Pet Sematary

During the end credits of Pet Sematary, a message reminds us that “No animals were harmed in any way” during filming. This is small reassurance, because it’s the animals in Pet Sematary that are threatening harm, not the other way around.

It’s another movie adaptation of a novel by frightmeister Stephen King, but this time King wrote the screenplay himself. Adding interest is the choice of director Mary Lambert, an artsy type who has made some of the better music videos, including Sting’s “We’ll Be Together” and Madonna’s new scandal, “Like a Prayer.”

Pet Sematary turns out to be one of the better King adaptations. Nothing major here, but it delivers the goods.

King’s scary idea in this one is that a family moves into a remote house in rural Maine, and discovers that its property borders on a pet sema—er, cemetery. As the old geezer (Fred Gwynne) across the road informs them, the cemetery does pretty good business, since the road outside carries constant truck traffic and the local critters are not quite fast enough.

But there’s another funny thing about the cemetery. Animals that are buried there have a way of not staying dead, as the young husband (Dale Midkiff) finds out when the family cat is felled by an 18-wheeler. Kitty comes back, but with a distinctly malevolent attitude. The movie’s kicker comes when Midkiff asks the old-timer the inevitable question: Has anybody ever buried a human out there?

Lambert mounts some scary sequences, and a few of the images are truly creepy. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t get much better than merely effective, because there are too many gaps in the narrative. However, any horror movie that ends with a Ramones song can’t be all bad: “Don’t put me in a pet cemetery….”

First published in the Herald, April 27, 1989

The movie seems to have its share of fans. It’s superior to Silver Bullet, and probably Maximum Overdrive too, but I’m not sure that’s saying very much. Denise Crosby was the female lead.

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2 Responses to Pet Sematary

  1. Robert K says:

    For a Stephen King movie, “effective can be high praise. There are some great Stephen King movies, but there sure are a lot that aren’t so great. I liked Pet Sematary quite a bit when it came out, and still enjoy it. It certainly benefited from Fred Gwynn, and yet another cinematic creepy kid.

    I don’t think it aged well in the public’s eye though, unless it is an autopilot response to King movies. It is usually remembered as cheesy–like, say, Maximum Overdrive, when it really isn’t. I don’t think films with people haunted by ravaged teenage bodies, toddlers being run over by semis and grieving hallowed out parents can be cheesy. I think it is people who just don’t remember it thirty years later. It is certainly better than the recent remake, though the remake has merits.

    It’s funny, thinking of this film, Christine, or Maximum Overdrive, just off the top of my head, though King romanticizes and lionizes fifties culture–including car worship, he sure liked presenting them as murderous objects of horror. I guess vehicles can be angry vengeful gods. It’s hard to imagine anyone looking at today’s flat mundane vehicles and doing the same.

    • roberthorton says:

      I have sometimes wondered whether anybody has compared the love of 50s culture in King with the similar thing in David Lynch’s work. The fetishizing mixed with anxiety about the era. It certainly works for both of them.

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