We don’t want to be buried in a Pet Sematary.
Stephen King’s Pet Sematary has an interesting reputation amongst horror fans and critics alike. Upon it’s 1989 release, Empire’s Kim Newman characterized the film as “silly” and a poor adaptation of the “deeply affecting” novel. This is a fairly typical criticism of the film and, quite frankly, I understand where it comes from. Yes, Pet Sematary is a somewhat predictable (we’ll get back to that) and outlandish horror film. The premise requires the audience to accept a lot when presented with little explanation.
How did some ancient burial ground, off a characteristically busy highway, raise the dead for decades with no one really knowing? Why is Church considered demonic when he’s friendlier than most living cats?
The thing is, once you get past the vague impetus for all the terror, Pet Sematary is a deeply disturbing film.
Mary Lambert’s film is a brutal and rapid-fire tale of a family in nose-dive. There is even tension between Louis and his father-in-law before the action begins. This can be misinterpreted, though. In that same review I quoted earlier, Newman points out overbearing exposition as an issue in the movie.
I have to disagree.
Pet Sematary barely gives the audience time to think as event after event hits the screen. Sure, there are sequences setting up the power of the Micmac burial ground, but they are mostly followed by flashback sequences exhibiting the events in graphic detail. Lambert doesn’t build a ton of drama, but she does hammer her audience into submission. Perhaps the most prominent examples of this are the flashbacks (and hauntings) featuring Rachel’s sister Zelda. Andrew Hubatsek’s portrayal of the sickly sister stands as one of the most haunting in horror history, and it’s not even the weirdest thing that happens.
Beyond Zelda, the audience still has to deal with the gut-wrenching death of Gage, and the psychosis Louis faces because of it. Yes, one can easily guess what Louis is going to do at every turn, but you begin to dread it as the film continues… in that good horror movie way. Pet Sematary is a cautionary tale in any media, but the film takes a brutal EC-esque view of it all. By film’s end, the Creeds aren’t just destroyed, they’ve been transformed into something evil.
And that last decision Louis makes proves how far he’s fallen.
Pet Sematary isn’t The Exorcist, but it was never intended to be. It is a savage ride, and one worth taking.