Late to the Party: Graveyard Shift (1990)

Shaun HortonEditor's Picks, Editorials, Movie ReviewsLeave a Comment

We’ve all been there; getting called in to work on our day off, on a holiday, getting stuck with the bad shift. At least we weren’t stuck with a schedule dictated by Stephen King, like his vision of a Graveyard Shift.

Graveyard Shift

The movie Graveyard Shift is based on King’s short story of the same name. It was directed by Ralph Singleton, and features Stephen Macht (Watchers 4, The Monster Squad), and Brad Dourif (Child’s Play,The X-Files).

The owner of Warwick’s textile mill (Stephen Macht) has a bit of a rodent infestation problem, and he has to get things cleaned up or the plant will be forced to close. So, he sets up a bit of a clean-up party for the night of the 4th of July, coercing and threatening his employees to work it.

As it happens, the mill is built next to a cemetery, and both are built over a huge cavern and all are connected by a series of mine shafts and tunnels. While cleaning the mill’s basement, the crew finds an old trapdoor, leading down into the mines. The decision is made to go exploring, which quickly finds them trapped in the tunnels and at the mercy of the rats and their king which dwells in the cavern.

This is a fun movie, especially for being based on Stephen King’s work. It’s not the most subtle, or unnerving horror movie, but it does have its moments. The scenes of the rats before the workers discover the trap door are full of creepiness, the tunnels are claustrophobic, and the final monster’s lair is beautiful in its horror.

The acting is pretty good as well. Stephen Macht’s portrayal of Warwick is strong, and he’s very believable in the beginning of the movie as the mill owner that has the run of the town through violence and intimidation. You can’t help but hate him. His turn to madness as the crew runs through the tunnels is a little heavy-handed though, and his pursuit of our hero, John Hall (David Andrews), in spite of the presence of a giant rat-bat feels almost cartoonish.

Brad Dourif’s role as an unnamed exterminator is the strongest role in the movie though; his delivery and description of the Viet Cong’s use of rats in torture methods in the Vietnam War resonates long after his character’s untimely end.

The ending reeks a bit of deus ex machina, though I was surprised that our hero’s love interest didn’t make it to the credits. The bad guy gets his due after charging the giant monster armed with only a tactical knife. John Hall gets to witness the last of his old boss being devoured before being chased back up into the mill. He hides underneath the textile machine, which the beast climbs on top of trying to get at him, its tail getting caught in the gears and setting up what is probably the most suspenseful firing of an empty soda can from a slingshot in cinema history.

Graveyard Shift

Definitely not one of the best horror movies ever made, but still a fun one that’s worth watching. The first half does a great job setting up the characters, making you love or hate them as needed, before the second half sets them loose like rats in a maze. Graveyard Shift is definitely a good movie for an older, quick, popcorn horror flick.

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Shaun Horton is the author of the sci-fi/horror novels Hannah and Class 5, as well as the cryptid horror Cenote. He writes from the beautiful pacific northwest, crammed between the city of Seattle and the woods of the Olympic National Forest. He's been a life-long fan of Horror, starting with seeing Gremlins at 4 years old. Years later, he discovered the work of Stephen King, keeping himself up at night reading the tome which is IT. Since then, he's continued expanding the interest through authors such as Dean Koontz, movies like Nightmare on Elm Street and Alien, and the video game series of Dead Space and Resident Evil.