Graveyard Shift: A Minimum Wage 90’s Horror Movie

If Stephen King writes it, Hollywood will inevitably adapt it. Even some of King’s thinner works (no pun intended) have received the big-screen treatment. With so much output, it’s not really all that surprising that you get the occasional dud. Among these duds, Graveyard Shift remains one of the more forgotten King adaptations. The 1990 movie came and went from theatres without making much of a dent. Based on a short story, King included Graveyard Shift in his Night Shift collection. This is the same short story collection that gave us Children of the Corn, The Lawnmower Man, and Maximum Overdrive. Depending on your movie tastes, this is either a good or bad track record. Nearly 30 years later, has The Graveyard Shift aged well or does it still belong at the bottom of the dollar store bin?

Synopsis

Drifter John Hall arrives in a small Maine town and finds work in a run-down textile mill. Falling apart and overrun by rats, the mill’s cruel foreman, Warwick, assembles a clean-up crew for the ‘graveyard shift’. But as the workers, including Hall, make their way through the mill’s basement, they learn it’s overrun by something other than rats. Somewhere deep below the mill, an unseen monstrous creature is waiting for the graveyard shift.

Graveyard Shift A B-Movie That Doesn’t Know It’s a B-Movie

If you’re looking for horror with potent social commentary or moral complexity, Graveyard Shift isn’t that movie. This is horror movie about a giant mutated mix of a rat and bat. It’s a premise that wouldn’t have been out of place in the 1950’s. If the movie had opted to place its tongue firmly in cheek, we might have had a fun romp on our hands. Unfortunately, director Ralph S Singleton doesn’t seem to know what kind of movie he wants to make. As a result, Graveyard Shift is a tonally inconsistent movie.

A casket crushing poor Brad Dourif is far more interesting than most of the conversations between the movie’s characters.

Most of the time, it’s a goofy mix of over (and under) acting and cheap gore. Yet at other times, Graveyard Shift drags its feet with ill-conceived ambitions of being something more. There isn’t enough substance to the story to justify some scenes. Don’t expect Willard or even Of Unknown Origin – there’s no human character here compelling enough to slow things down. A casket crushing poor Brad Dourif is far more interesting than most of the conversations between the movie’s characters.

Graveyard Shift Surprises With Some Decent Monster Effects

Despite all of its faults, Graveyard Shift gets one thing right – the creature effects. Singleton plays it smart for most of the movie, keeping his mutated rat in the shadows. Even while Graveyard Shift is never a scary movie, Singleton shows enough of the monster to keep your interest. And the movie’s mutated rat impresses. The first time the monster wraps its wing around a victim it’s a truly impressive moment that belongs in a much better movie. One might expect to be disappointed with the movie’s big monster reveal. Obviously, Graveyard Shift is a modestly-budgeted 1990 movie – this isn’t an Alien movie. But the full mutant rat isn’t half bad. Maybe if Singleton had truly embraced the premise’s B-movie monster roots, things would have turned out a little better.

Dull Performances, Not Enough Brad Dourif

Any horror movie with Brad Dourif (Child’s Play, The Exorcist III) should be a lot more interesting. Unfortunately, Dourif’s ‘exterminator’ is only a supporting character whose screen time is criminally brief. Not surprisingly, however, Dourif still manages to deliver in a few scenes. Veteran character actor Stephen Macht admirably chews the scenery as the tyrannical plant owner, Warwick. Aside from the movie’s monstrous rat, Macht is the only major character who really occupies the screen. Future Wishmaster villain, Andrew Divoff also makes for a fun, sleazy supporting character.

…Andrews makes for a dull and completely uninteresting hero.

But Graveyared Shift badly miscasts David Andrews as the movie’s protagonist, drifter John Hall. In what can really only be labeled a wooden performance, Andrews makes for a dull and completely uninteresting hero. Love interest Kelly Wolf doesn’t fare much better. Neither actor demonstrates much charisma and there’s no chemistry between the characters. At least the rest of the cast rightly pegs Graveyard Shift for a B-movie and act accordingly.

Graveyard Shift Another Forgettable 90’s Horror Outing

Though several classic horror movies emerged in the 90’s, it wasn’t the genre’s best decade. Graveyard Shift joins a long list of average, forgettable 90’s horror movies. Too hackneyed to be serious, but not outrageous enough to be cult, Graveyard Shift is a watchable, below-average King adaptation. If we’re being perfectly honest, King’s original short story wasn’t exactly a goldmine for a great movie. But if Graveyard Shift had embraced the silliness of its premise and gone all-in with the gore, it might have made more of a lasting impression.

THE FINAL VERDICT: JUST A BAD MOVIE

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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