"The soil of a man's heart is stonier, Louis. A man grows what he can, and he tends it. 'Cause what you buy, is what you own. And what you own... always comes home to you." Jud Crandall
"I don’t wanna be buried in a Pet Sematary, I don’t wanna live my life again....." The Ramones
Pet Sematary - having been a devout fan of Stephen King and his works since my early twenties, I’ve always thought that this is as dark and twisted a tale as he has ever told. I remember reading that paperback in 1983 and the story gripped me more than practically anything else I had read. In fact, looking back at it now - I’m glad I read it back then, when I was single and not a parent. This story is every parent’s worst conceivable nightmare and every parent’s ultimate moral dilemma.
I’ve read in interviews with the author that this was a book he really didn’t want to have published. It was too dark, too disturbing, too much of a personal nightmare and I can see exactly what he means. However, having said that - it’s probably a favourite of mine for those very reasons. It’s light years away from telekinetic teenagers, vampires in a small town, haunted hotels, post apocalyptic killer flu virus shenanigans, pyrokinetics, psychics and haunted cars that had populated Kings books previously. This is where, in my opinion, King broke down his personal barriers and REALLY let us readers have it.
I really didn’t think that the book would be filmable - not that the story wouldn’t translate well to the screen, there was never a question that it would, but remember this was the eighties, when censorship was rife, the likes of Freddy Krueger had yet to stalk cinema screens, here in the UK, tabloids were blaming everything on horror movies, The Exorcist and Texas Chain Saw Massacre were still outright banned from video release (or in the case of Chain Saw, just banned altogether and unseen in this country). But then, it happened.
There were two things that surprised me when I saw the film, the first was the stunning performance as Jud Crandall an elderly well meaning neighbour by Fred Gwynne. Gwynne’s comedic timing and deadpan delivery in the face of all adversity, quickly followed by a panic attack was what made his performances in Car 54 Where Are You and more particularly The Munsters is what really made those series work and assured the comedy therein to be timeless. I’ve always thought that Fred Gwynne and Al "Grandpa" Lewis were an unsung comedy duo to rival Laurel & Hardy or Abbott & Costello.
In Pet Sematary, Gwynne plays it completely straight and you can’t help but feel for his character as, well meaning as he is, a story he tells kick off events which spiral completely out of his control and there’s nothing he can do about it. His helplessness is tangible and earnest.
The other is choice of director Mary Lambert. I don’t think I had seen a horror movie directed by a woman before, but I didn’t realise that this was the case until I saw Mary Lambert’s credit. In fact, I can’t name more than a handful of women directors even now. Producers - yes. Directors though? Why aren’t more women directing horror movies?
Anyhow, gender notwithstanding, I thought Lambert was a risky choice for a high profile movie featuring a particularly nasty and disturbing story by the world’s best selling horror author because her background previous to this was TV documentaries and a handful of pop videos for Madonna. But, hell - she delivers. Big time.
Set, as ever in rural Maine, the Creed family move to their new home which is a detached house close to a busy main road known for having large trucks speeding along. The father, Louis is taking up a position as a doctor in the local college. (Oh, and he has possibly the worst first day possible.)
Behind their house is a pet cemetery, where for generations, local kids have buried their beloved pets because as Jud eloquently puts it, the road uses up a lot of dogs and cats.
Beyond the cemetery is an old Indian burial ground, and the soil there is, as Jud says "sour". There are stories of pets being buried there and "coming back". But what comes back isn’t the same - it has no soul. Asked by Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) if anybody had ever tried burying a human there Jud is outraged "Christ on his throne no! Who ever would?"
As Rachel Creed (Denise Cosby) visits her folks for Thanksgiving with the kids, their cat, Churchill meets his fate in the form of an eighteen wheeler on the road. Having reassured his kids that the cat would be perfectly safe, Louis needs to put this right and so buries the cat beyond trees, past the pet cemetery and sure enough the cat comes back. And sure enough, he’s different.
Louis doesn’t go along to the family weekend because he doesn’t get along with Rachel’s parents. There are flashbacks to Rachel, as a child being left alone to care for her horribly disfigured sister, dying of spinal meningitis. Those flashbacks stayed with me for a while after seeing the film for the first time. The make-up on the twisted, tormented sister is effective and chilling. Especially when she reappears in a nightmare.
It’s when their toddler son Gage wanders into the road and is hit by a truck that the story becomes dark, darker and darkest.
Louis exhumes the body and reburies it in the burial ground and waits.
The performance Lambert coaxes out of child actor Miko Hughes is nothing short of astounding, eliciting both innocence and a malevolent soulless evil. Slicing Jud’s Achilles tendon with a straight razor, he kills the old man and then stalks his father.
Rachel comes home from another stay with her parents with the unshakeable feeling that something is very, very wrong - not knowing it’s Pascow (the ghost of a student Louis tried in vain to save) who’s warning her. Unfortunately, she meets Gage first and doesn’t survive the encounter. Yes - they push it all the way to matricide by a toddler in this one.
Finding her body, Louis decides on his plan of action.
"I waited too long with Gage. But with Rachel... it will work this time! Because she just died, she just died a little while ago!"
We hear Pascow scream his protest and fade away....
As I said, it’s a disturbing story. Which parent wouldn’t consider that drastic an action to save the lives of their kids, or to bring them back?
Okay so if this had whet your appetite to watch the film, you can find out more about it and maybe even purchase it at this link.
Next time, what the fog’s hiding in The Mist??
Copyright © 2010 - 2013 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.