Adapted from Stephen King’s 9th novel of the same name, Pet Sematary is the haunting and thrilling tale of the Creed family’s misfortunes when they move to Maine. Louis Creed (Dave Midkiff), his wife Rachel (Denise Crosby), and their two children, Ellie (Blaze Berdahl) and Gage (Miko Hughes), are a perfectly happy, unremarkable feamily. They even have a pet cat, Winston “Church” Churchill. They couldn’t be more ‘run-of-the-mill’. That is until a tragedy befalls them, and Louis finds himself answering the question, ‘just because death can be reversed, should it be?’
When the Creeds first move to Maine, they are befriended by kindly old neighbour, Jud (Fred Gwynne). It is Jud who shows the family the titular Pet Sematary, spelled incorrectly by the children who buried their dead dogs and cats (and a goldfish) there. In the opening credits, heartbroken childlike voices read out eulogies as the camera hops from one grave to another. “Bye, old Shep. See you in heaven. Yeah?” “This is where my kitty lays. No more he screams and hollers.” “He lived for 5 and 20 days. He cost me $50.” Jud explains many of the critters laid to rest share a commonality: they were killed by the trucks that travel preposterously fast through their otherwise idyllic suburb.
This isn’t the only not-so-subtle foreboding of what’s to come. On Louis’ first day as doctor at the University of Maine, a student dramatically dies after being hit in the head by a, you guessed it, speeding truck. The practical make-up effects are glorious, blood oozing out of graphic head wound even after the young lad has passed. And if you thought that was the last you’d see of that bashed head, you were wrong. Victor Pascow (Brad Greenquist) returns to influence Louis, to persuade him not to cross the line between the living and the dead at the Micmac burial ground beyond the Pet Sematary. He is something of a good ghoul, though his advice and pleas ultimately go unheard.
I haven’t yet read the original novel, however, Stephen King adapted the screenplay himself, and it bears all the hallmarks of a Stephen King story – a slow, tense build up with a wildly outlandish climax. Mary Lambert’s direction of the story is expert. She cranks the atmosphere up to 11. Where the more difficult shots exist (particularly in a world of pre-CGI cinematic technology), we get awkward angles or fleeting glimpses, flickers of suggestion rather than laying it all out on screen, be it a demonic cat puppet or a particularly traumatic death scene.
Pet Sematary has all the ingredients to be a great horror movie, but, for me, it is such a product of it’s time. From Rachel’s shoulder pads in her dressing gown, to Louis’ distinctly 80’s hair and ripped-at-the-knee jeans, I found myself more closely focused on the aesthetic, than the unfolding events. 80’s pastiche may be all the rage, but the authentic product looks very dated. And whilst I adored the frank exchanges between Jud and Ellie, I found the pace quite dull and the ending farcical. It is undoubtedly good fun though, and sure to be a regular spooky season watch for me.
THE DEETS Release Date: 17 Nov, 1989 Film Length: 1hr 43mins Genre: Horror, Thriller BASH RATING: 6/10