I found `The Night Waiter' on what must be Volume 2 of `Stephen King's Night Shift Collection.' Volume 1 Contained `The Boogeyman' and `The Woman in the Room,' and I wasn't very pleased with these two student films. This second volume had `Disciples of the Corn' and `The Night Waiter.' The first story is obviously based on King's `Children of the Corn,' but strangely enough, `The Night Waiter' doesn't seem to be based on anything King wrote. My best guess is that the distributor, Karl James Associates, had three King student films on hand and needed a fourth, so they threw this one in and probably would swear that it is based on King's The Shining. (If this guess is correct, I must disagree with the comparison; not every ghost story set in a hotel has the be ripping off The Shining.) The most ironic thing about `The Night Waiter' is that, though it is not based on a King story in his Night Shift book, it is the best short film out of the four in the collection.
Since it is not a story everyone is familiar with, I will give some detail of the plot. Walter is a teenager that has his first night on the job as a busboy at the old Bay View Hotel. He shows up ten minutes late due to a storm, and the night desk clerk, Terry, pretends to give him a hard time about it. From this we find out that Terry is a jokester, and that Walter has a difficult time adjusting to Terry's offbeat sense of humor. Walter's job entails room service during the twilight hours, which should be easy considering the hotel's few guests and the time slot doesn't require many orders from guests. But Walter quickly finds out that something is wrong with Room 321: It's haunted! It was once the scene of a newlywed couple's violent end in a incident of murder-suicide. Then Walter gets an order for champagne from Room 321 . . .
As mentioned before, Stephen King was not the author of this story. It was actually the work of the short's director, Jack Garrett, who wears many more hats in the making of `Night Waiter.' Unlike the King-based stories, Garrett's is written well when it comes to characterization. I yearned for a longer film based on Terry and Walter, but I guess student films aren't allowed to be much longer. Perhaps more importantly, suspense is abundant. Certainly Garrett's choice for a filming location, a real hotel, is the key. The dimly lit halls and the inside of Room 321 are indeed spooky, and Garrett films these locations with a slow, careful hand. His slow attention to background detail makes the film feel longer than it's actual twenty minutes, and this is a good thing here. It is no wonder that his future following this short was primarily as a camera operator. You can't expect big-budget special effects in a student-made film, but Garrett's works great. Again, it is the setting and the lighting, as a brighter area would bomb out with the moments of shock. And there is a certain special effect that is wisely and subtly kept in the background, where it enhances the creepiness. If there is any one thing against the short, it's just that: It's short. The all-too-brief ending had me snapping my fingers and saying, `Aw, shucks! It's over!' Zantara's score: 7, and that is a much higher rating than what I give most of the films that Hollywood churns out each week.
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