Saturday, December 4, 2010

Book to Movie: Graveyard Shift

Book to Movie: Graveyard Shift (1990)
Directed by Ralph S. Singleton
Screenplay by John Espisito

In the early 1990s, Adaptations of Kings work became the most popular pursuit in Hollywood. Adaptations of his books and short stories were constantly in the theaters or being broadcast on network television as miniseries. Several, including Graveyard Shift, were taken from King’s first short story collection, Night Shift.

The short story, the itinerant college drop out agrees to accompany his foreman and a few of his coworkers into the cellar of the textile mill where they work to remove the debris and kill the rats so the mill can pass a health and safety inspection.

They descend and begin the cleanup process of 100 years of detritus. They are alarmed by the number of rats and their seeming lack of fear of the humans who proceed to blast them with a high pressure hose. Finally, they find a trap door that is not part of the existing structure of the textile mill. They descend into an ancient cellar where they find the queen of the rats.

The short story is very much like a comic book story. Amusing, engaging, and entertaining. The movie is none of that.

Instead, the screenplay unfolds as a low grade rip off of Alien set inside a textile mill instead of a spaceship. The queen of the rats is a creature that stalks workers in the plant, killing and eating them. An exterminator, played by Brad Douriff (who played Wormtongue in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) is introduced as a maniacal presence in the cast who serves no real purpose except to provide unintended comic relief.

Short stories made into full length motion pictures require padding to fill the time. Sometimes, like in Children of the Corn, that padding develops the characters and builds the suspense. The padding here is just scene after scene of stupid people getting killed by a reject from Night of the Lepus. Every time one of them dies, I thought, “No great loss,” which is a phrase that appears in almost every King work.

As in the short story, the mill can not pass a health and safety inspection, so the foreman Warwick, played by Stephen Macht, chooses a crew to accompany him in the cellar over the July 4th weekend to do the cleaning.

The attempt to develop the characters is ridiculous. In the short story, Warwick was a bit of a prick. In the movie, he’s a caricature of a sadistic boss. The screenwriter contrives an underdeveloped sexual tension between college boy Jon Hall and Warick. Warick picks Hall and the object of his unrequited ardor for the weekend job to put torment them within the confines of the cellar. Macht tries to act menacing, but his attempt at a Maine accent sounds like a German trying to sound Irish and it’s just silly.

The crew descends into the cellar and begin their cleanup work. They become separated for just a few moments and super rat gets them. In the end, Hall and his new love (who I don’t think he ever gets around to kissing in the picture) find great queen rat and slay her.

Graveyard Shift the movie is not something to be enjoyed. It is something to be endured and suffered. If you do it more than once, you’re a fool. If this isn’t the worst adaptation of a King work in existence, I don’t look forward to finding it. The Mangler is next on my list as I work my way through the film adaptations of works from Night Shift. I may yet plumb new depths. Stay tuned. . .

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