#12. Pet Sematary (1989)
Nature of Shame:
Unseen Stephen King adaptation from 1989.
Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
Much anticipated first-time watch of a seemingly beloved Mary Lambert film. Scheduled for viewing in my concurrent #Watch1989 marathon, I’d held off on this screening for Hooptober reasons. I’d had it in my Netflix DVD queue all year, and it was finally time to move it to the top of the list.
‘Pet Sematary’ Elevator Pitch
A Chicago M.D. Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) and his family arrive at their new, rural Maine home. The local “coot” (Fred Gwynne) warns them about the “pet sematary” (sic) located behind their house. A newly dead jogger also warns the Doc about the cemetery (appearing in a dream) because the land has gone “sour.” Since that wasn’t enough warning, the guy goes and buries his daughter’s dead cat back there. When the cat comes back bad, he tries his luck a second time when his infant son is run over by a truck. This time it’ll work out for the best! Promise!
No One Expects the Spanish Inquisition Cats to Return From the Grave Evil
The horror genre often relies on ordinary people making bad decisions. They place themselves in bad situations, go down in that basement to check on the bump in the night, say Candyman five times, and have sex at Crystal Lake. In many ways the knowing that a character is making bad decisions intensifies the anxiety we might feel as that character’s situation grows increasingly more dire.
It’s natural to attribute bad decisions to spur-of-the-moment, stress-induced decision-making. Who thinks properly when being chased by a chainsaw-wielding madmen? Certainly not this guy. There’s a limit, however, to the number of bad decisions a viewer should tolerate from an otherwise sane human.
The effectiveness of the horror elements in Pet Sematary rely on the viewer to feel something for a dullard that knowingly buries a cat in a cursed graveyard because he can’t deal with breaking news of the cat’s death to his daughter. When the cat comes back “bad” that should have been a solid warning sign about the powers within the graveyard. But it wasn’t enough for Doc Lou.
He and his wife then — through total negligence — allow their toddler to wander out onto a busy road. The kid gets hit by a truck and so we begin the portion of the program that feels like Lou sticking his finger into a light socket to see if the result changes.
But Let’s Try Children Instead!
I haven’t read the book, and therefore I can’t comment on the efficacy of the Stephen King adaptation. I can only comment on the movie in front of me. Louis has ignored visceral warnings about the power of the cemetery and he’s witnessed the negative effects of reanimation on the cat. While I understand how the movie wants to treat the emotional aftermath of traumatic loss, I also can’t feel sympathy for a family as irresponsible as this. I don’t feel any kind of connection or proximity to their pain that would allow me to consider the steps taken to be rational ones. As Kenny Rogers once said, “You’ve got to know when to fold ’em / know when to walk away / know when to run the &#*$ away from the Pet Sematary.”
It’s possible that before I became a parent myself I might have thought differently. Now, however, as I’m older and wiser with a little gray in my beard and two daughters of my own I watch this movie and I feel nothing but annoyed with Lou. When the negligence of these two parents contributes to the death of their son, I’m unable to feel any more tension or suspense. That’s a distinct problem for a horror movie. Making bad decisions with a cat corpse is one thing, trying to convince me that Doc Lou would put his son in there is an entirely trickier matter.
Final ‘Pet Sematary’ Thoughts
I’ve seen some bad movies this Hooptober season, but none that left me as cold and disappointed as Pet Sematary. I’d read and heard so much about how the movie handles grief that maybe I’d come to expect something else. When I should have been on the edge of my seat, I couldn’t muster anything but a time-check to see how much more of this I had to endure. Instead of just making a good movie, it seemed that Lambert over-sanctified the text. Do you know why The Shining is such a great movie? Stanley Kubrick didn’t give a damn about the book. He cared about telling a compelling story through potent imagery.
Prose offers so much more of the inner-life of a character, it may have provided enough context to lend Lou’s bad decisions some merit. Cinematic shorthand doesn’t allow the time to finesse these moments. Domestic horror films require a connection. I didn’t have it.
2019 @CinemaShame / #Hooptober Progress
#1. Shocker (1989) // #2. Etoile (1989) // #3. The Phantom of the Opera (1989) // #4. Blacula (1972) // #5. Scream Blacula Scream (1973) // #6. Jaws: The Revenge (1987) // #7. Blood Bath (1966) // #8. Friday the 13th Part V (1985) // #9. Friday the 13th Part VI (1986) // #10. Friday the 13th Part VII (1988) // #11. Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) // 12. Pet Sematary (1989)
James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add whatever this is to that list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
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