Sometimes dead is better.
Year of Release: 1989
Running Time: 102 minutes (1:42)
Director: Mary Lambert
Dale Midkiff ... Louis Creed
Denise Crosby ... Rachel Creed
Fred Gwynne ... Jud Crandall
Miko Hughes ... Gage Creed
Blaze Berdahl ... Ellie Creed
Beau Berdahl Oliver ... Ellie Creed II
Brad Greenquist ... Victor Pascow
Stephen King ... Minister
Andrew Hubatsek ... Zelda
For most families, moving is a new beginning. But for the Creeds, it could be the beginning of the end. Because they've just moved in next door to a place that children built with broken dreams, the Pet Sematary. It's a tiny patch of land that hides a mysterious Indian burial ground with the powers of resurrection.
Pet Sematary, remindin' us that when the guy who played the Frankenstein Monster on The Munsters tell you "sometimes dead is better," he knows of what he speaks. After all, Herman Munster had it pretty good; hot vampire wife, cool car, neck bolts for hangin' his keys on, pretty sweet deal. Granted, he did have that Al Lewis grampiring around hasslin' 'im a lot of the time, but no existence is perfect. An speakin' of things held together with stitches, just two more days an I can get mine taken out. Which'll be nice, cause it's almost impossible to sleep with those things pinchin' an pullin' at my vitals. Tetnis' professional suggestion, after I called to complain about it, was to roll over an quit sleepin' on my hinder. Like it's that easy to adopt a new sleepin' position in three days. As for the story behind said stitches, lemme just say: when you're cuttin' down trees, it's a good idea to look up first an make sure there ain't any carnivorous critters sleepin' in 'em. It's like this - Billy Hilliard, Cleave Furguson, Apollo an I drove out to Outhouse Creek to cut some firewood now that the fire danger's finally dropped from "Arkansas Fireworks Factory" to the "Airplane Bathroom" level, an we start sawin' away at some good-sized Lodgepoles. Billy's takes a while longer cause it's bigger'n the ones Cleave an I'd dropped, but eventually it goes over an passes through this stand of Red Firs on its way down... an just clobbers this cougar that'd been hidin' in one of the fir trees waitin' for us to leave. Cat got blasted harder'n a Boog Powell home run ball an dang near got crushed under the tree when it finally hit the ground, an by the time he'd hit the ground he was one P.O.'d puma. Now, as most of you already know, when a tree starts fallin' you put your saw down an get the heck outta the way. An as you also prolly know, if you're usin' a cheap saw (I don't really wanna go namin' names, but... thanks a bunch HOMELITE) an you let off the throttle, sometimes it dies. So needless to say, when the cat gets up an starts boundin' across the gulch at us, we're all tuggin' at our starter ropes tryin' to get 'em goin' to put somethin' dangerous between us an the cat, but there's just nothin' doin'. Then we start hollerin' an threatenin' it as best we can while we're all tryin' to keep on opposite sides of the various trees we've taken refuge behind, an that proves about as effective as a bungee cord winch. Thank cripes it was too P.O.'d to notice Apollo finally come chargin' up from behind it or else our corpses'd be all over a buncha NRA recruitment flyers right now, but he got the drop on that cat an sank his teeth deep enough into its backside to keep it distracted until Cleave was able to get his saw runnin' again an chase it off. Apollo carried half its tail around with 'im for three days just proud as could be, until Shankles finally took it away from 'im. He'll fight a cougar without a second thought, but Shankles is, well, a whole 'nother animal.
More to the point, though, we're about to start pressin' into the Halloween season, an since this's the only part of the year where people like me're thought of as contributing members of society, I'll be doin' nothin' but top shelf cinema the entire month (cept for Halloween week, cause I always do a flick from the Halloween series that week an we've long since exhausted the good titles in that franchise) startin' out with Pet Sematary. Stephen King's had more books adapted to the big screen than I've had good days, an of all those flicks this one's probably my favorite. Even better than Maximum Overdrive. So to thank Steve for the countless all-nighters spent scarin' up decent material for us to gawk at, I've gone ahead an picked out just a few of the things to absorb into your frontal lobes to help make life a little less miserable. First, never ever marry anyone until you've experienced the death of a mutual acquaintance together. The reason this's so important is cause doing so will cause your significant other to immediately disclose any horrible secrets about their own experiences with death, thus giving you the opportunity to run for your life an avoid a whole lotta money on psychiatry fees. Second, Indian burial grounds are racist. Period. You bury a white guy in there an the next thing you know the soil horks 'im right back up like a tainted sushi sampler. An third, gettin' your pet fixed doesn't keep 'im any closer to home. It just means he hasta live out his final days without a sense of purpose.
