Welcome to Funny Bones, Nightmare On Film Street’s look at horror comedies. Each month, we’ll examine the skeletal structure of a horror-comedy, how the film connects it’s unique brand of funny and creepy, as well as the metaphorical fleshy details laid over that skeleton which bring the movie to life!
One of the great things about Women in Horror Month is it’s a chance for the horror community to confront and tear down some destructive myths about women. Over here in our celebration at Nightmare on Film Street we’ve run a series of articles that have shown that female filmmakers and characters are just as compelling, cool, and kick-ass as male ones. As the writer of Funny Bone’s, It’s my job to take a sledgehammer to another misconception; that women aren’t funny. There are plenty of examples why that’s untrue.
My entry last month spotlighted a film which demonstrated that, but for Women in Horror Month I wanted to highlight an especially resonant and recent horror comedy that may have flown under people’s radar because of the ongoing Covid pandemic; one written and directed by a woman and starring a primarily female cast. I’m talking about writer-director Brea Grant’s 2020 film, 12 Hour Shift starring Angela Bettis (May), Chloe Farnworth (Departure), Nikea Gamby- Turner (Rosewood), and Tara Perry(Squirrel).
12 Hour Shift is set in an Arkansas hospital in 1999. It tells the story of Mandy (Bettis) a burned out, drug addicted nurse who is part of an organ harvesting and smuggling ring with her friend and fellow nurse, Karen (Gamble). The titular “Shift” of the film is a particularly chaotic night where a kidney smuggling mishap causes the not so bright, but sociopathic, Regina (Farnworth); Mandy’s cousin-by-marriage and the courier in the smuggling ring, to complicate her life at the hospital. Making matters worse are the arrival of a murderous convict (David Arquette), a well meaning police officer (Kit Williamson), the smuggling ring’s enforcer (Dusty Warren), and a host of eccentric patients and hospital staff.
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Because of the way Covid disrupted film releases last year it’s hard to see any significant trends in the horror comedies of 2020. 12 Hour Shift is such a unique film though that it doesn’t really fit into the trends of the preceding years either. That’s partly because it’s informed and influenced by a number of things. The first was the time Grant spent growing up in East Texas in the ’90s. She told Screen Rant that a number of characters are based on people she knew, which is part of the reason why she chose the ’90s.
“12 Hour Shift is a film sure to please fans of horror adjacent film makers like Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers, or really anyone who appreciates twisted, dark comedies.”
The ’90s were also a time when urban legends were being explored, and in that same interview, Grant stated that the film is partly inspired by urban legends. I assume it’s the classic one of people waking up missing a kidney. She also cited the true story of a nurse that was killing people in Texas as an influence on the film. She doesn’t mention the person by name but she’s likely referring to infamous serial killer Genene Jones who was convicted for the murder of two children in her care, but is believed to have been responsible for the death up to 60 victims during the ’70s and ’80s. Grant also cited the often grueling and under appreciated work done by nurses, like her brother, as an inspiration for the movie.
Those diverse influences combine into a heady and accessible story cocktail. 12 Hour Shift is a film sure to please fans of horror adjacent film makers like Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers, or really anyone who appreciates twisted, dark comedies. It makes perfect use of the “one crazy night” trope. As the evening and Mandy’s shift’s progresses, the mayhem her and the characters in her orbit are drawn into escalates. And when dawn comes you feel like you’ve come to the end of an insane journey. I feel like 12 Hour Shift and Martin Scorsese’s dark, one crazy night, comedy After Hours (1985) would make for a great double feature.
12 Hour Shift isn’t really a “scary” film, but it does have a lot to offer horror fans. There’s quite a bit of blood and the hospital setting is full of creepy atmosphere. The way Grant and cinematographer, Matt Glass, shoot and light their set is reminiscent of some of the best hospital set horrors. Places like the morgue ooze with dread. And one of the film’s final scenes, where Mandy is caught between two brutal killers, reminded me a lot of the original Halloween II(1981).
That atmosphere and a twisty and wickedly funny script are great elements, but what makes 12 Hour Shift shine is the characters. They’re flawed in ways that don’t necessarily make them likable, but the incredible performances keep you rooting for them. Bettis is especially empathetic as Mandy. You feel her world weariness and exasperation over both hospital politics and the rapidly escalating consequences of the heist gone wrong that she’s caught up in. The film’s standout character though is Chloe Farnworth’s Regina. She steals almost every scene she’s in, and so much of the film’s humor comes from the character; especially when she enters the hospital in search of a replacement organ to steal. What makes Regina such a great character is her ambition and impulsivenes She’s never thinks things fully through, and over the course of the film she does some ludicrous and violent things to get the organ she needs. Farnsworth expertly sells Regina’s behavior and humor though by playing her as bubbly, and mostly self assured.
“[…] what makes 12 Hour Shift shine is the characters. They’re flawed in ways that don’t necessarily make them likable, but the incredible performances keep you rooting for them.”
The film also features some great supporting players and cameo appearances. Nikea Gamby-Turner’s Karen makes a great partner in crime for Mandy. Tara Perry is excellent as Dorothy; a big-haired nurse that annoys most of her colleagues.David Arquette’s killer, Jefferson, doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time, but when he does the actor’s natural charisma shines through. WWE fans will be happy with wrestling legend Mick Foley’s cameo as Nicholas, the head of the organ smuggling ring. I also really liked Tom De Trinnis’ Mr. Kent; a nosy hypochondriac who is always bothering the nurses to give him a room.
So a combination of incredible characters, a fantastic cast and crew, great mood, and a twisty, wickedly funny script from the singular vision of Brea Grant makes 12 Hour Shift the perfect horror comedy to shatter the misogynistic myth that women aren’t funny, and a great movie for Women in Horror Month. If you missed it during it’s initial release, or are looking for a chance to revisit the movie it’s now streaming on Hulu.
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