The Test of Time: Pet Sematary (1989)

We all have movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? So…the point of this here column is whether of not a film stands the test of time. I’m not gonna question whether it’s still a good flick, but if the thing holds up for a modern audience.

Director: Mary Lambert
Starring: Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby, and Fred Gwynne

For as many books and stories Stephen King has turned out over the years and as many of them have had the adaptation treatment, it’s amazing that only a handful of his films have ended up under the label of “classic.” Sure, they are King’s babies, but the credit for the good movies goes to the other creative forces like Kubrick, Carpenter, Reiner and Darabont, all who translated King’s undeniable written talent into a different kinda talent on screen. After all, most King adaptations…well, sucked. However, one film in particular always scared the hell out of me and was generally well regarded despite the one hit wonder director.

Under the examination: Pet Sematary.

Oh, a quick side note. It’s odd when a spoof sticks out more than the original piece as sometimes things end up so dead on that it works nearly too damn well. South Park perfectly reused Fred Gwynne’s Jud character in the episode “Marjorine” in his stupid push of the burial ground, which he could have kept to himself. If you’ve never seen the episode, check it out. It’s a damn good one. Anyway, back to the mission at hand.

That's real drama there. 

THE STORY: A young doctor and his family move to a small town in (where else) Maine to begin a new life. As luck would have it, right behind their house is an old pet cemetery (spelled wrong), which happens to have special powers that can bring the dead back to life. After losing the family cat because they moved right next to a highway where massive semi-trucks run constantly, the young doc gives the cemetery a shot, and damn it if the cat didn’t come back though now…different.

Some time later, due to some bad parenting, the couple’s little boy is killed on the same road. Think he can resist giving that magical yet dangerous cemetery another shot? Well, it wouldn’t be much of a movie if he didn’t.

That ghost is telling her she was stupid to leave Star Trek. 

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: Above all else, Pet Sematary works because of the central drama that unfolds. Oh sure, there’s plenty of the good stuff like the gore (slashings abound!), killer cats and kids, mutilated corpses, and that lady from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but at heart this works as one of King’s best dramas, and holy cow, I had completely forgotten just how dark and demented this movie really is.

King obviously didn't make his name by being afraid to push the envelope, and here its no different, showing how far a father would go to preserve his family. We feel Louis Creed’s pain (played by a broken Dale Midkiff) after one moment watching his cute little boy out flying a kite only to see him mowed down minutes later by a semi-truck (well, we only see his little shoe rolling down the highway). From there, he even gets into a fight with his father-in-law fight at the kid’s funeral, knocking over the casket in the process. Now that’s real horror.

Louis seems like a good enough dude, but take away his child and he’ll risk an evil recreation of his son just for another chance with him. Of course, Louis should have listened old man Jud, who is the best and most memorable part of the movie. Fred Gwynne could have really made a career of playing hillbilly types. He gives the movie a comfort that probably wouldn't exist without him. It's too bad producers didn't rediscover him sooner before he died too soon at age 66. He was more than just a Munster. Also, I really dig the ghost of reason here in Victor Pascow, who repeatedly warns Louis against the cemetery. It works to great effect.

Herman had seen better days. 

WHAT BLOWS NOW: It’s been years since I last visited the King’s Pet Sematary, and within the first ten minutes I really didn’t think I’d make it through it. The damn thing just reeks of 1989 from the clothing, to the styles, to the initial pacing. It's amazing how some movies can't shake their born on date. It also  takes its sweet time to get moving, but even more troubling comes from the acting, led by the kids who make Jake Lloyd look like De Niro. I know kids are only kids, but if it looks like they’re acting that’s never a good thing.

Logically, things don’t make a hell of a lot of sense in Pet Sematary. As noted above, South Park broke the film down perfectly. If Jud has just shut his mouth or simply lied about the cemetery, all could have been avoided. Obviously, we wouldn’t have a movie, but that really is a stupid, stupid move if you know what will come if someone tries it. Oh, and I’ll have to watch it again, but did it ever explain why Pascow warned Creed anyway? It seems awfully convenient. 

THE VERDICT: It takes a bit to get past the dated look and some of the bad acting, but once Pet Sematary gets rolling, it’s one freaking dark film that still holds better than I remembered. Without Mr. Munster, it might not have worked as well, but thankfully, he came to play. 



Another King cameo. Surprise!



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