However, with that said, sometimes a movie leaves you with more questions than answers; like, for instance: how does one go about startin' a Pet Sematary? Is there a permit for it? Can you just walk into the BLM office an say "Hey, turkey! Fetch me one of them Pet Sematary applications an don't gimmie no grief about my unpaid grazin' fees or I'll come across this counter an rearrange that Ranger Smith hat for ya!"? An takin' it a step further, once you've started your Pet Sematary, how the heck do you incentivize people to haul their dead pets all the way out to your moor de gore? Cause I dunno about anyone else, but my own family members've been lucky to make it into a cemetery after they're gone, let alone a pet. Dead pets're generally a private service in the backyard kinda thing, who the heck's gonna toss ole Red in their trunk an drive for 30 minutes just to plant 'im with his own kind? An another thing; what's livin' next to the Pet Sematary do to your property values, an how can you fight back against it if someone opens one up next door to you? I mean, you can see what livin' next to the regular graveyard does to your resale value, that's almost as bad as livin' next door to Bam Margera for cripes sake. Seriously though, consider this; when you start inquirin' about rentin' a house, what's the first thing the landlord asks? Right: "do you have pets?" They don't ask "any Vicodin addicts?" or "how many registered sex offenders in the household?" No, they wanna know whether you've got a ferret that might burrow into the walls an expose the layers upon layers of asbestos they've been tryin' to conceal. So when you get right down to it, dead animals're even worse than dead people. Somebody decides to install a pet pit on the property adjacent to you, an the equity in your home starts circlin' the toilet faster'n a goldfish that died of excessive aquarium pebble consumption. I like Pet Sematary, don't get me wrong, it's just that these things keep me up at night.
The movie begins with this middle class suburban family movin' into an old farm house in the backwoods of Maine to rough it outside the borders of the Dominoes delivery route, but right outta the chute their daughter (Ellie) breaks the antique tire swing an starts blubberin' like Corey Feldman after everybody made fun of his musical stylins on the Today Show. But while the parents're tryin' to calm the kid down an figure out how badly the loss of the tire swing is gonna affect their quaintness quotient, their toddler (Gage) is headed for the highway lookin' for adventure an just about gets mashed into preschool paste before bein' saved at the last minute by Herman Munster (Jud). Later that night, Louis (the Dad) is wanderin' around outside markin' his new territory an decides to head over to Jud's porch to get a wheat stem for his mouth an whittle somethin'. Eventually the conversation turns to the little path leadin' into the woods offa Louis' property, at which point Jud explains that it's the boulevard of children's screams an leads down to the pet cemetery. So even though it's basically the kinda place Satan goes to masturbate, Jud takes the family down the path the followin' mornin' in leu of a house warmin' gift, an Denise Crosby (Mom) gets P.O.'d when Jud mentions the children need to learn about death sooner or later. Apparently she thinks she's got a family of Highlanders or somethin'. Then Louis starts his first day of work at the community college infirmary an ends up havin' a worse first day on the job than this week's Al Qaeda #3, when a buncha students carry in the corpse of Anthony Michael Hall (Pascow) an flop it down right in the middle of his free period. There ain't a whole lot you can do when somebody's skull's got more cracks than the windshield in my 1984 Topaz, an Louis ends up callin' it after mosta the kid's cerebellum dribbles down into his shoe. Only a coupla minutes later, the kid burps up about a half gallon of blood an tells Louis about how "the soil of a man's heart is stonier" like he'd just flashed back to the last thing he heard in philosophy class, before promptly goin' back to bein' limper'n a man's crotchal region during a Dr. Ruth lecture. But Louis' bad day can't just end with a win/loss deficit an a blotch on his permanent record, oh no, cause when he tries gettin' some shut eye that night, Splatsper the Friendly Ghost shows up an takes 'im out to the pet cemetery to warns 'im not to cross the "barrier" cause the ground is "sour." I'm not sure what that means exactly, but it sounds like the Indians over yonder needa pour some lime into their outhouses before the EPA starts givin' 'em the business.
Next thing ya know it's Thanksgiving, an Denise hasta take the kids to 'er parents' house without Louis cause 'er folks never were able to get over the fact that he wore a blue suit to their wedding an had the DJ play Def Leppard's "Hysteria" during the couple's first dance. Unfortunately, once the family's left, Louis gets a call from Jud to inform 'im that Church has horked his last hairball, an is currently meltin' into a pile of catatouille in his front lawn. Fortunately, Jud has a plan that doesn't involve replacin' the cat with a doppelganger like some hackneyed sitcom plot, an all it requires is that they traverse 10 miles of slick hillsides an unstable slash piles until they reach the old Micmac Indian burial ground, whose soil is tougher to break through than the human chain formed by Scott Steiner an Don Muraco in a game of Red Rover. Takes about 10 hours, but eventually they get all the dearly departed's parts into a hole an cover 'im up, at which point Jud tells Louis not to tell anybody about what they've done or else it'll put the community college for Necromancy outta business. Actually, Jud don't really explain in detail what it is they've done, which is why Louis's just a little bit freaked out when he walks into the garage the next day an finds Church hissin' at 'im like a cranky rattlesnake. Louis feels he was denied critical, need to know information. So he heads over to Jud's house where Jud tells 'im about how a wiseass Micmac Indian with a pretty dark sense of humor told 'im about the place when he was a kid, an how when he buried his dog up there it came back to 'im the next day lookin' an actin' less like Lassie an a lot more like Cujo than he remembered. Then Louis asks if anybody ever buried a person up there, an Jud gets so frazzled he knocks six beer bottles over an just about leaves a little mound of osh-squashed-goulash in his B'Goshes while tryin' to reassure Louis that never happened. A coupla days later the family returns, but upon realizin' she's gonna hafta go back to changin' Gage's rancid diapers, the housekeeper (Missy) takes the sensible way out an hangs 'erself in the garage after leavin' a letter of resignation on some saw horses. Two weeks notice woulda been nice, but then somebody woulda planned one of those awkward interventions where disingenuous people surround you in your livin' room smilin' like used car salesmen tryin' to convince you how they couldn't get along without you, so you can see why this way is better. Anyhow, after reverend Stephen King performs the eulogy, Ellie asks Louis if Missy made the final cut for Heaven or whether that whole suicide thing resulted in a form letter from Saint Peter, an so Louis lays out all the post-mortum possibilities for the afterlife, an when she asks him if he believes we all just vanish like a fart bubble breakin' the bathwater surface he hasta make like Celene Dion an tell 'er their hearts will go on.
Kinda hard not to when you've got a cataver starin' you in the face. Then Denise decides Louis ain't had a rough enough day an uncorks this story about how 'er parents used to leave 'er alone with 'er twisted sister (Zelda) who had spinal meningitis that they kept locked away in the back room like she was no better'n a paintin' of the poker playin' dogs, an how one day she choked to death on the pea soup she was tryin' to vomit onto Denise while she was swivelin' her head around. Denise seems to recall bein' somewhat pleased with the outcome of said events at the time, an wonders if maybe this is somethin' she shoulda mentioned to Louis before they started passin' their genetic material on to their offspring, but Louis figures a coupla sleepin' pills'll fix 'er right up an don't fret too much about it. Then, a few days later, the family's out in the yard flyin' a kite with Jud, when Gage drops the kite reel like a Ryan Lochte endorsement deal after the Rio Olympics, an ends up wanderin' out into the road while the family squabbles about who gets to be the next one to get it lodged in their Birch tree. Toddler triage is pretty much outta the question on account of mosta the kid's torso havin' been strained through the grille an fried into veal marsala on a semi's radiator. The subsequent funeral ain't especially uplifting either, particularly after Denise's Dad starts kickin' the crap outta Louis until the kiddie coffin topples over an reminds everybody in attendance why they went with the closed casket. The padre's gonna have one hell of a time explainin' this to God, that's for sure. Needless to say, Louis is a little down. His kid's dead, his wife's as basket case, an his cat hates 'im, so this's about the point where he starts wonderin' if things could get any worse if he was to go plant Gage up in the burial ground an see what sprouts. Incidentally, no matter what you're goin' through, things could always be worse; I mean, just as an example, your rectum could seal itself shut. But anyway, because Jud's an over-the-hill retiree with way too much time on his hands, he realizes that Louis is prolly workin' out this particular equation in his head an decides to tell 'im the truth about exactly how the preliminary zombie run went 50 years prior. The short version is that Jud an a buncha good ole boys, who were never meanin' no harm, incidentally, ended up havin' to burn down the house of some grief-stricken father who'd tucked his kid in for a dirt nap up at the Micmac grounds (with both father an son still inside), after gettin' too many complaints from the Catholic Church about how easy people were makin' resurrectin' the dead look.
