Monday, October 26, 2015

Newsploitation: The Rats are Coming! Stephen King Adaptations are Here!

Everybody has at least one. That film that you just know is not very good but you enjoy to death. Well, here at Video Junkie that list goes on for days and days. But one flick I totally dig that got a critical drubbing from the genre press back in the day is the 1990 adaptation of GRAVEYARD SHIFT, which celebrates its 25th anniversary today.

Stephen King’s “Graveyard Shift” short story first appeared in a men’s magazine in the early 1970s before being added to his collection “Night Shift.” Apparently King got the idea while working in an industrial laundry plant (he also got the idea for “The Mangler” then) when he let his imagination go wild during the drudgery. The story is pretty simple, telling of a guy who wanders into town and gets a job at a textile mill, where he joins a clean up crew that soon encounters some monstrous rats. Pretty thin for a movie idea but remember this was the ‘80s when every damn Stephen King story was being optioned into a movie. Hell, he could probably get $100,000 just for his grocery list at the time. Damn, I’d totally watch Stephen King’s BROCCOLI AND KALE.

GRAVEYARD SHIFT started bouncing around as a film adaptation in the late ‘80s. By this time over a dozen King adaptations had hit screens and Paramount just had a huge hit with PET SEMATARY (1989), which was the biggest King grosser ever. (Interestingly a Canadian vampire flick also called GRAVEYARD SHIFT shot before this film.) SEMATARY producer Ralph S. Singleton decided he was going to jump into the director’s chair with GRAVEYARD SHIFT. The script was tackled by newcomer John Esposito and, according to Variety, producer Larry Sugar acquired the worldwide rights to the film in February 1990. The production had a massively quick turnaround as they began filming in Bangor, Maine in June 1990 with the theatrical release via Paramount already scheduled for five months later in October. Singleton probably thought this was a breeze after being the Unit Production Manager on the big budget rushed production ANOTHER 48 HRS. (1990). The cast included David Andrews as the lead, a deliciously over-the-top Stephen Macht as his boss, and a supporting role from Brad Dourif as a rat catcher. The production completed filming in early August, offering just three months for post-production.

The flick made its penciled in debut date of October 26, 1990 and as the only horror flick the weekend before Halloween, it debuted in the top spot at the box office with just over $5 million. Yes, kiddies, films used to debut at number one with such a measly sum. It stuck around for a few weeks and totaled with $11,582,891. Proof positive that anything with Stephen King’s name on it would do decent numbers at the box office (the adaptation of MISERY would come out a month later and do even better; topping even PET SEMATARY as the biggest King box office film at the time). Is GRAVEYARD SHIFT a horror classic? Aw, hell nah. But it is totally something that I dig watching every ten years or so. Singleton was one and done as a director after this, but did get another King entry on his filmography as producer on PET SEMATARY II (1992). That we won’t be celebrating any anniversaries for.

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