In the effort of branching out and doing something new, Father Son Holy Gore is debuting a new column: “Make a Case.” Basically, it’s a simple sort of concept. “Make a Case,” yes, makes the case for a remake of an older film!
Now this isn’t some backhanded way of shitting on an original. No, it’s more that Father Gore admires many films, but some of those really need a lot of work. This leads to the belief that perhaps some concepts deserve a second chance; in other words, they need a remake.
Without any more preamble, here’s the inaugural column for “Make a Case.”
And what better way to do it than starting off with a film based on a short story by one of my writing heroes, Stephen King. Here, I’ll make the case for a remake of the 1990 Ralph S. Singleton-directed Graveyard Shift.
We’ll start on one of the major aspects the film does get right: setting. The location where they shot was at Bartlettyarns Inc., the oldest woolen yarn mill in the United States, built during 1821. With only the mill itself, there’s enough authenticity to sell the story; even if the story doesn’t quite sell later on its own. Nevertheless, the heat, the dirt, all the Gothic qualities of the mill and more, they have a feel of authenticity.
All the same, this is also part of the film’s overall problem(s). There’s a great modern Gothic-type of feeling, the type King is adept at writing following in the footsteps of writers like H.P. Lovecraft. Problem is this is all wasted. Those elements are there, as later in the story the characters go deeper and deeper into this near other world beneath the mill’s structure. The look and feel of these scenes, though gritty and real, never hits the marks of King’s old school-type of storytelling that makes the mill feel less industrial as the characters head further down, more like the description of an ancient Gothic castle with a century or more of secrets lying hidden underneath.
The closest the film gets to the age old eeriness of King’s original story is when the exterminator – played with fantastic vigour by Brad Dourif, one of the film industry’s most criminally underrated character actors – stumbles onto a stone entrance into the lower catacombs of the mill. We literally see the past swallow him up into the mill’s land and extended structure, a hallmark of the Gothic genre. Even as the other characters head into the belly of the textile mill there’s still never as palpable a Gothic moment as this scene with Dourif.
Biggest question: how could Graveyard Shift be remade while making the most of its potential as an adaptation of King’s solid short story? I’ve got a few ideas.
A significant aspect of “Graveyard Shift” – from King’s collection Night Shift; one of the best books of short stories I’ve ever read – is a sense of class struggle, in that there are all these people working in the mill, and they’re being exploited to an unimaginable degree. This does show up in the film. We first meet the big boss at the mill, Mr. Warwick (Stephen Macht), as he’s bribing a safety inspector. From there, he continues exploiting. There’s just no real elaboration on or exploration of the topic itself outside the basics. The story and plots are ripe for a focus on workers rights, the proletariat working staff (non-unionised) v. a bourgeois skinflint owner; Warwick exploits the vulnerable economic position of many people in the town to get dangerous work completed. Plus, there are bits about toxic masculinity in the workplace and the struggle facing women in predominantly male ‘professional’ environments – Jane (Kelly Wolf) deserves more time as a character, and her personal plot involving harassment would make for a quality role for an actress in a remake. There’s SO MUCH that could be used. Especially in 2018 and heading forward, it’s not hard to imagine a writer could adapt this into a slick, scary, and socially relevant piece of horror instead of a less than mediocre crack at a Stephen King flick.
Adjacent to all that is the exterminator’s backstory – a former soldier, scarred by the battles of the Vietnam War. This character is simply itching to be fleshed out. Although, let it be said, Dourif’s enthusiastic performance is a scene stealer and probably the best part of the existing 1990 film. Just imagine seeing a flashback scene of the exterminator witnessing some Việt Cộng soldiers torturing POWs, as they put a rat and a flaming rice bowl on one man and the rodent burrows into his wounds! Good lord. It’d be unforgettably nasty and haunting. Of course then there’d also be a fascinating link to connect between workers rights at home in the USA and the rights of soldiers sent into battle on the other side of the world. Just the exterminator’s section is capable of providing a unique brand of war-horror that I love; if only for a 10-15 minutes. It’s worth exploring, as the military-industrial complex is a symptom of capitalism. All the pieces for a complex and horrifying puzzle are right there staring us in the face. Someone ought to put them together.
The socially conscious horror film is nothing new, even though Get Out (which I adore) has convinced non-horror fans that it’s only just been invented (should probably point out it’s only white people saying that). In a day and age when people are looking for more socioeconomic struggle related through their genre of choice, Graveyard Shift strikes me as a goldmine waiting to be thoroughly pickaxed clean. The material’s ripe for remake. Today, the division between the lower classes – I say this as the middle class all but disappears, further and further it seems – and the owners of the modes of production is vast. This King story could be fashioned into a creature feature horror with particularly sharp social commentary, whereas the 1990 film falls short of the source material’s potential. The ending isn’t as good as the story, there’s a distinct lack of the terror King crafted in *SPOILER ALERT* the way he concludes with a creeping dread of other workers about to head down into an unknown lair of horrors. Worse, any of the seriousness in the film is dashed by an abrupt cut to a NOW HIRING sign + a terrible song mixing lines by Warwick and others into a melody. As if things weren’t sketchy enough already.
I’m begging Hollywood, or any studio with the means – give this story the respect it deserves; make something smart and horrific. Or just pay me and I’ll start writing. There are so many great films being remade solely for the love of entertainment capitalism. Let’s rally for some remakes that actually NEED remaking.