So the next day, Denise an Ellie move back to 'er parents' house to collect their thoughts an their first monthly psychiatric disability check from the government, while Louis stays behind to tie up the loose ends an try his hand at growin' some squashed baby. Meanwhile, Pascow's showin' up at Denise's parents' place tattlin' to Ellie an Denise about what Louis is up to, an when she tries callin' home an can't get ahold of 'im cause he's already out at the graveyard Tomb Raidin' like Lara Croft, she an Pascow hop on a jet to try an cut 'im off before he can unleash the rampage de Gage. Unfortunately, the P.O.'d Indian spirits're workin' overtime against Denise, so when she starts gettin' a little too close they go on the warpath an run 'er ironically selected Plymouth Reliant rental car off the road. Ultimately, she ends up havin' to hitch a ride with the first trucker she can find who ain't got a hooker in the passenger seat, but by then Gage's already gotten his second wind an clawed his way out of his second grave in as many days an made his way over to Jud's place, where the old man's passed out on the front porch like an alcoholic postman. Jud's at least got enough sense to know that there's no goin' from the cradle to the grave, an then back to the cradle, so he pulls out his pocket knife an heads upstairs followin' these evil baby laughs that'd make Chucky crap his pants. Unfortunately, he Gages the situation rather poorly, an pretty quick the little booger pops out from under the bed an slices through Jud's Achilles tendon an proceeds to gnaw on his throat like a gigantic teethin' ring. Shortly thereafter, Denise gets dropped off by the trucker an starts hearin' Zelda's Cryptkeeper-esque voice accompanied by Gage's cadaverous caterwauling comin' from Jud's house, prompting 'er to head inside. This is easily the stupidest thing Denise's done since leavin' Star Trek: TNG, cause once she walks inside she sees Gage wearin' one of Zelda's old childhood outfits (her restless spirt has apparently taken up a rent free existence inside Gage by this point) an offers 'im a bear hug. He offers her a bear trap in the form of his little undead incisors, primarily around the eye socket. When the sun finally comes up, Louis awakens to find his medical bag rooted through an a set of muddy midget prints leadin' out the front door, an seems strangely surprised when Gage starts prank phone callin' 'im an tellin 'im about how he an Denise were just bondin' over a pleasant game of Death. Gonna cut it off here, even though I think most everybody's already seen what happens after Louis finally starts to question some of his recent life decisions.
