Pet Sematary

In DVD/Blu-ray by Alex Moss Editor

30 years after its original release, Pet Sematary returns thanks to the latest version of the film in cinemas now. But does the original, a film which Stephen King himself scripted based on his own novel, hold up three decades after its release?

In truth you can count on your fingers the good Stephen King adaptations, and there have been over 50 for film and television. As a rule of thumb, the less involvement King has on the film, the better they tend to be. He’s spent most of his career distancing himself from The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s seminal horror based on King’s book. So the original Pet Sematary, which also includes a brief King cameo, is already on shaky ground.

Moving from Chicago to rural Maine the Creed family look set to live in idyllic bliss. But when Louis (Dale Midkiff) befriend neighbour Jud (Fred Gwynne) he learns of a local burial ground known as Pet Sematary where the local pets are all laid to rest. When the Creed’s cat is run over on the busy road next to the house Jud reveals there is another aspect to Pet Sematary, the ability to bring the dead back to life.

For horror fans Pet Sematary is a solid little number. It’s less interested in scares than it is unsettling and horrifying. The final act contains some genuinely disturbing elements and the slow-burn build to this makes it worth the investment. King does a fine job of etching out his characters, building them up, to then tear them down in brutal ways. Some of the gore on offer is nausea inducing practical effects that hold up years later.

Thematically it does well to instill ideas of grief while refusing to let go. But structurally it gets a little lost. As fans of King’s written work will know, he likes to detour when it comes to narrative, all in a brilliant manner of giving greater insight into who these characters are and why they are motivated to do what they do. It works wonderfully on the page but when you try to condense so much narrative into a tight film running time some things are going to have to be sacrificed. So Louis’ motivation gets lost at times. His wife  Rachel (Denise Crosby) has the most terrifying subplot of the film but it brings little to the main story other than to scare the absolute crap out of you. Perhaps that’s reason enough.

A touch wooden, a little bit out of balance, and with a sense of ‘made for TV acting’, Pet Sematary is nonetheless a horror that makes you more than okay about your parents sending that family dog to ‘live on a farm’.

Pet Sematary

In Films by Dan Struthers

There are two ways a film with such an outrageous plot as Pet Sematary could have been made. The first is as a campy ‘B movie’ fully aware of how ridiculous the idea of family pets rising from the dead is. The second is the riskier choice to try and make such a bizarre and laughable premise into a serious horror/thriller that unnerves an audience. Not only did this adaptation of Pet Sematary succeed in achieving the latter, it managed to exceed everyone’s expectations and produce a film brimming with the stuff of nightmares.

While the plot may follow the clichéd horror story format of a city-dwelling happy family who chose to move to a big old house in the suburbs, this is where the cliché stops. What happens over the next 90 minutes is a tale of love and loss, and a precautionary lesson about why we should learn to move on from the death of the furry pets that brighten our households. Inevitably things get darker as the brilliant John Lithgow, who plays the mysterious Jud Crandall with the perfect amount of malevolence and warmth, leads the innocent family astray. 

While this film rarely puts a paw wrong, there is the odd moment which manages to elicit a chuckle and undo any of the built up tension. However, in the film’s defence, when you have to make a possessed cat scary – complete with glazed over eyes bulging out of its head – it is hard to take it seriously.

In a time where there appears to be a new Stephen King adaptation released every other week, the decision to remake a mildly successful 1989 film – which was actually written for the screen by the King of Horror himself – must have had alarm bells ringing for studio executives. However, with the fantastic direction, great child acting (a rarity in horror films) and emotional stakes that this latest King film brings then those executives could have a surprise box office hit on their hands.