I was one of those kids in the early ’90s that was blessed with access to not only HBO, but HBO2 and even the coveted HBO3. My friends were so jealous. In addition to that privilege, my elementary school weekends were a thing of beauty, as I was given permission to stay up as late as I wanted watching TV on Friday and Saturday nights. And now you know the secret origin of how I became a horror fan; staying up as late as physically possible for an elementary schooler and watching whatever scary movie cable had to offer.
Among the many, many scraps of cable refuse I ingested during my youth, one that I remembered fondly was Stephen King’s Graveyard Shift. Sadly, I don’t exactly recall why I remembered it so fondly (notice the past tense? Take a guess at where this is going). Fifteen years later, I’ve finally sat down to watch it again on DVD. Does that love withstand the test of time? Eh, to an extent.
Graveyard Shift (1990)
At the Bachman Mill (hooray for in-jokes!), employees who work the graveyard shift in the mill’s dank, rat-infested basement all by themselves have been vanishing. The mill’s bitter foreman, Mr. Warwick (Stephen Macht), doesn’t seem to care, at least until a health and safety inspector takes one look at the sub-basement and informs Warwick to have the cavernous, pitch black depths cleaned in a few weeks or else the mill will be shut down. Knowing something strange is going on in that creepy basement, Warwick assembles a clean-up crew of his least favorite employees to spend a graveyard shift down in the basement. Little do they know, they’re all about to be eaten by a giant bat (like no one saw that one coming).
Graveyard Shift is, yes, a “giant killer animal” movie. I know, the sound of that might give you nosebleed-inducing flashbacks of modern day Syfy Channel Original Movies, but let me assure you, it’s nowhere near as atrocious as The Snakehead Terror. At the very least, the special effects and set design are of a respectable quality and not “whatever CG-generated monster we can pay this college kid to create on his Dell over the weekend”.
If Graveyard Shift has any redeemable aspect then it would have to be the giant bat-monster. You never know where it came from or how it got there (this is Stephen King we’re talking about, after all); all you need to know is that it eats people and lives in a cave. You’re given only glimpses of it through most of the movie, as is standard horror film protocol, but when you finally get a good look at it by the climax, you’re reasonably impressed. Not that impressed, but Hell, I’ll take decent traditional effects over awful CG effects any day of the week.
The thing never flies, of course, since its ten feet tall and crawling around a subterranean cavern that’s approximately eleven feet high, but given the budget, that probably would have looked terrible, anyway. The method in which the heroes dispose of the beast at the end brings back memories of Stepfather III, another horror flick I loved as a kid but would probably gag at, now.
There isn’t much to say about the cast, especially the protagonists, who just vanish into the scenery. The various jerks and pseudo-villains are the stronger performances, with Macht’s Warwick being suitably sleazy and awful. The great Brad Dourif plays a rat-catcher, but it’s one of his lesser performances. Not Critters 4 levels of awful, but a forgettable outing for someone whose usually the one bright side to whatever movie he’s in (Dourif mostly does crap).
So anyway, is Graveyard Shift a good horror movie? No, not really. Is it good at parties or a nice Halloween night rental? Yeah, I’ll give it that much. It sure beats the Hell out of the giant killer animal flicks they’ve been pumping out these days, that’s for sure.