Pet Sematary (1989, dir Mary Lambert)
I love film adaptations of Stephen King novels, so when Jim suggested that we watch this on Netflix one weekend I jumped at the chance.
The Creeds are a perfectly happy American family: dad Louis and mom Rachel have two lovely young children. They move from Chicago to Ludlow, Maine. It should all be idyllic, and at first it seems like it is. Their new home is beautiful. Their elderly neighbour, Jud, is friendly. Their kids settle in just fine, and their cat takes to living in the country. Louis has moved here to work as a doctor in the local community.
Then young Ellie notices a path, which leads to the pet sematary. The racing trucks on the road right next to their home explain why pet mortality runs at such a fast pace. Ellie’s younger brother Gage, a toddler, strays towards the road and the Creeds worry that Church, their cat, might get run over.
Tragedy is all around the Creeds in their new community even before they visit the pet sematary and Louis learns the dark nature of its power from their neighbour. A collision with a speeding truck severely injures a young jogger, Victor Pascow, whose ghost appears to Louis and laments the doctor’s inability to save him.
Victor tells Louis that the pet semetary ground is sour and warns him not to go there. Their help, Missy, hangs herself, convinced that her stomach pains are cancer. There is a cameo for Stephen King at her funeral: he plays the pastor conducting the burial service.
With these double tragedies weighing on the family, Rachel takes the children to her parents for Thanksgiving. This leaves Louis alone at the new house when Church is run over and killed. Jud describes how burying his childhood dog in the pet sematary led to the animal coming back to life.
Louis is keen to avoid telling his children about Church’s death, so he buries their cat on the sour ground. But as Jud will later warn Louis, those who return from the dead via the pet sematary are not the same creatures they once were. Sometimes, dead is better.
One of the things I appreciated most about Pet Sematary was the simple fact that, courtesy of Stephen King as writer and Mary Lambert as director, no one felt the need to blame the mom for everything that went wrong.
The horror was purely external in this story. There was no traumatic backstory (that lies ahead for the Creeds), just a happy family. The house they moved into wasn’t working against them. It was fine. It was the pet sematary that presented the problem. When things do go wrong, it is Louis’s misjudged response to Church’s death that sets in motion a train of tragic events that will engulf the Creed family.
It was pleasant to see a horror film where domestic tragedies are placed more at the feet of the husband and father. We often see films in this genre where the mother is to blame for everything that happens to her family and home.
Jud was played by Fred Gwynne, better known as Herman Munster. This gave a great horror feel to the film right from the start. The tone was greatly strengthened by the set for the pet sematary. The production crew worked hard to make it really uncomfortable and sinister. A further location at the top of the hill, the ancient Indian burial ground abandoned after the tribe realised that the ground was tainted and brought the dead back to life again, is even more disturbing. This was presented very effectively against the simple homes of the Creeds and Jud. The evil in the ground does its work on more than one character in Pet Sematary and it seeps back into both homes eventually.
There is a sequel, which Jim was quick to point out wasn’t as good as this first film. I can believe it. Horror sequels are hard to sustain, and the narrative of Pet Sematary was perfectly complete in just one outing. I loved it.
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested in reading my review of Haunted by James Herbert here. Or you might like to take a look at my review of A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising by Raymond A Villareal here.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin here.