Stephen King’s Pet Sematary was published in 1983 and went on to become a blockbuster bestseller. Publisher’s Weekly called the book “the most frightening novel Stephen King has ever written”. Six years later, the novel was adapted for the big screen by director Mary Lambert from Stephen King’s own screenplay. The adaptation stars Dale Midkiff, Fred Gwynne, and Denise Crosby.
After moving to an idyllic home in the countryside, life seems perfect for the Creed family… but not for long. Louis and Rachel Creed and their two young children settle in to a house that sits next door to a pet cemetery – built on an ancient Indian burial ground. Their mysterious new neighbor, Jud Crandall, hides the cemetery’s darkest secret until a family tragedy brings the secret to life. Now, an unthinkable evil is about to be resurrected.
Like the book, the Pet Sematary the film is effective on many different levels. There are a lot of surface level scares to be had while watching the film. Take for example; the resurrected cat, Church, the Creed’s young son, Gage, the creepy flashbacks of Rachel Creed‘s terminally ill sister, Zelda, or the father’s nightmarish visions of the dead medical student, Pascal. What really sets Pet Sematary apart is the myriad of deeper fears on display: the loss of a child, a marriage slowly coming apart at the seams, and the fear of loneliness, to name a few.
Director Mary Lambert and cinematographer Peter Stein hit the nail on the head with the tone. The film is dark, moody, and bleak. There is hardly a moment of humor to break up the sense of despair as the story is unfolding. The look of the film only compliments this feeling. It is a washed out and subdued color palette. After viewing the film and thinking back on it, the picture seems to play in my memory as a black and white oldie. All of these elements combine to make Pet Sematary a deeply unsettling horror film that stands the test of time.
Pet Sematary was a financial success at the box office, and, not surprisingly, a sequel soon followed. The simply titled Pet Sematary Two was released three years later in August 1992. With a completely new cast and a script by Richard Outten, Mary Lambert returned to the director’s chair. Pet Sematary Two stars Edward Furlong, Anthony Edwards, and Clancy Brown.
This follow-up to the sizable horror hit concerns a Maine teenager who discovers the eerie power of a legendary local haunt. Edward Furlong stars as Jeff Matthews, who, with his veterinarian father Chase (Anthony Edwards), moves to latter’s small hometown of Ludlow, Maine, in order to escape unhappy memories. Jeff’s divorced mother, low-budget horror movie actress Renee (Darlanne Fluegel), was recently electrocuted and killed in a freak accident — the entire incident was witnessed by Jeff.
In his new community, Jeff hears stories of an ancient Indian burial ground nearby where dead pets that are interred come back to life. Jeff also becomes friends with pudgy Drew (Jason McGuire), whose abusive, bullying dad Gus (Clancy Brown) is Ludlow’s sheriff. When Gus kills his son’s dog, Drew and Jeff bury the animal, which returns from the dead. When the vengeful dog kills Gus, Drew and Jeff bury the lawman in the cemetery and he comes back significantly the worse for wear, wreaking evil havoc that temporarily puts several of Ludlow’s residents six feet under.
Upon its release, the sequel was met with overwhelmingly negative reviews from both critics and fans. Pet Sematary creator himself, Stephen King, reportedly even hated the sequel, going as far as having his name removed from the production.
Personally, I love it. As I mentioned before, the first film was dark, brooding, and moody from the opening frame all the way to the gruesome finale. There was hardly an ounce of lightheartedness to break up the overwhelming sense of dread. Pet Sematary Two, on the other hand, has a story and visuals that seem to be constructed to be as in-your-face as possible. In fact, everything about the film seems to be a complete 360 from the first. The body count is higher. The instrumental score has been replaced by blaring rock music. The subdued color palette has been replaced with one that is more vibrant. The gore effects are bloodier and more gruesome. The father’s nightmares of Pascal have been replaced with erotic dreams that quickly turn scary. Everything in the film seems to be so over the top that it borders on camp.
All of these things are reasons that fans reacted badly to what they saw.
Judging by the result of the first film, director Mary Lambert clearly knows how to construct a scary and disturbing horror movie. All of the stylistic choices for the sequel must be for reason. Pet Sematary Two plays as a fun, fright filled, and gory teen horror movie. Similar to how the first film was filled with a sense of dread and despair as it dealt with the horrible things that the Creed family was going through, the manic style of the sequel is fitting for the main character being a teenager. The fact that some scenes seem to go from gruesome violence to dark humor in the matter of seconds compliments the emotional roller coaster of the common teenage mindset. Like she did with the first film, Lambert has created a tone that perfectly fits the character’s story. It is obvious that she set out to do something different here, and I think she succeeded. In the end, if I had to place the two films head to head I would have to call a tie.
A remake is in the works, and Andy Muschietti (the director of the recent IT reboot) has been rumored to be in consideration. Regardless of what happens next, I think Lambert’s interpretations of the story are true horror classics that would make an awesome double feature this Halloween season.
What do you think of the Pet Sematary films? Speak out in the comments below!