PET SEMATARY. (1989) BASED ON THE BOOK BY STEPHEN KING. SCREENPLAY BY STEPHEN KING. DIRECTED BY MARY LAMBERT. STARRING DALE MIDKIFF, DENISE CROSBY, MIKO HUGHES, BLAZE BERDAHL AND FRED GWYNNE.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘Sometimes dead is better…‘
With a re-make of this film in cinemas fairly soon, I thought it might be a good time to re-visit it. It’s based on one of horror maestro Stephen King’s best books, and I hope I’m not alone in thinking this. It’d be right up there with THE SHINING, a tale of madness and ghostly visitations set in an isolated hotel that’s closed to the public in the winter, and SALEM’S LOT, possibly the best vampire novel of modern times. (Yes, yes, I’m aware of the works of Pablo Neruda, by which I mean Anne Rice…!)
CARRIE, the maestro’s first book, was also a terrific read and made a great film, starring Sissy Spacek as the telekinetic high school outsider who wreaks a terrible revenge on the teenagers who’ve made her life a misery, and who could blame her? They were proper little bitches to her, lol. They had it coming.
There are loads of other brilliant Stephen King books, short stories and novellas that were made into films too, like MISERY, DOLORES CLAIBORNE, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, THE LANGOLIERS, BAG OF BONES (a personal favourite starring the swoonsome pairing of Pierce 007 Brosnan and Melissa George from Antipodean soap opera HOME AND AWAY), THE DARK HALF, THINNER, CUJO, CHILDREN OF THE CORN, IT, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, STAND BY ME, SECRET WINDOW, SECRET GARDEN, THE STAND (which I adored), THE MIST (with the saddest ending of any horror film ever, bar none) and probably a few more which I’ve forgotten. You can remind me if you like!
He’s had a career to be super-proud of, anyway, the King, probably the most commercially successful career of any writer who ever lived, God bless him. If anything ever happens to him, and we hope nothing will (I’m personally hoping he might be immortal!), he’ll be leaving behind millions of devastated fans, that’s for sure. Yes, we have plenty of talented horror scribes writing away today, and that’s great, but there can never be another Stephen King.
Anyway, PET SEMATARY is the story of a small family from Chicago who move to a lovely big house in a small American town in Maine. The Dad, Louis Creed, is going to work as the town’s doctor. His wife Rachel is strangely uptight, but then she had a really rough childhood.
She still keeps in touch with her parents, whom she seems to love, but her childhood experiences with her sick sister Zelda were truly the stuff of nightmares. It’s jolly decent of her to still maintain a relationship with her parents after the way they left her alone, at her age, with the dying girl. It was irresponsible of them at best, and cruel beyond belief at worst.
Louis and Rachel have two children, Ellie and Gage. Ellie is a little girl who’s got a bit of a ‘shining’ thing going on, or even a ‘shinning,’ if you’re a fan of THE SIMPSONS. She has disturbing, distressing dreams that accurately predict the future, although her parents don’t take her seriously at first. There’s also the aforementioned Gage, their adorable little baby son, and a cat rather coolly called Winston Churchill. That’s the Creed family, anyway.
Now, they don’t seem to realise that they’ve purchased a property that has no fencing around it and that gives on to the most dangerous road in the whole of the Western hemisphere. Trucks and lorries tear up and down this road day and night, and nearly the whole of the town’s population of cats and dogs has ended up as roadkill beneath the wheels of these diesel-guzzling monsters.
The Creeds’ new neighbour, the lovely old widower Judd Crandall, leads them down a worn woodland path on their property to a clearing known as the ‘Pet Sematary.’ It’s a place of burial for all the beloved pets of the town’s children.
I presume they were all killed prematurely trying to cross that damned road, lol. Anyway, it’s at least handy to know that there’s a place to bury old Church the kitty if he ever decides to get to the root of the old joke, why did the chicken cross the road…? It’s meant to be a place of peace and rest but it’s a wee bit creepy too.
Things get much creepier when Church in fact does get run over while Rachel, Ellie and Gage are away at Rachel’s parents for Thanksgiving, leaving Louis in charge of the house. Well, that’s what you get for leaving a man to hold the fort. Remember that auld fella from FATHER TED who tried to make a cup of tea and he ended up breaking his leg? That’s the kind of thing you’re up against.
Old Judd Crandall decides that this is the time to let a stunned Louis into a secret he’s known about for years, a secret about the strange little place in the woods the kids call the ‘Pet Sematary.’ It’s the original ‘Indian burial ground’ horror story.
What happens after Louis becomes privy to the secret of Pet Sematary is so nightmarish, I won’t ruin it for you by dropping spoilers. Suffice it to say that Louis actually feels he’s in a nightmare from this point onwards, a nightmare from which he can’t wake up.
Stephen King makes his usual cameo appearance as the minister who presides over the funeral of the poor miserable Missy, and very handsome he looks too, with a full healthy head of thick black hair. What’s your favourite Stephen King cameo? The one in MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE where he says to his wife of the cash machine that’s behaving erratically: ‘Honey, the machine just called me an asshole…!’ Yeah, mine too!
The ghastly supernatural appearances of the decidedly dead Victor Pascow seem to make little sense at first but gradually his true purpose becomes all too clear. I love the bit where Louis wakes up in his bed after having a nightmare where he’s following a mutilated Victor through the woods and, when he wakes up, his legs and feet are covered in muck and debris. I love Victor’s dire warnings about how ‘the barrier’ shouldn’t be ‘crossed’ because ‘the ground is sour.’ It’s blood-chilling stuff.
The terrible story of poor old Timmy Baterman is a great addition to the movie also. The film as a whole, like the old cautionary story of ‘The Monkey’s Paw,’ proves without a doubt the truth of the adage: ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ And Judd Crandall (played by Fred Gwynne, Herman Munster from THE MUNSTERS) is right too, dead right, when he intones to Louis in sombre tones that ‘Sometimes dead is better.’
The thing is, will Louis take his wise old neighbour’s advice? Louis Creed is young and hot-headed and he still thinks he knows what’s best for his family. He doesn’t respect the old adages, which are there for a reason, to guard us against the urges of our less-than-better natures. He’ll have to learn the hard way so, and learn he must.
Oh and, by the way, before I watched this movie I didn’t realise that the word ‘Sematary’ was a deliberate childish mis-spelling on the part of Stephen King, I thought it was how the Yanks spelled the word. D’oh…!
Do try to watch or re-watch this old gem before you catch the re-make in the cinema next month, just to give you something to compare the newbie to. And always remember to be careful what you wish for, just like poor Louis Creed isn’t careful. And why be careful? Because you just might get it, that’s why…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
You can contact Sandra at: