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Pet Sematary

This month I’ve done a pretty good job of picking out the best mid-level Stephen King pictures, the INCBIS’s (it’s not CARRIE, but it’s solid). I didn’t think PET SEMATARY would hold up very well, but I was wrong, this was another good one. Good job, PET SEMATARY. Here’s a treat.

It’s a relief to see a Stephen King story where the main guy is not a writer and his marriage is not in trouble. This is the story of happily married doctor Louis Creed and his family of 2 kids and a cat moving to a new town in a house right along a popular trucking route. The road is so dangerous there’s a large pet sematary (sic) nearby, so they start worrying about their cat Winston Churchill. Their worries are not unfounded. But also they should keep an eye on their youngest kid in my opinion. (implied spoiler)

Pet SematarySo you got pets and children getting run over, a real fun time at the movies, right? But wait, there’s more. The ghost of a guy the doctor tried to help has been warning him in his nightmares about how he should not do this one thing which, coincidentally his across-the-street neighbor (Herman Munster) shows him how to do: he buries his cat in a Native American burial ground so it will later come back to life.

The cat does come back (the very next day, they thought it was a goner, etc.), but now it’s mean and its eyes glow and it smells like shit. Not sure if it’s cat shit or regular shit but the point is Church smells terrible. Not a fitting tribute to the noted statesman and orator. This zombie cat situation is no good, but at least Dr. Louis didn’t have to admit to his daughter that her cat was dead. So it’s a mixed bag.

The real trouble comes when the kid dies, because obviously you know the mistake he’s gonna make. It’s a good concept because if this magic really existed of course you would have to try it. You know it’s gonna be a disaster to bring your kid back from the dead, but how can you not test it out? In fact, there’s a whole long sequence where Mr. Munster is leading Dr. Louis on a difficult hike to bury the cat, and he hasn’t explained why they’re leaving the pet sematary (sp). And it seems weird that the doctor wouldn’t question what’s going on. Especially considering that he has already had a dream where the ghost warned him about not doing this. So the conclusion I come to is that he understands what’s going on, and knows he shouldn’t do it, but the temptation is too strong, so he plays along. And I buy it.

I’m not sure the ghostly premonitions are necessary to the story, but the makeup on that guy is sure disturbing (his skin is dead white and his fatal headwound is still visible). But the creepiest part is the little kid, Gage. He comes back and mutilates poor Mr. Munster with a scalpel, but he’s still a baby. I know it’s not real, they use a dummy in some shots, but there are enough real shots and recordings of his playful laugh to creep me the fuck out.

If you give it too much thought some of it is kind of silly. For example, the pet sematary is a really cool set design, all pieced together out of weathered scrap wood, with a walkthrough entrance and the graves set up in impressive circles. But all of the signs are done in little kid handwriting. This thing was built by kids? Not credible. Kids wish they could build shit. But they can’t. They’re kids. I don’t care what you’ve seen on TV. If they could build they would build a fort, but they can’t, so they build nothing, especially not a sematary or grayvyarrd.

And by the way, what’s with this guy being okay with burying his cat in a beautiful Native American burial ground? Forget magic and curses, what kind of an asshole thinks it’s okay to bust open a huge carefully designed memorial from another culture and stick his daughter’s runover cat in it? NOT very culturally sensitive, in my opinion. And by the way, also not cool in a white man’s graveyard.

But those are little things, no dealbreakers as far as I’m concerned. It’s a well-executed movie and as my closing argument I will mention what I think is the most memorably horrifying scene: the (first) death of Gage. I think everybody can relate to the fear of a kid getting hurt. I know this because I don’t have kids but I get nervous just seeing other people’s kids goofing around next to roads or ledges. I see some toddler making a run for the street and calculate if the parent is gonna get there or if I should run out there and play Superman. So watching this scene there is alot of tension in the air seeing this little kid over on the grass here, the road right over there, the kite string gets away and rolls toward the street just as the parents are looking at the other kid, the toddler follows the string… in fact this scene has a perfect example of the kind of geography so lacking in modern movies. There’s an overhead shot that could almost be a map, showing the road and the field, the truck coming down the road, the kid running toward the road… oh shit, what an effective scene. Not pleasant.

Also I disagree with some of the spelling in this movie. But I liked it.

