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Starring: Brad Dourif, David Andrews, Kelly Wolf, Stephen Macht
Written by: John Esposito
Directed by: Ralph S. Singleton
Retail Price: $24.99
Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English 5.1 Dolby Digital, English Dolby Surround, French Stereo, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (11 Scenes)
Released: May 28th, 2002
Rats. They're often featured as villainous threats in many horror films. Probably the most memorable line about these misunderstood vermin, uttered in the early 1960's, comes from Bette Davis' lips in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?," when her Baby Jane Hudson casually mentioned to her wheelchair bound sister, "Blanche, we have rats in the cellar." And while it is not a case of rats that torments Joan Crawford's Blanche, that particular line can be applied to the film at hand, Stephen King's "Graveyard Shift." For here in the all-too-familiar New England of King's fertile and prolific imagination, we have rats in the basement. The basement of the long dormant Gate Falls' textile mill is the humble home to more than an infestation of these vermin, the place is literally crawling with them. "Baby Jane" is also referenced in "Graveyard Shift," or should we say ripped-off, for no apparent reason, in a diner scene where Jane Hudson must be the new cook.
Considering that the plot doesn't really kick in until nearly half-way through, (Chapter 7, 49 minute mark), it could have been a chore to sit through "Graveyard Shift." Despite the film's many inconsistencies (check out that self-filling shot glass), the film is not unwatchable. Playing fast and loose with internal logic, the film tries to establish characters before cutting to the chase. Brad Dourif's role itself seems to be an afterthought on the part of the film's scriptwriter. This of course is what happens when you try to take a taut, tight short story and stretch it into a feature length film. There's only so much material to work with, so even the short running time of 88 minutes feels excessively padded. Once, however, the title's play on words comes into effect; you see, there is a labyrinth of tunnels below the mill, which lead to - - ta-da!: the graveyard, all hell breaks loose. It's a wet and wooly ride to the entity which controls the rats on their killing sprees. Product placement plays a major role in defeating the evil critter, and being a Coke drinker myself, I've always said that Pepsi can kill you. A dense, confusingly edited denouement doesn't make anything clearer - did the rats worship this beast in the basement? did the rats create a monster from their victims? No matter how you look at it, Pesi wins the day, stiking a blow for rat-haters everywhere.
Acting-wise, only veteran character actor Stephen Macht, bearing an uncanny resemblence to Fred Ward, makes an attempt at a genuine New England dialect, which places his character apart from the other supposed New Englanders working the mill. Bedecked with a goatee, and spiky moused hair, Macht's Machiellian Warwick, appropriately looks like the devil incarnate. Macht delivers a convincing, if sadly misplaced performance in a film he obviously chose only to pay the bills. Brad Dourif, on the other hand, relies on his usual tics and twitches, to go over the top and beyond, as a sadistic exterminator with a Vietnam complex. The hero, a transplanted West Virginian, is played by the very bland David Andrews; and yes, his performance is as trite as his name. Kelly Wolf has a few moments of fire as a victim, not of the terror of the textile mill, but, of Warwick's sexual harrassment. But all of these are the human element, there are still the rats to consider. As rats go, these critters are damned good. They're not particularly frightening, honestly, they're all rather cute. This cute and cuddly quality, they are photographed as well as the actors, takes away any sense of menace. They're just territorial creatures reacting to an invasion of a space which is theirs.
A definite B-movie, "Graveyard Shift" shouldn't have the right to look this good. "Graveyard Shift" comes to us in a very spfify, very finely transferred anamorphically encoded print. Flesh tones are dead on. Detail in never wanting. You feel as if you could reach out and touch those tiny terrors, and stroke their hair. Some graininess occurs early on in the film, the exterminator's first appearance in a rain-soaked scene is finely grained, but otherwise the film looks immaculate. Reds never veer into the tomatoey orang often found in older Paramount titles, but remain solid without bleeding. The film is little over a decade old, and looks like it was just filmed yesterday, so begrudgingly, I have to give it very high marks for presentation.
Even if the rat noises often sound like children's squeaky toys being squoken for the microphone, this is a uniquely active soundtrack. More often than not, there is activity coming out of each of the speakers, immersing the viewer with creepy sound effects. Dialogue is firmly rooted in the center channel, while the film's musical score is wide open. The final credits boast a hip-hop piece cut together from bits of the film's dialogue, making for a funky dance mix. It is a very natural sounding mix with clean highs and lows, though the independent channel is rarely used. Little difference was noted between the film's original surround mix and the Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Paramount has also included a French surround track, however, the only subtitles available are English.
Not even a trailer, and the cover artwork has been hideously cropped, losing one of the film's poster's sight gags.
Paramount is offering up Stephen King's "Graveyard Shift," with a host of other horror-related titles, under their "Widescreen Collection" banner at a whopping $24.99 suggested retail price. That isn't quite bargain basement pricing, even though some of the title are scraping the bottom of the barrel. Without even a trailer, despite the fine audio and video presentation, I find the price tag a tad too high for purchasing. Unless you are a true Stephen King completist (which would mean that you would also admit to owning "Maximum Overdrive"), rent it.