Directed by Mary Lambert (Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, Mega Python vs. Gatoriod) and written for the screen by Stephen King (based on his novel of the same name), Pet Sematary is an underrated gem of late ’80’s horror. At times gory, at other times heartfelt and genuine, this is an overlooked film that doesn’t get half the respect it deserves and serves as a faithful and entertaining filming of the novel.
When Louis Creed, his wife Rachel (Denise Crosby) , and their two children Ellie (Blaze Berdahl) and Gage (Miko Hughes) move to Maine from Chicago, it seems they have an idyllic life. Except for the road right outside their yard, where semi-trailers constantly move at high speeds. When their son, Gage, wanders into the road, he is rescued by the Creeds next door neighbor, Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne). Louis and Jud strike up a friendship and Jud shows the family the ‘Pet Sematary’ behind their house. When Rachel and the children go to Chicago for Thanksgiving, Ellie’s cat is squished on the road. Jud then leads Louis to the place behind the ‘Pet Sematary’ where Louis buries the cat, only to find it alive the next day. But there is something different about it. It is not quite the same cat that was buried. Soon, young Gage gets killed by a truck and a grief stricken Louis buries him in the place behind the ‘Pet Sematary’ . . .
Pet Sematary is a wonderful film. While it is technically a horror film, like many other Stephen King stories it is more about family and characters than it is about the horrific events that happen to them. While the cast here aren’t the strongest actors out there, you do believe that they are a family unit and you feel terrible when the horrific events begin to unfold.
A few years back, my friends and I had a conversation about the scenes in films that are the most unnerving to watch. In the first general consensus we have ever had, we all agreed that the scene where Gage gets hit is the most unnerving scene in any film. What makes the scene more amazing is the fact that you never actually see anything. You see the driver as he notices Gage, you hear the squealing of brakes, then you see a shoe rolling down the road. It is a brilliantly filmed scene, but terrible at the same time. It breaks your heart. Like I said, they come across as a real family unit and the 2 year old baby has just been hit on the road. Terrible and heart-wrenching.
The scene in particular was even more difficult for me. As a father to a 3 year old, I find that I cannot separate myself. I found myself tearing up while watching that scene and essentially the rest of the movie. I found that I could relate to the character of Louis and what he does. I could understand his mindset and I think that is something that only a father can do. I remember watching this film in the theater and having no reaction to it in any way other than liking it as a horror film. I have watched it many times since, but this last viewing finally got me. I could relate. And it was terrifying.
If you are looking for a horror film that you may not have seen for quite awhile, I would certainly give Pet Sematary a try. While the acting wasn’t the best, it was also not the worst. The direction on the film is solid and the tale it tells is terrifying. This is essentially Stephen King’s zombie story (before Cell, that is). I was entertained all over again, and horrified at the same time. What more can you ask for in a horror film?
*** out of ****
BIZZAM!! Fun Facts!
- Fred Gwynne, who plays Jud Crandall, was also Herman Munster in the TV series The Munsters. He also played Judge Chamberlain Haller in My Cousin Vinny.
- George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead) was the original director. When filming was delayed, he had to drop out and Mary Lambert stepped in.
- Bruce Campbell (The Evil Dead, Bubba Ho Tep) was the first choice for Louis Creed!