Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Szurek Zone: GRAVEYARD SHIFT (1987)

Mix horror sans the impact necessary for atmosphere or suspense, soap opera without the emotional intensity needed for even the most plastic sentimentality, a few sex scenes without erotica, lame efforts at pathos and melodrama deemed even lamer by the most monotonous crew of undefined, cardboard characters you'll ever hope to meet, a conspicuous lack of depth and characterization which a "drama" like this one cries out for, seemingly indifferent execution, a cast lacking charisma, a script with a few surprising, even innovative twists and turns which looks like it never progressed beyond the "sketch" stage -- especially in the department of characterization and Toronto disguised as New York -- and what do you have (breath breath)? The empty thriller without thrills, the "tearjerker" without "feeling," GRAVEYARD SHIFT (a.k.a. CENTRAL PARK DRIFTER).

In all honesty, I was suckered by a box which made me anticipate both horrific atmosphere and the more endearing brand of sleaze. Once I began watching, I found it while more tolerable than utter tripe like SLAUGHTERHOUSE and SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE II, a potentially interesting premise handled with such littler verve and energy that it became uninvolving and rather tepid. Maybe somebody will flesh out the script, obtain a better cast and radiate more enthusiasm and make a halfway decent flick one of these days? For the nonce, however, we have a definitive "programmer" populated by lifeless non-entities and we end up feeling as if almost ninety minutes of blank film has rolled by.

Well, you see, there's this incredibly dull modern-day vampire, Silvio Olivera, apparently chosen for the role only because of his resemblance to Chris Sarandon. He drives a cab and, not being such a bad guy -- indeed, he's supposed to be a somewhat sympathetic one although the viewer cannot summon up feeling one way or another for him (I mean, if you thought Jackie Vernon was boring…) -- senses the "spirit of impending death" and specializes in granting eternal life to the terminally ill. He, himself, is not too happy with the "curse" of vampirism. So we can't figure why he thinks he's doing his victims a favor, but ours is not to reason why. Anyway, one of his victims -- a blonde "sexpot" of mediocre attractiveness, named Gilda -- is a lot less selective about her victims and seems to take delight in painting the town red, while a pair of dull plainclothes homicide detectives is sporadically shown looking into the local "mass murders." Unconcerned about and seemingly oblivious to this whole mess until the finale, Silvio falls for one of his regular fares, an unhappily married career woman frustrated with her job, her wimpy but allegedly abusive husband and bummed out by -- you guessed it -- having the Disease of the Week, and she with him. Two dullards have found one another. Fine. They enter into a relationship, he reveals his identity, she accepts it as if encounters with the undead occur every day, and request that he prolong her life the obvious way. For some reason, he refuses and falling in love is also supposed to be fatal to vampires, so he falls ill. At first, he welcomes the "Black Sleep" with open arms, but as the end draws nearer, he freaks out and starts claiming new victims.

It never adds up to much, though, and neither does anything else in this vacant waste of celluloid. Save your money.


Richard Doyle said...

I just saw this recently. I got it in a 6 film horror set from Shriek Show. I agree with your appraisal, not much of interest in this one. It has a real cult following though.

Robert said...

I don't even think you could calculate how many publications Dave Szurek has contributed to in one form or another over the years, going back to mentions in the early days of "Famous Monsters". His "Detroit Grindhouse Blues" is still a personal favorite.

Jim said...

He contributed to my zine, Fantastic Imagination, in the late 70s or so. Is he still accessible? If so, I started a new Facebook page for longtime fans from Michigan at