/horror wakes up “Pet Sematary” (1989)


Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

Pet Sematary | It | Children of the Corn | The Mist

Baddie: Magic dirt with a shelf life.

Lesson: The soil of the man is stonier.

Shame September is upon us, and I have some hardcore admitting to do. I have not seen a lot of Stephen King movies. There, I said it. Get the hate mail out of your system. To be fair, the first King movie I ever saw was The Langoliers, so I was never super tempted to dive into the opus. We’re going to start with Pet Sematary because reasons.

Pet Sematary is what I personally would qualify as straight-up King aesthetic, which is to say the kind of thing I have grown to expect from Stephen King movies. I also have to say that I expected more of a straight up pet zombie fest and was not really adequately prepared for how slow this movie was.

Personally, I think Pet Sematary has some pacing issues. The first half an hour or so, setting up this new family’s life in  the countryside is punctuated by only the small girl Ellie changing decorations in a window. The first sucker-punch comes from an abrupt cut to Pascow, our traumatic bus accident victim who rolls into Louis’ hospital after nothing but scenic country living. After that I was expecting a much crazier movie, or at least some more inherently bad consequences.

This is definitely a horror movie, but I don’t know how ‘scary’ it is. The resurrected cat is not much of a menace, there are few ‘scares’ and the mysticism of romanticized ‘Indian’ magic gets kind of lost as time wears on, but there are some terrifying moments. SPOILERS AHEAD.

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

For example, the scene where Gage gets hit by the truck is horrific. Not helped by the insanely ‘picturesque’ family gathering beforehand, just watching Louis run towards the road to stop him is just awful. This is like, a four year old that definitely doesn’t stand a chance against a semi, let alone leave a mostly intact corpse but hey, that’s movie magic…I…guess…

When they finally re-bust out the violence, I am conflicted. On one hand, Gage is adorable, but on the other hand, he’s about to cut your Achilles tendon. Clearly a four year old doing his best monster face, etc.  Super cute, definitely undercut the horror factor for me. I know it’s risky to use a child, but if you compare it to something like the Omen where the child becomes ominous and therefore dangerous it has a much better effect.

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

I also find myself wishing they had cut after Louis staggers towards the path muttering, “I waited too long,” etc. It was definitely a moment of horrific ‘no no no ew gross’ to see her come back missing most of her face, but ultimately didn’t serve the movie very well. In fact, because the pacing was so wonky and the surrealism so strong, the moments of hyper-violence were all under-served.

So basically I was left wanting from Pet Sematary. I know that Stephen King wrote the screenplay himself, and I haven’t read the book, but I felt like this was maybe content that didn’t translate very well into a movie. For example, Louis following a partially scalped ghost down an eerily lit path seems great in theory but didn’t really have the same gravitas on film. Similarly, the subplot with Rachel’s sister Zelda was sort of comically portrayed in an attempt to be creepy but was definitely executed on caricature levels.

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