Monday, December 15, 2008

Graveyard Shift (1990, Ralph S. Singleton)

The most unique thing about Graveyard Shift is its qualifying the short list of movies with end credits that remix sound bites into a closing credits musical montage. Truly a custom of its time. Were producers of the late 80s seriously hoping to get Planes, Trains & Automobiles 12" Del Griffith Ultramix into the clubs?

Ralph S. Singleton has one of the most random resumes I've ever read, from Second Assistant Directing such 70s classics as Taxi Driver and Network to producing a couple of Eddie Murphy's most forgettable 80s movies Harlem Nights and Another 48 Hours. Then in the 90s he produced cheesy big studio thrillers like Murder At 1600 and Tom Clancy's Clear and Present Danger before making cash off lowbrow junk like Juwanna Mann and middlebrow junk like Because of Winn-Dixie.

No wonder he's still working; in between those Eddie Murphy bombs he also managed to produce one of the best late-period 80s Stephen King horror flicks, 1989's Pet Sematary, and its universally derided 1992 sequel. Even the lousiest King adaptation could turn a profit in those days. In 1990 alone there was also the IT miniseries and Misery, in which Rob Reiner created the not-really-a-horror-more-like-a-suspense-thriller genre of horror movies that Silence of the Lambs crystallized a year later.

Singleton must have been a legitimate horror fan to want to make his debut with what was erroneously marketed as a killer rat flick. Unlike the original short story there really aren't any, only a gigantic rat/bat monster who can sometimes sneak up behind people without them even noticing. Must have been easier than training a bunch of rats, which are only prominently featured in the pre-credits death scene and don't come off as remotely threatening. King's story also features a bunch of grossly evolved rats who'd never seen the light of day, like hairless versions without legs. Seeing all the different mutations could've made a great monster movie, but that's beyond this movie's means. With only one monster, all the deaths in the first two acts happen by suggestion until it's time to reveal ratbat.

The pitch:

"Hey, I've got the rights to this short story about some mill workers who go to clean out the basement and get eaten by one or more mutant rats!"

"Fuck off."

"Did I mention it was written by Stephen King?"

"(writing check) How did you say you spelled your name?"

The only movie which better proves how easily anything Stephen King breathed on could be bought up and made into a movie is The Mangler. At least killer rats and/or a rat/bat monster have more potential to be frightening than a possessed industrial laundry folder. More amazing is the fact The Mangler could still get a brief theatrical release in 1995 and two direct to video sequels after that.

Like Robert Englund's starring role in that film, lots of things indicate Graveyard Shift is Direct-To-Video fodder at heart which got theatrically budgeted by grace of King's good name. All the action is set in the single location of a dusty old textile mill and its labyrinthine caverns, which look convincingly dusty and gigantic. We never see the ratbat in full, but as a creature connoisseur I wasn't let down with what they had to show.

Graveyard Shift's proto-DTV requisite ham is Brad Douriff, hot off Child's Play (yes, hot - he played the bad guy in Exorcist III after all,) and giving his best as a 'Nam vet turned exterminator with a personal vendetta against rats for their collaboration with the V.C. in those 1984 style face-eating cages. Sadly he was not made the main character, barely disqualifying Ralph Singleton's sole directorial effort from being worthwhile.

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