Horror Bob Presents: The Horror Review

  Pet Sematary  (1989)

 Film Title: Pet Sematary Year Released:  1989
Reviewed By: Egregious Gurnow
Movie Website: N/A
Overall Stars: * Scare Factor: **

 

   Stephen King, apparently tired of seeing his work maimed by other screenwriters, decided that if one of his babes-in-arms were to have to die a miserable death, at least it should be at his own hand as he adapts his own best-selling novel to the big screen for the first time.  Unfortunately, Mary Lambert’s Pet Sematary misses the mark from most every conceivable angle, leaving the viewer regretting that a plot cemetery wasn’t utilized during the film’s production stages.

   The Creed family--Louis (Dale Midkiff), Rachel (Denis Crosby), their young daughter, Ellie (Blaze Berdahl), and toddler, Gage (Miko Hughes)--move from Chicago to Ludlow, a small community in Maine, in order for Louis to open his own medical practice at a local university.  However, shortly after arriving, Gage is hit and killed by a semi and Louis, told of the Micmac Indian burial grounds by his neighbor, Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne), and its legacy--that anything buried there will be resurrected--exhumes Gage and places his corpse in the graveyard.  What returns is a nightmare version of the son the family once knew.

   Many critics have posited numerous complaints with Lambert’s film, but my biggest gripe is that the premise misses the mark.  As more than one horror scholar and psychologist has noted, the popularity of the genre is easily attributable to Darwinian theory and the urge to see the competition--that is, other humans--albeit fictionally, perish.  Indeed, I have met more than a handful of horror aficionados who are admitted misanthropes.  Yet, interestingly, after reiterating the aforementioned theory to them, they oftentimes concur but supplement their acknowledgement with the addendum that their loathing is species-specific.  Such people outline that humanity is a blight upon the Earth and that the pain and suffering in the world is almost exclusively due to humanity alone and that, considering they will never get to see justice done during their lifetime, at least they can see it in a microcosmic form on the big screen.  Such people close with the note that the sad part of this scenario is those who are unwilling victims in this equation:  animals.  As such, for such fans, King’s novel and Lambert’s film, beginning with the title, fails to understand the mindset of the genre’s fan base.    

   Now, aside from the premise being arguably disagreeable for the creators’ demographic, we also are forced to contend with the fact that King’s story is a deviation upon a horror classic, W.W. Jacob’s short story, “The Monkey’s Paw,” the author only thinly veiling the narrative’s roots by tweaking the storyline with the inclusion of a zombie consequence to the protagonist’s obstinate desires.

   To further compound these serious developmental and structural complaints, Midkiff does nothing to flesh-out the character of Louis, who never once evokes audience sympathy for his unfortunate predicament any more than he exhibits the acumen of someone with a medical degree.  Instead, we are presented with a lead character who has the personality of a wet piece of cardboard and likewise appears to be as intelligent as moist pulp. 

   Paradoxically, the only figures who are slightly interesting are arbitrary.  For example, the most authentic character in the film is the Creeds’ housekeeper, Missy Dandridge (Susan Blommaert).  The most entertaining personality is the late college student, Victor Pascow (Brad Greenquist).  Neither figures’ role is essential to the narrative in that what both Victor and Missy accomplish and represent could have been achieved without the introduction of a capricious character.  However, the most befuddling figure in this regard is the ghost of Zelda Goldman (Andrew Hubatsek), Rachel’s sister, who died of spinal meningitis when the latter was a child.  Now, outside of Rachel’s haunted past made manifest with the inclusion of Zelda, I am perplexed as to the exact function of the character.  If this is indeed an intentional motif by King or Lambert, there is little supporting it atop its failure to compliment or aide the main storyline.  Lastly, Ellie appears as a psychic in that she dreams events shortly before they take place.  Outside of attempting to lend a sense of suspense and tension to the plot (which could have been done more succinctly and creatively using other avenues), I fail to see the purpose in such a distracting component to an already weak tale. 

   As if the basic plot, its presentation, and execution weren’t putrid enough, their exists some very obvious continuity errors throughout the picture.  For example, a character’s corpse succeeds in decomposing within the course of another character’s nap and a large farmhouse becomes a towering inferno in a matter of mere seconds.  I suppose with everything considered, a gratuitous, clichéd finale which esteems to nothing more than the repulsive can only be expected.

   On a high note (excuse the pun), the Ramones provide the soundtrack.  Hey, at least there’s something to listen to as you clean the dirt out from under your fingernails, right?

   I must admit, as I waited for time to pass as the film compounded every sensibility I possess, I pondered upon the premise and stumbled upon an interesting coincidence:  A number of King’s early works contain demonic children--Carrie, Children of the Corn, Firestarter, and Pet Sematary.  What’s interesting is that the publication dates of the various titles--1974, 1977, 1980, and 1983 respectively--are suspiciously synchronized with the births and youths of King’s children (born 1972, 1974, and 1979).  Thus, like David Lynch, one can view King’s works which contain children from a biographical and psychoanalytic perspective if nothing else which, in relation to Pet Sematary, one will definitely need to keep in one’s back pocket in order fill the void where substance and entertainment belong.

   Conversation piece:  George Romero was originally slated to direct and Bruce Campbell is rumored to have been the first choice to play the role of Louis.

 -Egregious Gurnow

   

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