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Old 06-17-2005, 07:46 PM
Scored: 6
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Default Graveyard Shift

Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: July 4, 2002

Released by: Paramount
Release date: 5/28/2002
MSRP: $24.95
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes

inline ImageIf 80's horror is to be remembered for anything, it should be for clever marketing. Following the success of Halloween and Friday the 13th, producers began to view a pattern that spelled box office gold. The pattern was simple, invest in plots that center around a well-known event or time, and sell the concept of the film to moviegoers through a simple but familiar title. Films like Prom Night, April Fool's Day, Graduation Day, Sweet 16 and Final Exam are perfect examples of such a marketing scheme. This was a formula that clearly worked, and was utilized for many years to come. Another famous title gimmick used throughout the 80's was branding a film with "Stephen King's" above the films name, and is one that is still used today. Both methods clearly worked in bringing in its target audience and informing them of what to expect during the film.

A rare case of both marketing ploys used together is the 1990 horror film: Stephen King's Graveyard Shift. Using a short story by King padded to fit the bill as a theatrical release, the film, not surprisingly, was a success at the box office despite scathing reviews. Made in 1989, this is one of the last truly 80's horror films to be released, and now, thanks to Paramount, it is finally being released on DVD. So poke in your time card, and let's get to work on deciding whether or not the film deserves to stay in Paramount's graveyard of forgotten 80's flicks.

The Story

inline Image The story takes place in Gates Falls, Maine (as do most other King stories). A small textile factory is reopened, and an arrogant employee is working in the basement during graveyard shift. Dumping wool into a sheering machine, the man works quietly and without complaint; that is, until rats begin surrounding him from all directions. Attempting to scare them off, he tosses one into the sheers, adding a little red to the uniformly white wool. This turns out to be a bad move, as the rats soon dispose of him and feast on his shredded carcass, opening up a new job position for the graveyard shift.

A drifter named John (David Andrews) looking for a "fresh start" stumbles into town, and is given the textile job by sadistic mill foreman Warwick (Stephen Macht). A hard worker who is handy with a sling-shot, John soon moves up the corporate latter and is handpicked by Warwick to accompany a team to rid the basement of rat infestation. An exterminator had been previously hired (played by horror movie icon Brad Dourif), but given the quantity of rats, more needed to be hired.

inline Image While working in the basement, John develops a small romantic attachment to Jane (Kelly Wolf), a small time girl with a troubled past. Despite their relationship, John is pestered and ridiculed by some of the locals, and has a tough time fitting in. After some more locals bite the dust, John and the group begin to realize that there is more than just a rat problem…it is a giant rat problem. What ensues in the latter act is a chase through some gritty mineshafts and tunnels, as the remaining survivors attempt to fend off the four-legged (and winged, no less) beast and put an end to Gates Falls' massive rat problem.

Dissimilar to the majority of Paramount's modern horror titles, Graveyard Shift is particularly dark and unpleasant, with few moments of comic relief or amiable reprieve. Director Ralph S. Singleton, partially responsible for the success of a previous King work, Pet Sematary, puts tone and atmosphere above the characters. Scenes are eerily lit, with a looming fog and pale browns, but the actors come off as steel gray. Everyone appears distant and inanimate, mere props for Singleton's heavily atmospheric photography. The set pieces and cinematography are intriguing, but without a base of characters for the viewer to relate and latch on too, Graveyard Shift is unable to elicit the care and involvement that a film must contain to preserve interest.

inline Image Based on a short story by Stephen King, this is a story that should have remained short. The concept of rats overpopulating and threatening the lives of small town workers could have amounted to a fun B-movie flick, but in order to pad the 83 minute (despite the 88 minute cover listing) of the film needless additions were made. The character of the foreman is particularly unnecessary, and given Macht's horribly inconsistent accent, is wasted screen time. The numerous scenes of John being bullied also do nothing for the film, reveling in excess and hammering home the fact that he is an outsider. During an interview for Rose Red, King stated that film adaptations of his writings appear cramped, like trying to travel across the world with everything cramped into a single suitcase. In comparison, Graveyard Shift's plot could be fit into a handbag.

inline ImageIt is impossible to recommend this film on the serious level that it attempts to achieve, but there are some redeeming qualities for genre fans. Brad Dourif plays his character, "The Exterminator" almost entirely for laughs, overacting with disjointed dialogue and exaggerated facial expressions, and is for the most part entertaining. By the time of its release, the MPAA had lessened their iron fist on the censorship of horror films, and this film benefits from some repulsive makeup and creature effects. The massive rat-beast is quite the site to behold, and it looks disgusting. Limbs are torn off, bodies grinded, and blood aplenty, this will undoubtedly appeal to gore fans. The film ends in pure cheese fashion, with the obligatory ironic final shot, as well as a culled combination of dialogue excerpts from the film mixed into a laugh-inducing end credits song.

Graveyard Shift is not a horrible film, but it is a missed opportunity and will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the weaker Stephen King adaptations. The film would have worked much better as a short for a compilation film like Creepshow, but at full length the film is plodding and many scenes unnecessary. The film is snail paced until a decently realized climax, and remains disconnected with its audience. But with its gore and tackiness, the film is at times moderately entertaining. File this one under guilty pleasure.

Image Quality

inline ImageParamount, despite their lack of supplemental material, has been known for their stellar transfers, and Graveyard Shift is no exception. Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the film looks very sharp, with almost no grain or blemishes to be found. Colors, although mostly earth tones, are nicely saturated and consistent throughout. The reds featured in all the gore scenes are surprisingly vibrant and bright, while the blacks are dark and solid. This is a fine transfer by Paramount on all levels, making this release not only the best Graveyard Shift has ever looked, but also one of the best looking horror catalogue titles out there.


Presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround, this marks another fine effort by Paramount. Originally filmed in Stereo SR like Friday the 13th: Part VI this was a fairly good mix in theaters, but Paramount has bettered it with their expanded 5.1 mix. Sound is extremely clear and lifelike, causing me at times to look over my shoulder thinking someone was present with me in the room. There is good channel seperation and the surrounds are put to good use throughout with ambient sounds, music and sound effects. The murkiness of the films atmosphere is heightened with pleny of ambient sounds like raindrops and bone cracking. There is also decent directional movement as cars and dialogue make sweeps from right to left and surround to surround quite often. Even the end credit song uses the 5 speaker setup fully, projecting voices in all directions. A very solid track, it is almost saddening to see Paramount putting all the time and effort remixing a track for such a poor film, while many of Paramounts better titles remain in mono only.

Supplemental Material

inline Image First up is a screen-specific audio commentary with writer Stephen King-just kidding, there isn't a single supplement on the disc. It is of note though, that Paramount, on the back of the box, informs buyers that the supplements are Not Rated. It is pretty tough to rate them when they're not even there.

Final Thoughts

Graveyard Shift is a dark film with few redeeming qualities. Singleton's overemphasis on creating tone made character development non-existent, and the film unfolds much too slowly. If it weren't for Brad Douriff, gore and a cheesy end credits song, the film would be mostly a complete loss. There is not a single extra on the disc, but given the quality of the film it is understandable. The audio and video quality are top notch, better so than the film deserves, and if you are a fan of the film, then picking this up is a no-brainer. Everyone else, tread carefully.


Movie - C
Image Quality - A
Sound - A-
Supplements - N/A

Technical Info.
  • Running Time - 1 hour, 28 minutes
  • Color
  • Rated R
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1
  • English Dolby Surround
  • French Stereo
  • N/A

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