of the additional character that was in the movie, which was the exterminator.
I first saw this movie on my local television channel back in the mid-90s. It came on right at noon on Saturdays during the Halloween season. I thought it was a good horror movie at the time given the fact that it was a Stephen King story. I didn’t read the actual story until a few years ago. The story is what it is. The characters of Hall and Warwick are described just as they appear in the movie. The ending of the story leaves much to the desire as it ends on a cliffhanger. However, I think it’s one of those stories that King intended the reader to come up with their own interpretation of what happens in the end.
The movie is nothing special. It’s a practical monster movie with as much blood and gore as you would find in any horror movie during that time period. It has a ton of the slow buildup moments before something bad happens to a character. I’m impressed with how the rats were able to line up like birds on a wire and observe the workers. My guess is they had a rat tamer? (I don’t even know if there is such a thing!) Other times I thought the rats were either mechanical or plastic, but it wouldn’t make sense and you would be able to point out quickly if they weren’t real. The main creature in the story is a giant albino bat with a long phallic shaped rat tail and a face that looks like a Pitbull. You only see parts of the creature throughout the film until the full reveal. The filmmakers were using the old trick of not revealing the monster. Some scenes contain the slow buildup until the monster appears and kills its prey, but the majority of the film I found pretty fast paced. I noticed a few goofs in the movie that the filmmakers did not pick up on. The one that stuck out to me is when Nordello the secretary is smashing up Warwick’s car in protest over her name being on the basement cleanup crew. She is complaining verbally, but you don’t see her mouth moving (an obvious sign that she said lines in ADR that she didn’t say in the shooting or the wrong footage was used). She does it again in a night shot where she is walking in the office of the mill and she is speaking, but you don’t see her mouth moving.
I think the writers of the film did a decent attempt in telling a story with little source material to work with. Hall and Warwick are the two characters that the film focuses on which coincides with the short story. They fleshed out Hall’s story a little more. In the story, he is only referred to as a college boy by Warwick (He still refers to him in that manner in the film). In the film, he is a college boy drifter who came to Maine from Florida looking for a “fresh start.” His first introduction with Warwick is brief. While Warwick has some reservations about hiring Hall because he gets no guarantees with “drifters” while Hall quips back, “You get no guarantee from any man. It’s his instinct,” Warwick hires him for the job as a picker. That instinct sets the tone of the relationship the two characters will have throughout the film as Warwick keeps as strong eye on Hall.
Speaking of Warwick, he is the foreman of Bachman’s Mill (named after King’s pseudonym) who is as evil, perverted and corrupted as one could be. He has been able to avoid shutdown of the mill due to extreme safety hazards and an infestation of rats by bribing the local inspector. In the film he is having an affair with a secretary while trying to give Wisconsky a promotion. All she has to do to get the promotion is to “perform” for him on the couch in his office. Wisconsky is a strong woman who has spurned his advances and fights back not caring about what could happen to her. She mentions to Hall that she tried to file a sexual harassment complaint but was ignored by the union (more than likely due to Warwick having the union in his back pocket). He is suspicious of everyone that it eventually leads him to paranoia and insanity as he is driven to madness after the crew is stuck in the caverns during their venture down to find the source of the rat infestation.
The acting in the movie is pretty straight-laced with the exception of the two most over the top performances which are Warwick and the exterminator. Stephen Macht, who plays Warwick in the film looks and sounds like he is from Eastern Europe. It’s supposed to be a New England accent, but that has been a problem with actors in Stephen King movies. No one can seem to get a New England accent down to a science. Only snafu I have with the performance is how quickly Warwick is driven to madness when the crew is trapped in the caves looking for a way back up. The strength of Macht’s performance comes from his eyes. He always has a sinister look on him and the camera does a good job focusing on his eyes especially during a confrontational scene with the exterminator.
Speaking of the exterminator, this is a bizarre character that is not depicted in the original story. He was created specifically for the film to show an attempt by Warwick to get the infestation problem under control. The exterminator is played by none other than Brad Dourif (who is one of my all-time favorite character actors). For those who are not familiar with Brad Dourif, he is best known as the voice of Chucky in the Child’s Play franchise. He’s been in everything from Oscar-winning films to straight to television junk. He is someone I believe loves his craft and is up for any role as long as he feels he can make something out of it. He sure makes a character out of the exterminator. The exterminator, named Tucker Cleveland has been working around the clock to kill the rats in the mill and to put an end to the infestation. He tries everything in his arsenal to kill them from using poison, to pumping them into a river, to using his dog and even attempting to shoot them. He looks like a mix between a ghost-buster and a paratrooper with his outfit and his backpack that is filled with rat poison. Despite not understanding what Dourif was saying when talking to Hall, he made up for it by having some memorable lines throughout the film.
As far as themes this movie offers the one that sticks out to me is economics and how it impacts a small town. As I’ve stated earlier in the review, the reason Warwick is doing everything in his power to keep the mill open is because the town of Castle Rock is dependent on the mill being open as it is where the majority of the townspeople work. It’s nice to see Warwick caring about the town and its people despite his own self-interests and the fact that he represents the fat cat who would walk away unscathed if the mill did in fact shut down. In the United States during this time period you were reading stories of car plants and other factories shutting down and moving to other countries which had an impact on the cities they were in. These once thriving cities became a depressed wasteland with no hope of recovery. With the theme of economics, you also have the theme of working conditions and worker treatment at a job. Obviously the working conditions in the mill are beyond poor and have numerous violations from the rat problem to the broken down infrastructure. The mill workers are working overnight hours in sweltering heat with no relief and you have the women workers who are being sexually harassed by Warwick. When Hall is hired to work at the mill, he is only given minimum wage to start. It’s a reflection on what is happening in middle class America during this time. (NAFTA and CAFTA did not come into effect until a few years into the 90s). You have wages going down and little to no investment in infrastructure. It creates a ripple effect where if a factory is going under, the people are going under and the town is going under. Those who escape are the ones in power, which in this case would be Warwick and Bachman (the owner of the mill who is not seen).
Overall this is not one of the better Stephen King adaptations, but it’s a movie that is good enough for you to watch during the Halloween season. If I had a month-long Stephen King movie marathon where I played thirty-one movies in thirty one days, this movie would be included in that marathon. This movie would appeal to the monster movie fan, but if you’re not into horror or care for something more in depth, then this movie isn’t for you. Oh and make sure you don’t turn it off at the End Credits. You get a nice little rap beat with lines from the movie being played over and over until the credits are done.
- Tom Savini was attached to direct the film, but pulled out due to lack of studio interest.
- The name of the mill is “Bachman Mills”. “Bachman” is Stephen King’s pseudonym “Richard Bachman” that he has used for several of his stories.
- Co-Star Andrew Divoff met his wife Raissa Danilova on this film. Danilova played an extra as a mill worker. They married two years after this film was completed.