Many horror movies, maybe even most, teach us that no matter what life throws at us, we can get through it. We can survive. Some of us. Hopefully. Most of the time.
But the practice of sequelizing in horror has taught us the more pessimistic lesson that in the long run shit really doesn’t get better. Maybe for a minute it does after the bad things happen and then the evil leaves for a while. But a couple years later maybe some new people come along and the evil comes back and does the bad things to them. And usually not as cool as the first time. The shriveling circle of death.
And so it is with PET SEMATARY II*. Released in 1992, three years after the first one, it’s once again directed by Mary Lambert (MEGA PYTHON VS. GATOROID), with new screenwriter Richard Outten (JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, uncredited rewrites on GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH) and no Stephen King book to base it on.
*VERY IMPORTANT TITLE NOTE: The posters and other advertising materials spelled it out as PET SEMATARY TWO, a rare practice that I’m a big fan of. However, I try to follow the rule of using the title shown on screen in the actual movie, which in this case uses the Roman numeral II.
The good news, though: Look at this fucking logo! The movie itself is fun but the logo is the best thing in it!
When Jeff (Edward Furlong, AMERICAN HEART)’s beloved movie star mom (Darlanne Fluegel, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, DARKMAN III: DIE DARKMAN DIE) is electrocuted on set, his dad (Anthony Edwards, MIRACLE MILE) buries her in their home town of Stephenkingville or whatever and moves the kid there to be away from L.A. and the tabloids and stuff.
There he lives a Castle-Rocky life befriending Drew (Jason McGuire, FORREST GUMP), the put-upon stepson of the town sheriff (Clancy Brown, BLUE STEEL), who is a drunk asshole, and says he dated Jeff’s mom in high school. So Drew and his dog Zowie are mistreated by the sheriff and Jeff and his kitten are mercilessly harassed by the school bully Clyde (Jared Rushton, HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS), a dude with an A+ early ’90s punchable bully face:
I mean look at this fuckin guy. I hate him. He’s perfect.
Like John Connor, Jeff was very close with his unusual mom, but unlike him he did not train with survivalists in the desert or learn to hack ATMs, and he rides a regular bike while Clyde sometimes rides a motorbike. So he’s less tough than the future leader of the human resistance. On the other hand he’s the first guy Drew ever saw punch Clyde, or to coldly tell him to fuck off when his dead mother insults go too low, so he really knows how to shine someone on.
The ancient Indian burial ground that brings the dead back to life comes in when Sheriff Asshole, a.k.a. Gus, gets mad at Zowie for messing with his rabbits and shoots him. Drew tells Jeff about the “old ghost story” surrounding “the Creed murders” he’s heard about and next thing you know Zowie is back at home with matted fur and glowing eyes. And the next thing you know after that is that Gus is dead too and Drew has to bury him too. He comes back disgusting, rapes Drew’s mom (Lisa Waltz, THE ODD COUPLE II) and slaughters his rabbits with his bare hands, but the big joke of the movie is that Drew thinks he makes a better stepdad because he lets him have a second helping of pancakes and invite Jeff over. “It’s like we’re a real family. A real family,” Drew says, not joking.
Gus also makes the kids laugh by burping and letting food drip out of his mouth. But perhaps his best contribution to society is when he finds Clyde tormenting Jeff by spinning a bike wheel next to his face and decides to do the same to Clyde, but with his motorcycle.
It is at this point in the movie that one of Clyde’s quirks becomes important. It didn’t really occur to me but like some kind of proto-hipster the fuckin guy is always wearing a scarf. Outdoors, sure, but also in the classroom, and worst of all over his Halloween costume.
Yes, there are scenes that take place on Halloween, fitting because in the original Celtic tradition Samhain was the day when the barriers between the dead and the living were thinnest. As a yellow belt in the Cobra Kai bullying form Clyde wears a skeleton suit but can’t be bothered to paint his face and just wears pantyhose.
