Thursday, October 21, 2010

31 days, 31 faves: Pet Sematary

I'm a big fan of several of the Stephen King adaptations, with The Shining, Misery, Carrie, and this film being my favorites. It was really hard to choose between this one and Misery, truth be told - but to be honest, this book gave me long-lasting nightmares the first time I read it. And they did a very respectable job with the film version of Pet Sematary (1989). And extra kudos to both Mary Lambert for directing and the Ramones for that extra amazing end titles song!

Louis Creed (the quite attractive Dale Midkiff) is the new physician at the nearby college and has moved his family into a gorgeous house that just happens to be right beside a major highway that is used by truckers (who tend to drive way to fast) 24/7. While unpacking they met elderly neighbor Judd Crandall (Fred Gwynne), who hoists young Gage Creed (Miko Hughes) off the road just in the nick of time as a truck flies by top speed. When they ask about a path they've noticed at the edge of the property, Judd tells them it's a good story for another day.

When that day does arrive, Judd and the family head off down the path, with Judd telling them it's a pet cemetery. The sign (with the name spelled wrong) and the graveyard were basically created by children so they could bury their beloved pets. The road was the cause of many an animal death. However, when Judd tells this to Ellie (Blaze Berdahl), Rachel cops a serious attitude and doesn't want to hear a thing about it. She hates any talk of death, and lets it be known she doesn't think kids should have to learn about it either.

On Dr. Creed's first day at the college, a young man is brought in with a massive head injury after being hit by a truck. The man is basically dead on arrival, but they call EMS anyway to come get him and take him to the hospital. While waiting, Louis is alone with the patient, Victor Pascow (Brad Greenquist). Without warning, Pascow gurgles awake and tells Louis "the soil of a man's heart is stonier" and that he'll come for him.
More concerned with how Victor knew his name, Louis tries to put the incident out of his head.

However, Victor does indeed come, that night while Louis is asleep. He wakes him, and takes him for a little stroll. Louis, compelled to follow, ends up in the pet cemetery. Victor warns Louis to steer clear of the burial ground beyond, a tangled mess of dead trees, brush and briars that was an ancient Micmac Indian graveyard. Victor tells him it is where the dead walk, and Louis - utterly terrified at this point - tries to wake up. In the morning he thinks it was all a nasty dream, until he discovers muddy sheets.

For some reason, Rachel Creed's father dislikes Louis (um, what guy wouldn't want his daughter to marry a doctor?!), so everyone but him is headed for Rachel's parents for Thanksgiving.

Soon, Louis gets a phone call from Judd - Ellie's cat is dead on the side of the road.

Instead of burying Church (short for Winston Churchill) in the pet cemetery, they drag the poor dead kitty beyond - up to the Micmac grounds. Judd doesn't give much of a reason why, and once there tells Louis he has to "bury his own".

When they're done and back at Louis's, Judd mentions the very same phrase about the 'soil of a man's heart being stonier', and tells him not to tell anyone what they just did. So now, Louis is justifiably wigged out.

The next day while Louis is puttering around the house, Church appears out of nowhere, hissing and scratching Louis. Mystified beyond belief, Louis asks Judd the next day just what in the hell is going on. After all, the cat was stuck to the ground like glue - most certainly dead.

He explains that when he was young, someone had told him about the place and he buried Judd's pet dog in the pet cemetery. The next day, Spot came back but he had a less than acceptable attitude and died peacefully the next night. Judd helped Louis with Church so Ellie wouldn't have to deal with her cat dying. Naturally, Louis asks the first thing anyone else would: 'Has anyone ever buried a person up there?' Judd basically says absolutely not.

A few days after the rest of the family is home, their cleaning lady Missy hangs herself. Unwilling to attend the funeral (which incidentally has a great cameo by Stephen King himself as the minister), Rachel explains why she's such a nut job about death and dying.

She had an older sister, Zelda, who suffered from spinal meningitis. Her parents used to leave her alone with her to tend to and look after her. In simply the most frightening moments of the film (the scenes affect me to this day!), we see Zelda contorting into horrific positions and rasping out "Raaaachel". It is utterly horrifying, and the first few times I saw this film I would close my eyes and see Zelda. And I think a whole lot of people are in the same boat.

One beautiful day, the family and Judd are having a picnic in the yard and the unthinkable happens. Gage is flying a kite with a little help from his dad, and in a moment of supreme stupidity they let him walk off on his own, laughing about how damn cute he is. He gets away from them, until Judd screams about going to get him off the road before.....

Yep. The little two year old and the truck go one on one and it ends very VERY poorly. The vision of the tiny bloody shoe hopping along the road is truly one of the most memorable moments in horror.

At the funeral, chaos ensues when Rachel's father accuses Louis of killing his own child by not watching him. A literal fight springs up, with Rachel's father punching Louis and knocking over Gage's casket, the poor little tyke's arm popping out of the coffin. Not a good scene at all.

