Graveyard Shift (1990)

This might be the craziest Stephen King adaptation ever made (and yes, I am aware of “The Lawnmower Man”). It’s so f**king intense from start to finish that it makes Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” look like a Hallmark movie. The studio executives no doubt wanted to make a few bucks with a by-the-numbers B-movie and chose the director based on his past experience on a number of respectable movies; no one could have predicted that he’d go balls-out crazy and treat a story about a mutant rat monster as if he’d been handed the script to “Macbeth.”

A drifter named John arrives in the town of Gate’s Falls and applies for a job in a rat-infested textile mill run by Mr. Warwick (played by an unknown actor named Stephen Macht, whose attempted Maine accent sounds more Transylvanian), a deliriously evil man who rules not only the mill, but the entire town, with an iron fist. Warwick regularly strolls through the mill to laugh at how exhausted everyone is and knowingly sends his employees to their doom in the basement, which is inhabited by a huge rat-bat hybrid. This seems like an extremely counterproductive way to run a business, but it’s best not to question anything in this movie. Meanwhile, an exterminator gone wrong (Brad Dourif’s performance will give you nightmares) attempts to flush out the mill’s rats, and John sort of develops a relationship with the mill’s secretary, although even the romantic scenes are not handled calmly. As an example of the film’s overall mood, at one point Warwick sends John to help clean the basement; the script probably said, “Warwick sends John to clean the basement,” but it plays out with Warwick and John staring each other down wild-eyed as if Warwick had challenged John to a death-match; it is indeed the most intense “one character asks another to do a simple task” scene in history.

Basically everything in the movie is like that, until the final sequence, at which point the maniacal director apparently tore the script into confetti and threw it into the air, because all nine levels of hell break loose. Our small cleaning crew, including Warwick, descends through a trapdoor and finds itself lost in a maze of wooden tunnels, the mill being some kind of labyrinthine, “House of Leaves”-style structure that extends hundreds of feet below the surface of the earth, and the rat-bat begins killing them off. Warwick goes completely off the beam at this time and begins chasing John and his girlfriend through the tunnels after smearing his face full of black grease. He encounters the rat-beast and throws himself at it, screaming, “We’re going to hell… TOGETHUUUHHH!!!” Somehow, John and Jane descend even DEEPER, and end up in a MASSIVE cavern packed full of human bones; I could only imagine the director running around foaming at the mouth as he told his set design crew he needed the most gigantic cavern ever put on screen. Then, through some miracle, our man John makes it back into the textile mill and defeats the monster using, and this is no less crazy than it sounds, a Pepsi can. These final scenes are exhausting, but the movie isn’t about to let some trifle like an “ending” release its grip on the viewer, because a nightmarish theme song then begins playing consisting of a bizarre techno beat with sounds of industrial machinery and bits of dialogue mixed over it. The tremendous amount of effort that was put into this thing forces me to rate it 8/10; any less and I am afraid the director might track me down and cut out my eyes or something. In conclusion, see it.