This entry was posted on Friday, October 31st, 2008 at 7:41 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

12 Responses to “Pet Sematary”

  1. Did they use the Ramones song in this movie? How could they not, but it probably wouldn’t match the atmoshphere.

  2. It’s the end credits song. The Ramones are one of Stephen King’s favorite bands.

  3. Oh I knew he was a huge fan and had dedicated the book to them, but I listening to the song as I am at this exact moment, I can’t really imagine a serious filmatist closing out two hours of grisly grimness with an uptempo rock song. But there you go, they did.

  4. I saw the video a few days ago on TV. It’s a seriously weird thing (probably one of the happiest funeral’s ever), intercut with the usual clips from the movie. They even show Stephen King’s cameo very prominently. This been said, I still have to watch the movie. I just hesitated because I just can’t stand dead cat’s, even if they are fictional.

  5. Seriously one of the scariest books I’ve ever read…I read it AFTER seeing the movie and it still freaked me out.

    BTW, this isn’t mentioned here, but “Pet Sematary” is actually based on the concept of the 1902 story “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs, which is in itself a pretty effective little horror tale.

    Always felt this movie was better than generally believed, although a lot of the acting is pretty lukewarm.

  6. No mention of Zelda! Too bad, I find her to be the scariest part of the whole movie. Her second scene, where she’s just in the corner of the room, it’s toooooo freaky.

  7. checked out PET SEMATARY 2019 today.

    pretty much during the entire runtime i was thinking “this is a perfectly serviceable, kinda bland, mainstream horror movie that i’m going to forget exists before the credits have even rolled”…but it’s been a few hours now since i walked out of the theatre and i can’t stop thinking about the fucking thing!

    i can’t put it into words just yet but something about it really stuck with me and i think it’s a deeper and more interesting movie than i was giving it credit for at the time.

    anyway, be keen to see if any of y’all have a similar experience or just read your takes on it in general.

  8. MIX: i watched it last night and I think I agree with you. The first two-thirds or so kinda runs on rails but once the dead kid comes back (SPOILER) the changes they made to the story pay interesting dividends. The segment where it’s just the dad and the kid in the house before the rest of the family returns are the most interesting in the movie.

    If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the original ending. The theatrical one has a fun punk rock spirit that leads well into the Ramones cover, but thinking it over I decided it kind of cheapened the supernatural force. The wendigo wasn’t looking for recruits. It wasn’t trying to build an army. It just wants to get good people to give in to temptation so it can feed on their misery. The actual resurrected are only useful in that they can be used to drive their loved ones insane. If (SPOILER) the whole family is resurrected, then who is left to torment? So having the resurrected resurrect others on its own defeats the purpose. It needs you to CHOOSE to sell your soul. It can’t make the choice for you. The original ending is much more in keeping with that theme.

    Also, isn’t it weird that the movie directed by two dudes has like 10,000% better female characters than the one directed by a woman? I’m of two minds on the big change in the plot (it’s more dramatic but more generic) but giving the mother (always the weak link in the original) an actual arc and something to do in the third act except get Scatmanned is easily the most improved aspect of this rekajiggering of the story.

  9. Definitely agree that the scenes with dad and kid are really inspired — strange, unnerving, unique. The bathtub, bedtime, and acting out stuff is haunting and does a great job of capturing the temptations and dilemmas the film presents us. That quote, “Sometimes dead is better” is one of the truly great taglines, summing up so much of the film’s “message” and its psychology in just a few words. Yup, sometimes it is!

    All in all, the film itself was a little hard for me to get into, but I think that was because so much of it is the same as the original. This makes the notable departures all the more impactful, but, still, for the bulk of the run time the remakeness of a familiar film was too palpable — been here, seen this many times before. Also, I don’t think either this or the original has a ton of atmosphere, though I kind of like the old timey spooky fog thing they went for at the burial ground.

  10. Skani: What did you think of the ending(s)?

  11. You mean the car scene? I thought it was effective. Ballsy, grim, in keeping with the spirit of the original but different. Chilling. Not easy image to end on.

  12. I think this one would probably work a lot better on someone coming in with no background in previous PET SEMATARY stuff and how doesn’t know the plot structure or key beats at all. This one is too close to the prior material to have the impact that stuff did, which I can’t hold against this film/these guys, but it does diminish the psychological punch. Once you know what this story is about, and once you’ve tasted its twisted fruits, I think it’s hard to full invest. Like, for the whole first 30 minutes or so, I’m like, okay, when’s the semi going to show up? To their credit, they tried to take it in some different directions where they could while staying faithful to the basic structure, but in the end, too much of it was already burned in my brain for it to have the full existential gut punch effect that the story has. It’s a very potent, primal story that is just pure, perfect modern horror. But I’ve seen it and read it before.

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