Early on in Poltergeist the mum and little girl in that film bury a dead canary in a shoebox in the garden (at least I hope it was dead, that little girl was a bit… off, if you know what I mean). There are really only two reasons for giving a family pet a good Christian burial; sentimental reasons especially if there are children involved, and because a dead animal lying about the place starts to stink after a while.
Swapping life in the city of Chicago for the gentler pace of life to be found in small town America, Pet Sematary (1989) introduces Dr. Louis and Mrs Rachel Creed and their young children Ellie and Gage as they move into their new home. Louis makes friends with his neighbour from across the road Judd, an older gentleman who enjoys telling stories and drinking beer. Near the Creed’s new house is a path that leads into the woods and it intrigues everyone.
One day Judd and Louis and his brood head down the path for a walk and Jud shows them the unusual “Pet Sematary” located at the end of the path. Local children have been burying their dead pets for years in the makeshift cemetery; even Jud buried a dog there when he was a boy. Judd tells some tall tales about the place and how it used to be an Indian burial ground and that it’s supposedly haunted, but in a good way, but mostly he warns about the road outside the Creed’s gaff that’s responsible for the high death toll among cherished cats and dogs.
One day at work, Dr. Creed treats a patient who’d been hit by a truck on the road but he is unable to save the boy, Victor, as his injuries are just too severe. That night, Louis experiences what he thinks to be a dream about Victor, in which his ghost leads him to the pet cemetery to warn him about the place. When Louis wakes up, his feet are covered in muck (and the bed’s a right mess).
Not long after, Ellie’s pet cat Church is killed on the road while Rachel is away visiting family with the children. Worried about how Ellie will take the bad news Louis delays telling her and Judd advises him not to say a word but instead to bury the cat in a certain remote part of the cemetery that bears al the hallmarks of a proper Indian burial ground. Jud explains that this part of the cemetery has the ability to bring animals back from the dead so if Louis inters the cat there, he should be back in time for when Ellie gets back with her mother and brother.
Sure enough, the cat comes back the very next day, and apart from a bad attitude and worse smell, he seems none the worse for his time as road kill. Now believing in the power of the grounds behind the pet cemetery Louis asks Judd if a person had ever been buried there. Jud is horrified at the idea and acts like it’s the most outrageous thing he’s ever heard, though it’s pretty clear he knows more then he’s letting on, and when Louis’ young son Gage is killed on the road outside the house, Louis quickly discovers all the dark secrets Judd knows of the Pet Sematary…
Herman Munster realises that he didn’t need to fart after all…
As Stephen King has never been shy of a bit of publicity, and as Pet Sematary is based on a Stephen King book of the same name, it’s no big surprise that he turned up in the movie, getting a neat little cameo as the preacher.
Lord, give me the strength to write a book that can be enjoyed by people over the age of sixteen…
What is a big surprise though is just how similar Stephen King looks like that other horror author, Garth Marenghi…
Separated at birth (and then fed a few pies) or what?!
On a more serious note, Pet Sematary is a deeply disturbing film having selected the impact the death of a child has on a family as the core of the story being told. Like most Hollywood films however, the nature of that trauma is dressed up as something that invariably destroys the marriage of the parents, though in the case of this movie that gives the father the opportunity to do his grisly work and reanimate his deceased nipper.
The scenes after the death of the boy are dog rough. From the exhumation onwards Pet Sematary seems to have lost the run of itself, casts off all inhibitions, and goes full bore in trying to shock the viewer; the second half of the film bears little resemblance to the first.
The real star of Pet Sematary
is Fred Gwynne as the neighbour Jud. If you’re old enough to remember the re-runs (or supremely ancient enough to remember the first showing) of The Munsters
, you’ll recognise Gwynne as Herman Munster. I’m not sure if he was hamming up his role as Jud or if he was playing it straight and that’s just the way he is, but either way he’s brilliant.
The other actor worth a mention is Denise Crosby as the mother Rachel. It was nice to see her in a feature film as most people know her as Tasha Yar from the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation. Without wanting to give too much away about Pet Semetary having watched Crosby’s performance I couldn’t help but wonder if she’s a female Sean Bean, as she has a tendency to get killed in everything she’s in (check out Deep Impact for another example of this).
While the end scenes dealing with the reanimated child are the most unsettling, the effects used are also the most shoddy and you need to suspend disbelief in order to get into what’s being portrayed on screen, though when you consider what exactly that is you might be better off not getting into it too much.
One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Pet Semetary.
Buried down the back like a rotten old dog, here are some links: