There are amazing Stephen King movie and television adaptations. There are terrible movie and television adaptations. Then there are the middling Stephen King adaptations that may not be great - but they always promise a fun watch. Graveyard Shift may not fall in the "greatest" category - but Ralph Singleton's direction and a great cast including David Andrews, Kelly Wolf, Stephen Macht, Andrew Divoff, and Brad Dourif makes this dirty sweaty creature feature worth watching! Scream Factory delivers a worthwhile Blu-ray release with an impressive A/V presentation and some worthwhile new cast and director interviews. If you're a fan, this disc doesn't disappoint. Recommended.
"We're gaw'n to hell, togeth-ah!"
The textile mill is looking for a few good men. Men have a bad habit of coming and going, often without collecting their last day's pay. But that doesn't stop drifter John Hall (David Andrews) from applying for the job with a cruel and abusive boss Warwick (Stephen Macht). But a man without prospects can't complain about working the graveyard shift handling the picker. The only problem is the rats. Even the Exterminator (Brad Dourif) can't figure why there's so many as he kills them off by the dozen. When Hall makes Warwick's shit list, he's enlisted over the July 4th break to clean out the basement with the other miscreants of the mill. Only they're not alone in the basement - and the rats are the least of their problems.
Graveyard Shift is the example of adapting a short story from Stephen King and having to add a whole lot to the show. Writer John Esposito did an amiable job taking little more than a dozen pages and working them into a full-length screenplay. The short story essentially makes up the last act of the film but with a number of changes. While the idea of a rat kingdom ecosystem with a number of species variations and a queen rat sounds kinda cool - it'd drift awful close to what James Cameron pulled off in Aliens. Instead, the filmmakers focused on one weird creature - the Bat-Rat. It's a hell of a creature, a bit goofy and doesn't make a lick of sense, but then whatever does make sense in a King creature feature?
Ever since Carrie raced its way to movie screens and box office success - Stephen King was a cash cow for Hollywood. One adaptation after another was pushed into production with filmmakers taking any novel or short story they could find and churn a movie out of it as fast as they could; its cinematic potential be damned. For every great film like The Shining, there was an iffy entry like Firestarter or Cat's Eye. The less said about Maximum Overdrive the better. As a kid growing up I saw trailers for these movies all the time and was always excited to see them but disappointed when my mom would pull rank and not let me. But I always had television! Thanks to the local Detroit stations I got to watch a lot of these movies edited for content - such was the case for Graveyard Shift.
The willing cast with a fun gooey final creature is what makes the film work. First up we have Stephen Macht who goes full out loon complete with thick Maine accent - that none of the other cast even tries to wear. Then we have Brad Dourif going full nut as the Exterminator chewing more scenery than anyone else in he show. David Andrews, Kelly Wolf, Andrew Divoff, Vic Polizos, and Robert Alan Beuth are stuck reacting to them and picking up the scraps hoping to be noticed. But it's the Bat-Rat that steals the show. Like the shark from Jaws, the overly elaborate creature didn't work. Entire days were wasted trying to get the thing to do what it was supposed to so it was relegated to quick cuts and shadows until the grotesque finale.
Even when I was a kid I knew this movie wasn't "great," but it was a hell of a lot of fun. I have fond memories of watching it with my sister laughing at various parts but then cowering when something gory came up. My fondness was cemented when I was finally old enough to rent the tape and get to see all of the nasty bits that were cut for content. As I mentioned in my review of The Outsider - whenever someone feels the need to adapt a Stephen King novel or story, they usually have to make a lot of changes or outright make up a ton of stuff. That's the case here. There are parts that work, and there are parts that don't really go anywhere. I may be fond of this movie, it's one of my favorite King adaptations because of my youthful nostalgia, but I'm not above being critical of it. I could blow this review picking it apart, but there's no fun in that. This movie was churned out fast to make a Halloween weekend release to entertain an audience. And that's all it needs to do - entertain. Laugh with it or at it - Graveyard Shift is hardly the worst cinematic Stephen King adaptation to come down the pipeline.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Graveyard Shift makes it's debut on Blu-ray in the US thanks to Scream Factory in a single-disc set. Pressed onto a BD-50 Region A locked disc, the disc is housed in a standard Blu-ray case. No slipcover or reversible artwork for this release. The disc loads to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
As Graveyard Shift has been available on Blu-ray in Germany, and on digital streaming services in HD for some time, it appears that this release recycled the HD master that's been circulating. That isn't a bad thing as this 1.85:1 1080p transfer is genuinely very pleasing - certainly a notable step up over the old DVD release. Details are robust and the image maintains a visible grain field offering a welcome film-like presentation. Closeups and middle shots look the best, a few establishing shots have some softness to them but otherwise, there's great image clarity throughout. If you have a fear of rats this isn't your movie. Colors are also in good form allowing for some welcome primary pop - reds especially get some play against the bright white cotton. Black levels are also rich and inky giving the image some three-dimensional depth. All in all not bad for a catalog release. It won't light the world on fire but it's certainly a respectable transfer that should please fans.
Graveyard Shift also enjoys two solid audio mixes - a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track and a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. It's dealer's choice here as both tracks have their strengths and weaknesses. The 5.1 track offers a nice and open soundscape with some decent imaging and atmosphere - especially whenever mill equipment is running or during the climax in the tunnels. The issue here is the levels. A hair or two soft, you may have to pop the volume a bit - however - if your receiver rolls DTS Neural:X I found that feature balanced things nicely while punching up the surround activity.
The stereo track doesn't suffer the levels issue of the surround mix, but it doesn't open things up the same way. Very front/center, I missed having the sides and rears engaged. While I usually favor the stereo tracks for 80s horror movies as that's how I experienced them as a kid, but here I tip my hat to the surround. I liked the extra atmosphere and element spacing - especially when the big creature starts moving around. Dialog is clean and clear throughout for both tracks and both are free of any hiss or age issues.
This may not be a big Collector's Edition release from Scream Factory, but that didn't stop them from collecting some new cast and crew interviews. The best of the pack are the two interviews with Director Ralph S. Singleton - why they were split in two is beyond me as they're the same interview - but he offers up great info about the production, shooting in Maine, and hanging out with Stephen King. After that, the interview with Stephen Macht is the next big highlight. All are worth picking through and absent a commentary track, this is a pretty solid collection of bonus features.
Stephen King's Graveyard Shift isn't the best movie out there - but that doesn't keep it from being entertaining. The creepy creature feature knows what it is and doesn't try to be anything different. With steady direction and a great cast - and plenty of rats - there's gore aplenty for genre fans and this show allows you plenty of opportunities to laugh with it - and at it. It's a lot of fun but don't expect a grand piece of cinema. Scream Factory finally unearths Graveyard Shift onto Blu-ray in the U.S. providing a strong video transfer, two solid audio mixes, and some brand new cast and crew interviews to round out the bonus features. If you're a fan, it should fit nicely on your shelf. Recommended.