How Both Pet Sematary Adaptations Miss The Mark (Opinion)
Pet Sematary has always been that little Stephen King cult movie that may have gotten a little more attention than it may deserved. It isn’t terrible, not by a long shot, I’m just saying it might not be the underrated classic many horror fans believe. I will admit it has some very cool imagery and bizarrely cool and creepy moments. Also, while I can appreciate the actors taking the material seriously and giving it their all, the overall story and script doesn’t help the movie.
Let’s take Jud Crandall, played amazingly by the late Fred Gwynne. He knows how dangerous the burial ground is, but shows Dr. Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) what and where it is. Wouldn’t common sense (and past experience) tell you that a family living right by a highway with trucks constantly driving by shouldn’t know about an evil cemetery that resurrects the dead? The motivations of our protagonists don’t make a whole lot of sense from the beginning, which doesn’t really make the buildup worth it.
This goes into my next point, how the new Pet Sematary solves many of the originals story telling issues, especially when it comes to why the burying is happening in the first place. It has the opposite problem, not enough happens, particularly in the first half. When film does start to pick up, we are given some cool scenes and good horror moments, but the payoff doesn’t necessarily work because we are given way too much exposition. So, we as an audience are already kind of spoiled before the action even begins. Just going through the motions of a creepy kid killing a kind old man.
The remake stars Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, and John Lithgow. Just like the first movie they take the material very seriously. Where the movie succeeds as well as fails is in the story telling. It takes the idea from the novel that it is actually a demon or evil spirit that takes possession of the dead that are buried there. He influences those that are grieving in order the come out. Which is a vast improvement over the originals Victor Pascow literally showing him where to go and climb. But you know, “Dead is better”.
I also have to say the better ending belongs to the remake. The original’s is creepy for sure, but the new takes it up a level and actually pays off. It’s a shame that neither adaptation could bring to life the horror of Stephen King’s novel. Both movies come close to being good, but are brought down by either implausible and silly motivations, or boring pacing with a decent payoff (except for the last scene). Perhaps the next adaptation should be a miniseries?
The idea of taking grieving parents and using their guilt against them is undeniably scary. The execution both movies have does not serve the idea justice though. Let’s take another Stephen King adaptation for example, Cujo. Cujo has a lot of themes that coincide with the primary narrative. Stress, Ambition, Infidelity, Anger, Lust, all play a role in Dee Wallace’s character as she tries everything in her power to protect her son.
The themes in both Pet Sematary movies don’t necessarily blend as naturally, they are just used as a means to bring the audience along with the plot with almost no depth. To bring some clarification to my point, when Dr. Louis Creed brings his first child to be resurrected from the ground, we already know what he is going to do. This brings the more ambient elements of the movie less engaging because the story already tells us what the imagery is hinting. Perhaps if we took the best factors of both movies and made them into one, that would be the Pet Sematary horror fans want.