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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 15%
Average: 10%
Pretty Bad: 30%
Total Crap45%

2 reviews, 8 user ratings

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Graveyard Shift (1990)
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by Jack Sommersby

"Hit-and-Miss Stephen King Adaptation"
2 stars

Well, if you haven't heard of this non-box-office-performing effort from Paramount Pictures, don't feel you've been missing out on anything particularly significant.

It's quite a shame that Graveyard Shift, an adaptation of a Stephen King short story, ultimately dwindles down to an overblown humans-versus-giant-rat tale, because for the first half of its eighty-eight-minute running time it's fairly entertaining stuff. A fine unknown actor by the name of David Andrews plays John Hall, recently arrived in a rural Maine town and gone to work the late shift at the local textile mill; Hall's a college graduate but a habitual drifter, and even though the job pays only minimum wage he takes it because he's low on cash and contemplating if perhaps this new place might hold some semblances of a future. Of course, we in the audience know there's something askew going on: in the pre-credits sequence, we witness an employee working in the basement chock-full of rats, in the position that Hall will be taking over, meet a gruesome demise at the claws of a huge rodent-like, sparsely-shown creature. In a running joke, every morning the secretary hangs a Help Wanted sign out for someone to replace a disappeared worker; with dire employment prospects in the community, with no air conditioning and humid one-hundred-degree temperatures inside, there are always takers, but because they're new-hires bereft of union protection, they're susceptible to unreported abuse. And it's here that Graveyard Shift confidently finds its stride, which is surprising in a horror movie where its horror elements are its least admirable qualities. The small-town milieu of the community is wonderfully etched, with the crummy diner, dilapidated trailer park, nondescript rooming house given considerable texture; and the mill seems like a genuine workplace, with the underpaid help sweating bullets in oppressive conditions. The producer/director, Ralph S. Singleton, may not have the most valid film sense in his inability to give horror the graphic vitality that it needs, but he gives the proceedings plenty of visual vitality -- working with the gifted cinematographer Peter Stein, we get a sophisticated-looking production where every frame positively permeates with enveloping atmosphere, though not with enough suggestive eeriness as we'd like. And because the "feel" to it is so real, it helps carry us over some of the gaps in the screenplay when it temporarily veers into unsuccessful horror territory. (It's rare when we wish for something based on a Stephen King work to stay away from what its author is known for, but when the characters and locales are so persuasive, we're willing to grant some leniency.)

Like a born director Singleton knows what to look at and how to look at it (not to mention how long to look at it), and even if the totality of his talent isn't anything extraordinary, it's assured and distinctive. Making his feature-film debut after just two episodes of the Cagney & Lacey television series four years prior, he shapes the scenes adequately with a fair amount of technical prowess; in fact, the set-up is so persuasively rendered we keep hoping it's not going to degenerate into something trite like that opening sequence suggests. There's Andrews' solid lead performance helping matters, as well. Andrews, from a television background himself, is handsome and projects both thought and intelligence with effortlessness; never pushing things like many actors would because they're the "star," he's an appealing, identifiable Everyman whose every sentence, every gesture rings true. And even as the mill's martinet of a boss, Stephen Macht stays in admirable control of his duplicitous character without veering into hamminess. (The same, however, can't be said for Brad Dourif, who overacts grotesquely as an eccentric exterminator minus the controlled panache John Goodman brought to a similar character the same year in Arachnophobia.) But, as aforementioned, the story takes a nosedive into hoary cliches for the sole sake of satisfying supposed genre requirements. Eventually Hall and some of his coworkers discover a concealed trapdoor in the basement, which leads to dark, musty caverns of even more rats this side of 1971's Willard and their huge mutated leader that proceeds to pick off the workers one by one. Granted, the creature has something of an organic clarity with its lethally-sharp claws and disgustingly-oozing body, but because the full-blown arrival of it is so poorly worked up to and perfunctory not a speck of primal terror is elicited. The deft editing during these episodes is deft enough so they're not unnecessarily prolonged, yet we can't help being remind how well the non-action episodes have prepared us for something other than standardized monster moments that you can practically see the moviemakers checking off a master list. Yes, the final doing-in of the monster involving a piece of machinery, a slingshot and a Diet Pepsi can is nifty, and by and large there are more scenes that work in Graveyard Shift than expected, but it's still a self-destructing piece of work that ultimately cops out with laziness and a dire lack of imagination and oomph.

For a better killer-rat movie, try George P. Cosmatos's witty and suspenseful "Of Unknown Origin."

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originally posted: 08/24/12 01:36:16
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User Comments

1/08/07 action movie fan rat-bat alien in a textile mill-good f/x but story needed more 3 stars
4/07/05 Joe Not bad, this movie could of been better but oh well 4 stars
2/12/04 bill and phil does not matter not too bad worth viewing at least once for horror fans 4 stars
7/27/03 J Its good. 4 stars
5/11/03 Charles Tatum Just because King wrote it does not mean it should be filmed 1 stars
3/04/02 Andrew Carden Unintentionally Funny Horror Film. Trashy Performances, and Stupid B-Movie Plot. 1 stars
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  02-Sep-1990 (R)
  DVD: 26-Sep-2006



Directed by
  Ralph S. Singleton

Written by
  John Esposito

  David Andrews
  Kelly Wolf
  Stephen Macht
  Andrew Divoff
  Vic Polizos
  Brad Dourif

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