See? Still wearing the scarf. Jeff and Drew have much more respectable costumes of famous characters who have returned from the dead.
So, back to the motorcycle and the (SPOILER) most horrific death in the movie. Zombie Gus is “just fuckin with” Clyde, but his stupid scarf gets caught in the wheel. Whoops.
My actual favorite death in the movie though is one that’s not graphic, just very unusual. There’s a scene where a car crashes into a truck, which jacknifes and tips over and pours potatoes into the car. The sound effects of them bouncing off the pavement are perfect to convince me how horrible it would be to be pounded to death by potatoes.
In movies directed by women I try to keep a lookout for anything that seems like it could be the female gaze. I’m not sure the shirtless Anthony Edwards here is lusty enough to count. Instead there’s a crass boob closeup that turns out to be bait for a horror gag. I only bring it up because it involves a dog mask that looks straight out of that furry movie I reviewed the other day.
I suspect you weren’t supposed to see it as clearly as you do, but it’s a dream or a hallucination so I’ll allow it. The other FX are good.
The most awkward part of the movie is when Jeff temporarily goes BRAINSCAN dark and, yes, obviously, the mom gets disinterred and moved to a new location. Jeff gets all dressed up in his Sunday best and creepily waits for her in the attic with all her clothes. There’s a dumb but funny piece of business where their housekeeper Marjorie (Sarah Trigger, DEADFALL, and a stuntwoman in THE PHANTOM) is a big fan of movie star mom, and has been told “Don’t touch her stuff. It made her crazy when people touched her stuff,” so that zombie mom can come home and catch poor Marjorie trying on one of her gowns.
A question I have: What would have happened if they took all the rabbits Gus slaughtered and buried them in the spoiled earth? Does that not work because they’re not burying their own?
Also I want to note that I feel bad for this opossum who comes to Pet Sematary to mourn his loved ones and there’s always stupid humans around trying to spook each other.
I can’t remember if I ever read the original book, but I assume King probly went into detail about this creature’s situation. Including that extra 45 minutes of material will be the crucial change in the PET SEMATARY remake that’s coming out.
Speaking of the original story, at one point we see the kids ride their bikes past the Creed home (and helpfully labelled mailbox). Also, as the new town veterinarian, Jeff’s dad tracks down supposedly the doctor who tested the blood of the Creeds’ zombie cat Church (Jim Peck, THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT, who was not in the first movie). He says “You want some advice, my friend? You get in your car, and you get the hell out of that town!”
At the end they do take that advice and leave town, but in a van, and not necessarily to quit animal medicine and become a quirky taxidermy guy. But the final shot is one of those unexpected touches that can elevate a junky movie in my mind. From up in the sky we watch the van driving away and we hear a soundbite from earlier when Drew said “I’ve never had anyone die, but I guess you get over it. I mean, eventually.”
“You never get over it,” Jeff says. And then in a little circle on the side of the screen we see the smiling faces of each person who died in the movie.
Well, except Clyde isn’t smiling.
He didn’t even smile in his yearbook photo, judging by the file photo they used on the news when he was missing.
I know it looks goofy here out of context, but I really like this weird photo thing at the end. I guess I’m a sucker for photo credits (I can’t believe people have the gall to make fun of them on PREDATOR) but this isn’t even the credits, this is just a way to put a higher value on life than most horror movies, especially since it includes the assholes in the body count. They matter too.
Of course, none of this is half as effective as the story of little Achilles slashin Gage. And tries as they might, none of the rock ‘n roll soundtrack can approach the catchiness of that Ramones theme to part 1. But I appreciate that it’s new stuff, not as obvious a rehash as it could’ve been if the dad was the main character. Brown is the highlight, realistically menacing when he’s one of those assholes who calls a kid “buddy” and “Drew buddy” as a bullying tactic in term of endearment’s clothing, and then fun monster movie menacing when he’s stumbling around with a gaping neck wound. I don’t know how good I can claim this is, but it’s definitely worth a watch for those of my horror franchise completist ilk.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.