(The gist: I should have seen Pet Sematary years ago. It is clearly a horror classic. A scary child done only the way Stephen King can. I loved it and feel a better horror watcher after seeing it.)
I continue my backtracking through 80s horror and reeducation in the genre. This week’s lesson: Pet Sematary.
Just as my last tutelage by Hellraiser and Hellraiser II, Pet Sematary left me wondering how I could be a horror fan and appreciate the genre missing this key piece of horror history. Especially being such a fan of Stephen King’s.
Shamefully, I have not read the book either. However, after seeing the movie and being a parent to young children, I may not. That part of the horror might just be too effective.
More than anything, no one does creepy children like Stephen King (and the people who choose to adapt his writing into film). At ultimately, at its core, Pet Sematary is about one evil and terrifying reanimated child. The Creeds move into a new house that sits near an Indian burial ground and a pet cemetery. This home is also on a busy street that trucks barrel down. When young Gage is killed by a truck, his father Louis is willing to try anything to bring him back.
Evaluating the plot is pointless. It is Stephen King; the premise and plot are awesome. I cannot say if the book is missing King’s tendency to push his stories just past the threshold of ridiculous, but I can say that the movie does not cross that line. The story is round, contained; the ending is brilliant.
I thought the fear is executed well. The seed is planted when the neighbor takes Louis and his family to the pet cemetery and then has Louis bury the dead family cat in burial ground. Things accelerate when that same cat returns alive once more and evil. Then the movie culminates with Gage.
And Gage is so successfully creepy. When he returns, he manages to remain adorable yet also terrifying. His tiny child voice taunting the people who loved him is simply resonate. I found him to be the most unnerving part of the entire film. Plus the other gore and other frightening characters hold up. There is quality makeup FX.
Most importantly, the fear is crafted. It is not smash and grab scares; it is not ludicrous gore. The horror elements are applied deliberately and expertly, making the movie both disturbing and scary.
Pet Sematary was touted to me as the scariest movie my viewing partner had ever seen, as well as the same sentiment from multiple reviews from friends and online. While I did truly love it and it did creep me out in several instances, I do not think it has the same effect watching it so many horror years later as a seasoned adult. In 1989, it may have very well killed me.
I feel more whole having finally seen Pet Sematary. It will ultimately join my collection to be called up every Halloween or spooky night.