31 Days of Horror(1)


The Original

This is a matter of some debate amongst fans but if I’m asked which Stephen King book is the scariest, my answer without hesitation will always be Pet Sematary.  I acknowledge the genuine chills brought about by The Shining, ‘Salem’s Lot, and It but Pet Sematary is much more terrifying on a cellular level.  There are monsters in Pet Sematary but the real villain of the piece is death itself, the other three involve powerful forces that are strong but not invincible, but Pet Sematary suggests an adversary so powerful that it’s not only unstoppable but we’re so far beneath it as to be its playthings.   It’s an exercise in fatalism with a Lovecraftian sense of dread that is just exquisite.

Mary Lambert’s film adaptation of Pet Sematary is more-or-less perfect.  The movie doesn’t really explore the wendigo angle from the book and there are moments of dark humor that really feel out of place in the narrative.  Still Pet Sematary is one of the very best Stephen King movies, it may not have the ridiculously masterful cinematography of The Shining but it really captures the feel and the tone of the book, and there is no better page to screen transplant than Fred Gwynne as Jud Crandall.  Gage Creed still terrifies me to this day.

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The Sequel

Pet Sematary 2 does something that has never worked and probably never will.  It’s a sequel to a Stephen King story that involves none of Stephen King’s writing.  Say what you will about the man’s writing but while he is easily imitated, it’s near impossible to beat him on his own terms.

Daring to live dangerously, we now plunge into a story of another group of people in the town of Ludlow, Maine who fall under the sway of the “Indian Burial Ground” beyond the “Pet Sematary”, where the dead return to life after they have been buried there.  Jeff Matthews (Edward Furlong) has just lost his Hollywood starlet mother in a tragic on-set accident, he moves in with his father Chase (Anthony Edwards of Revenge of the Nerds and Miracle Mile, nearly unrecognizable here) in their summer home in his mother’s hometown of Ludlow.

Jeff befriends Drew (Jason McGuire) the step-son of the county sheriff and his mother’s old flame Gus Gilbert (Clancy Brown).  Gus is an asshole and shoots Drews dogs for messing with his rabbit hutches, so Drew decides to take advantage of the rumor he’s heard about the old “Indian burial ground” and bury the dog to return to life.  The dog does come back but is lethargic and its wounds aren’t healing, one night when Gus comes to hurt Drew, the dog rips Gus’ throat out.  Hoping to fix their mistake, they bury Gus without realizing what a nightmare the burial ground will make out of a character played by Clancy Brown.  Things only get worse from there.

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Does It Hold Up?

No, but it comes maddeningly close.  The movie’s best hope is that it, like the first one, is directed by Mary Lambert.  Aside from story, the original movie worked largely due to Lambert’s direction.  She brings that same grotesque American Gothic feel to Pet Sematary 2 and along with the film’s soundtrack it makes it feel like a worthy successor.  At least it feels worthy until the third act.

While this movie apes the original in building up slowly, to the point where the audience spends more time with Drew and Gus than Jeff and Chase, who are meant to be the main characters.  The problem is that when the movie finally does get around to Jeff and Chase’s story there’s only about 20 minutes left and things feel super rushed.  A character who seemed like she might be important at some point in the movie just dies unceremoniously and the dramatic climax happens almost without build-up.

Aside from Lambert’s direction, the big feather in the film’s cap is Clancy Brown.  As always he’s a reliable crazy motherfucker character actor and he brings menace to Gus long before he’s an insane wendigo zombie.  Brown is also the only actor who even attempts to affect a Maine accent, which disappears entirely once he’s been re-animated.

Pet Sematary 2 is gross, gory, creepy, and not a bad movie but it doesn’t hold up to the original, and honestly it never really had a chance.

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Watch, Toss, Or Buy?
Watch it.

Where Can I Find It?
It’s available on DVD and Amazon Instant.