Pet Sematary 1989 (Arrow Recommends)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

Arrow Recommends is a column that has my sorry ass advise older movies to your royal asses. I will be flexible in terms of genres i.e. I will cover whatever the bleep I want. For now, it will be the way to keep my voice on the site.

PLOT: The Creeds just moved into a new home in beautiful Ludlow, Maine. They’re a happy, loving family until a “Mack Truck” and a “pet graveyard” that re-animates the buried dead, changes all that. It all goes very wrong…

"The person you put up there ain't the person that comes back. It may look like that person, but it ain't that person. Cause, whatever lives in the ground beyond the Pet Sematary ain't human at all." – Jud

LOWDOWN: Being that the new take on PET SEMATARY (one of my favorite Stephen King books) is emerging out of the soil this weekend, I decided to re-visit MARY LAMBERT’S bang on 1989 adaptation (GET IT IN 4K HERE). I’ve been a fan of PET SEMATARY since I read King’s "go for the jugular" novel in my teens. It totally blew my training jockstrap off back then. I’m not sure how it holds up today, but it’s a piece of work that haunted me for days afterwards. Taking into account the appalling elements found in the story, for a long time, it was dubbed an “un-filmable" book. 

pet sematary, 1989, stephen king

That’s until the King of the Undead George Romero (RIP sir) bought the rights from King (for 10gs and giving King a hefty back-end) under the conditions that the film be shot in Maine and that King himself would pen the screenplay. It was a go! King whipped up the script and both men prepped the movie for a year and a half. And then Orion Pictures came a knocking. Ya see George had shot MONKEY SHINES for them and the Studio wanted re-shoots. Bound my contract, Romero had to step down as director and Mary Lambert (who came from a music video background, this was her second feature after Siesta in 87) was brought in. 

No disrespect to Lambert’s take on the material, which is stellar, but man it would’ve been dandy to see how a George Romero’s Pet Sematary would have turned out. Alas, it was not to be. On that Lamberts’ version still holds up like a champ today! Granted some elements from the book didn’t make it into the picture. Things like the absence of the character of Norma Crandall and the Wendigo (only briefly hinted at in the film) or Gage’s potty mouth in terms of spitting out obscenities. But even with these omissions the film was very faithful to its source material and thankfully was not afraid “to go there”.

Yup, Lambert knocked it out of the f-ing park! The dread filled atmosphere was ample and thick, the scare set pieces were handled in a mucho efficient/brutal manner, the set design astounding (all about the sematary and what is beyond i.e chilling stuff) and the imagery/directing choices were at times sleek yet detail oriented, inspired and often unnerving. Furthermore, the piece was emotionally stirring, didn’t shy away from embracing the grotesque (Zelda anyone?) while the pace never let up for a pee break. NOTE: Good on King for insisting on shooting in Maine, which has a unique vibe of its own. The setting was ideal in bringing the book (which is set in Maine) to life. 

pet sematary, 1989, stephen king

Add to all that loving; Elliot Goldenthal’s evocative and brrr inducing score, a solid cast for the most part (Denise Crosby did fine, Fred Gwynne was genius and both Miko Hughes and Blaze Berdahl impressed as the kids in peril), ghastly and wince inducing practical effects (by David LeRoy Anderson and team), knee slapping ditties by The Ramones and last frames that went a pinch beyond the book to slap me stupid and and you get a bold and well put together adaptation that still turns my rusty screws real tight today.

With that stabbed, I did pick up new peeves on this re-watch. The film rushed through its chain of events to some degree (after Lambert delivered her cut, the Studio had her shave it down cause they felt it was too long). Personally further emphasis on the grief and descent into madness of the character (s) would have upped the ante of the whole. Speaking of the characters, I found Dale Midkiff to be fairly one-note on this watch, he still worked in the role (the writing saved him IMO), but he didn’t emote as much as he should have.

pet sematary, 1989, stephen king

And I was alone in being a pinch grated by the Pascow character (well played by Brad Greenquist) acting as slight comic relief? He wasn’t cheeky in the book. I would have preferred ZERO comic relief.  When you got me by the ball, you crush them to dust – you don’t “let go”. On the whole though as a fan of the book, the 1989 version still delivered the goods and it still holds a special place in my deadbeat heart! Any film that gets a zero star from Gene Siskel (he thought it was sickening – um – duh – it’s a horror film champ) is usually all-good!

Even Lambert’s sequel was outrageous fun times! I grew to esteem it more and more over time (read my drivel about it here).  Will this new adaptation grease me right? Not sure. I’ll go see it cause I love the source material – but off the cuff – am not a fan of them changing the “who” behind one KEY plot turn. But hey, the f*ck I know. We’ll see. Till then, sing it with me now! “I don't want to be buried in a pet cemetery I don't want to live my life again…”

Source: Arrow in the Head

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