Louis and Judd have a heart to heart later on, with Judd worried about Louis burying his son in the Micmac cemetery. So he breaks down and tells him that someone actually DID bury a human up there. Timmy Baterman. His father buried him after he was killed coming home from the second World War. "Sometimes, dead is better."
When Timmy came back, he wasn't a normal person - not himself at all. The townsfolk decided Timmy had to go, that he was so effed up that he couldn't be allowed to live (again).
They set fire to the house and unfortunately Timmy's father couldn't get out in time and he perished as well. He explains that the cemetery is evil.

Louis sends Rachel and Ellie off to stay with her parents for awhile. Naturally, we all know what Louis is planning. And sure enough, the next scene is Louis heading out to the cemetery where Gage is buried. He waits for darkness and digs the little kid up, with Victor Pascow as a ghost standing nearby, warning the hell out of him. Alas, he's cuckoo for cocoa puffs and still goes through with it.

Meanwhile in Chicago, Ellie is having some bad-ass dreams about Daddy. Seems she's a bit of a psychic and she seems to be able to channel Victor Pascow. She tells her mom about Victor's warning, and something triggers in Rachel and when she tries to call Louis she can't get him.
She calls Judd next, trying to find out where he is. Judd obviously hasn't seen him but has a feeling where he might be. But Judd's old bones don't let him stay awake, and he misses Louis coming home.

Rachel, obsessed with getting home, has another freaky dream about Zelda while on the plane. God DAMN that bitch freaks me out. She is assisted by Pascow (who hangs around without her knowledge) on her way, going from plane to plane to car to hitching a ride with a trucker. She is continually thwarted in her attempts to get home, but she keeps on going and eventually gets there.

However, Gage has gotten there first, and in some truly disturbing scenes, little reanimated Gage takes his revenge. Every damn time that achilles tendon is sliced, I cringe.

Even though most people have probably seen this film, I won't completely spoil the ending here. Suffice it to say Stephen King has a certain knack for things not ending well. This is no exception.
But what it is is a whole lot of fun, and some truly unnerving scenes.

The acting is fairly decent, but to be honest I would have killed off Ellie Creed if given the chance. The little girl who plays her just got on my last nerve. She is soooo sub par, even as child actresses go - even the wee one who played Gage was superior to her. In fact, I don't know how they got that kid to do some of that stuff. And it's hard to believe his parents would let him act in a horror movie. Yikes.

As far as creepiness goes, to me this film has some of the most terrifying images, ones that stick with you long afterward. When that truck hits that kid - whoa! And Zelda - hot DAMN I'll never get over that one.


TheGirlWhoLovesHorror said...

I'm still in love with Dale Midkiff. I saw him in a Lifetime movie a few years ago, but that's all. Need to check his Imdb to see what else he's in.

Some people are very critical of the darkness about Pet Sematary, but I think it's a fantastic movie - my second favorite King film after Misery. And I love that a woman directed it. Mary Lambert is a hero! The sequel is okay, but boo to a remake!

Budd said...

loved the movie and then loved the book. Actually wrote an essay my sophmore year on the book and the use of time as a motif.

Cinema Du Meep said...

This is a great choice. It's gruesome and bloody and all of that, but it's also pretty sad and there's a lot of dark humor. It's a pretty well rounded mix. One of my favorites of the Stephen King adaptation canon, for sure.

Will Errickson said...

I must politely disagree! Particularly galling is the exploitation of a person with a very real disease whose function in the novel was *not* to terrify people but to elicit sympathy for Rachel Creed's fear of death. Grief and abandonment and loss are the true horrors of the novel, not Zelda. Most of the acting is sub-par to a distracting level and what works on the page--a scalpel wielding toddler--seems cheesy and overly literal on-screen. This movie needed less grotesqueness and more emphasis on the utterly prosaic fears and taboos that surround the American way of death. That's really what I think King was going for in his novel, and I think he totally forgot that when writing the screenplay.

But yes, it did give the Ramones a chance to record one of their best non-1977 tunes.

Shaun Mazerall said...

I completely agree with you in regards to how great Pet Sematary is. Check out my latest blog about how the flaws in Pet Sematary ADD to its greatness.

Christine Hadden said...

Horror Girl: I'm in love with Dale Midkiff as well, and after The Shining, this and Misery are my faves too - so we've certainly got similar tastes.

Budd: I find the book superior to the film, but still think they did a good job here.

Cinema: It is a sad film. My mother has yet to see it, it came out the year my little brother was born and I warned her not to go there.

Will: Of course you can disagree - we're not Stepford fans here :)

I do see your point about the acting, after thinking about it it really wasn't too swift, and certainly King must have been off his rocker when he wrote the screenplay then - cause dammit, I can't get over Zelda. She bothers me more than that little kid meeting the truck.
I'm sure he was looking for box office scares, not literary ones. He'd already done that with me- I find Pet Sematary to be one of the most frightening novels I've ever read.

Shaun: I'll be sure to check that out. Thanks for stopping by :)

Steve "Retroman" Jencks said...

I can't watch Pet Semetary now that I have a 4 year old who bares a striking resemblance to that kid in the film. *shivers"

cynniegurl said...

love this movie it's one of my favorites too. the scene where gage gets hit by the truck always makes me tear up, it's just so sad.