It may be complete and utter madness, but this year I’ve decided to start with a “retrospective” theme again. Last year was Wes Craven, but this year I’m focusing on horror films based on the works of Stephen King … which is likely to get very, very painful since so few of them are great. Or even good. Or even watchable. But! Believe it or not, there are some gems. Such as this one, which I have a soft spot for.
Pet Semetary, a 1989 film by Director Mary Lambert (who also helmed the PS sequel as well as the recent SyFy masterpiece Mega-Python Vs. Gatoroid) is based on one of the King novels I read until it was falling apart when I was a teen, and was giddy with excitement to see in the theater when it was released. Unfortunately the bonehead dude I was dating at the time had other plans, mainly: walking out of the theater about 55 minutes in when he was personally offended by the storyline. NEEDLESS TO SAY THAT GUY DID NOT LAST.
Anyway! I managed to see the rest of it later when it came out on VHS. And I was hooked immediately. The movie stars a handsomely-coiffed Dale Midkiff as Louis Creed, Denise Crosby (aka Tasha! Yar!) as his wife, Fred Gwynne as their older (yet not much wiser) neighbor, Jud Crandal, the most annoying child actress in the world as their daughter Ellie, and Miko Hughes as their son, Gage, who was just a little over 2 years old when this thing was filmed. (Fun fact: Hughes also played Dylan in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare)
“Sometimes, Louis, the soil of a man’s heart is stonier. And sometimes, Louis, a man’s heart need Budweiser.”
Louis has moved his family out to the boonies of Maine to be a doctor at the local college, and his new house is not-so-conveniently located right next to a super busy highway. It’s not long before the family cat, Church, bites it — and that’s when Jud reveals the secret Indian burial ground behind the town’s creepy child-made Pet Semetary (thus the “S”), where Louis buries his daughter’s kitteh, which comes back later from the grave as an evil zombie cat.
Of course, even though Jud warns Louis NEVER TO BURY A HUMAN back there, and even though he’s confronted at every turn by warning signs, including his own personal ghost, what do you think happens when Gage meets the front-end of a giant truck driven by an irresponsible, listening to the radio too loud driver and gets splattered all over that highway? HE BURIES HIM THERE. OF COURSE. NOT GOOD LOUIS! NOT. GOOD.
Pet Semetary‘s screenplay was adapted by the man himself, Stephen King (keep your eye out for his cameo)– which is usually not a good thing, but in this case it works. The film has just the right amount of ridiculousness to make it laughably enjoyable; massive foreshadowing, flashbacks involving Rachel’s bony ailing sister, a gooey brain-falling-out-of-his-head-wound ghost, Gwynne dispensing advice and warnings with a Maine-accent in his distinct voice, and the spectacularly awesome performance of young Mr. Hughes as demon Gage.
Which is more scarring for a kid? Wielding a scalpel and pretending to cut people’s ankle tendons, or having to wear this crazy outfit?
Lambert does what she can to try and create scares by packing this film with atmosphere galore (which in 1989 meant a lot of spooky lighting and fog), but the thing about Pet Semetary is that even though the book scared me to death when I was young, it just isn’t possible to translate that material to the screen in a frightening way. Every corny King device and every melodramatic, drawn out piece of dialog in the book is included in the script, and those things cancel out anything that’s even remotely scary. Which is just fine with me, because sometimes you just need to watch a horror movie that makes you giggle uncontrollably.
Trust me, there is nothing more hilarious than watching a tiny child wield a scalpel and say, “First I played with Jud, and then I played with mommy. We had an awful good time. Now I want to play wiff yewww.” No, I mean it. Try and watch that and not laugh. I DARE YOU.
AND The Ramones created a track just for this movie. SO. AWESOME.
Bonus: best demon cat sounds, ever. IMHO, Pet Semetary is a solid entry in the “YES, WATCH THIS” column, and one of the better King adaptations.
And just in case you’re wondering, I’m also a fan of Pet Semetary II even though it stars Edward fucking Furlong — because as ridiculous as this one is, two takes it BEYOND that by flipping the roles and having the kid bury the parent instead (well, step-parent … played by Clancy Brown), which is just an incredible thing to watch. Also, where else are you going to see Anthony Edwards dream about having sex with a naked woman who also has a dog head?