Pet Sematary Returns…But How Scary Is It?
When horror maestro, Stephen King, was asked which of his novels scared him the most, he stated for the record that it was none other than his 1983 classic, Pet Sematary. Fast forward to 2019 and we have another statement, this time by movie directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kölsch, promising that their film version of the book will be the scariest Stephen King screen adaptation yet – which begs the question…is it? Let’s take a look.
We’re In A Bloody Kingnaissance!
Ever since 2017, when Stephen King’s It was re-imagined for the big screen and became a massive box-office success, the author has found himself the flavour of the month again. From It and Netflix produced films like Gerald’s Game and 1922, which are directly based on his novels and short stories, to TV series like Stranger Things and Castle Rock, which are inspired by King’s work, his writing is proving fertile fodder for lots of new and exciting movies and shows. And while there are a number of his books yet to be adapted for the screen, it’s predictable that film-makers are choosing to go back to some of his most popular works, which have already been filmed, to give them the reboot treatment for a new generation. “Follow the money” is, after all, a Hollywood mantra. Enter 2019’s Pet Sematary, the second film version after director Mary Lambert’s 1989 adaptation. That earlier version was a commercial success at the time, but not exactly a critical hit. So how does the latest incarnation stack up? Well, so far it’s received mixed, if not overly effusive, reviews, plus it looks to be doing quite well at the box office.
Something Dark and Personal
In 1979, Stephen King was a writer in residence at the University of Maine. He rented a house, which was close to a busy road where pet dogs and cats were often killed by oncoming trucks and cars. One day his daughter’s cat was run over, and King had to not only try and explain what death was about to his child, but he also had to bury the cat. This got him to thinking about what would happen if the cat was resurrected from the grave and returned to live with them – would the cat look and behave the same as before? Obviously, this being King with his macabre imagination, the answer would be a resounding “no”. King then began to think about what would happen if his child died and was also resurrected. And that’s how Pet Semetary, the book, came into being. You can see how such a story, born out of something so personal and dark, would have a chilling effect on King. In fact, he thought the book would never get published, as the material was so disturbing.
So is it as Scary and Violent as the Book?
In the film, Louis Creed (played by Jason Clarke) and his family move to a house in Maine, which just happens to be close to a busy road, as well as a pet cemetery (misspelled “semetary” by the local children) in the woods. When his daughter’s cat dies, a neighbour (John Lithgow) leads Louis to an ancient burial place just beyond the cemetery where he buries the cat. A few days later, Church the cat, stuns the family by returning. Yup, that ol’ burial ground has the power to bring back the dead…except the undead Church is now a lot scruffier looking, smells terrible, and has a terrible temper. Not long after, an even bigger tragedy occurs when the Creed daughter, Ellie, is also killed by a truck. No guessing what happens next. Louis takes her body to the burial ground to have her resurrected. What can go wrong? A helluva lot, that’s what. People are stabbed and impaled, and there’s a nasty close-up of an Achilles tendon being slashed with a blade. Plus, Pet Sematary shows a man’s exposed brain, as well as ripped flesh. Yuck! There are also dead animals – surprise – and an ending that’s almost as chilling as what is in the book.
Should You Go Watch It?
You decide. Pet Sematary is a mildly entertaining, but very dark, movie, and while it’s not in the same league as the best Stephen King adaptions (Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Brian De Palma’s Carrie and David Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone come to mind), it did give me a couple of good frights. It also has decent acting, plenty of gore, and a chilling atmosphere. Final thoughts? Not as good as the book, but a helluva lot better than the 1989 film version.