Alrighty, Pet Sematary, still a classic after all these years, and still the best movie adaptation from a Stephen King novel. Of course, that might have something to do with the fact that it was King's best novel, and the fact that King also wrote the screenplay. Now, if you've read the book, you can imagine some of the arguments Steve had with the executive producers about which parts of the book hadda come out, because really, with the exception of the handjob in the bathtub, the only real graphic stuff that didn't make it into the movie would be some of the language. Same thing happened when Steve was directing Maximum Overdrive, those dang censors just won't let the guy have any fun at all. I'm not even gonna dignify the IMDB rating on this thing with an acknowledgement, but suffice it to say; it's so far off base it could get picked off by a center fielder with no arms. Kinda the ultimate tale of one man's grief and the lengths to which he'll go in his attempt to right the terrible wrong. I know a lotta movies try to work the time-tested "grief driven descent into madness" angle, but I really can't think of a better one than Pet Sematary. Only Stephen King would have the audacity (read: guts) to depict a toddler bein' run over by a semi truck back in 1989. The movie was actually shot just 20 minutes from King's home in Bangor, so he was constantly roamin' the set makin' sure all those Hollywood phonies weren't trying to water down his script, which, if you've seen many of the other movie adaptations of his books, makes complete sense. The man wasn't just there to shoot his cameo as the preacher presiding over the funeral, he was on location to make sure they didn't try toning it down to a PG-13 wimp fest. Something else I should point out about this movie is that, while most of us haven't really been affected by horror movies since we've been able to see over the lunch counter in the school cafeteria, this is one flick that *does* have an effect on the folks who do get scared by movies. It's definitely got some freaky stuff in it, like the twisted sister with the spinal meningitis livin' in the back room, for instance. They actually cast a guy for that part on the basis that the director didn't think they'd be able to make an actual 13-year-old girl look scary enough. This was long before The Ring, of course, but what I wanna know is why they didn't think they could make a teenage girl frightening, but they were willing to try it with a 2 and a half year old boy. I'm not knocking Miko Hughes' performance, but I think the real reason his undead scenes are as effective as they are, is simply because of how well Fred Gwynne and Dale Midkiff were able to put him over. Although the evil laugh that the guys in the sound department were able to tweak into something twisted certainly came across well. One last thing that's kinda interesting about this one; George Romero was originally supposed to direct it (it was also offered to Tom Savini, who was either just finished or still working on the Night of the Living Dead remake), but ended up dropping out due to a scheduling conflict, and I just wanna say that Mary Lambert (who'd never done a horror flick, and only ever directed one other feature) did a hell of a job in Romero's stead. Maybe even better than he could have.
Okay then, now that I've riled up all the misogynists, let's cut this thing's nuts off and see if it still has the grit to cross the road. The plot is excellent. You've got an ancient Indian curse, a burial ground ground that's somehow able to influence the people who cross its path, the psychological childhood torment comin' back to wreak havoc, and best of all - we got a resurrected toddler runnin' around with a scalpel chewin' the throat outta Herman Munster. My only objection is the half-assed segue into Denise Crosby's story about Zelda, that thing just kinda pops outta nowhere don't it? Still, fantastic story, doesn't get much better. The acting is equally superb, with even the children in the cast pulling off masterful performances. It must have been especially difficult getting a kid as young as Miko Hughes was to do what you want him to, and for the most part, they look to have continued doing takes until they got something usable. Search as long as you like, you won't find a weak link in the cast, but I think my two favorite performances are gonna be Fred Gwynne as the kindly old Jud Crandall, and Brad Greenquist as the mangled, yet gravely concerned Victor Pascow. And let's not forget about Andrew Hubatsek as the deranged, skeletal Zelda. Dude may not quite look like a lady, but that's part of what makes the character so horrifying. Perfect score for the acting portion.
Here's who matters and why (less Stephen King, since I think people might possibly be familiar with him already): Dale Midkiff (2012 Doomsday, Flight of the Living Dead, Route 666, Alien Fury: Countdown to Invasion, The Crow III, Visitors fo the Night, Nightmare Weekend), Denise Crosby (Invasion Roswell, Born 2007, Mortuary 2005, Mutant Species, Dolly Dearest, Eliminators 1986), Brad Greenquist (A Beginner's Guide to Snuff, The Cursed, Copperhead 2008, Golden Years, The Chair, Mutants in Paradise), Miko Hughes (Wes Craven's New Nightmare, Remains, Spawn), Kavi Raz (Warning Sign), Liz Davies (Insanitorium, Run Like Hell), Chuck Courtney (The Food of the Gods, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula, Teenage Monster). There's also a fairly lengthy collection of mainstream bullstuff roles that your mother may've seen these people in, and I'll list those now for all you sissies and talent scouts out there. Dale Midkiff would likely be known to the average human being as Darien Lambert on Time Trax, Fred Gwynne, of course, played Herman Munster on The Munsters, but was also Donald Davenport in The Secret of My Success, Arthur in Fatal Attraction, Muldoon on Car 54 Where Are you? and Judge Haller in the immortal My Cousin Vinnie. Denise Crosby hopes you remember her as Tasha Yar from Star Trek: The Next Generation rather than for Dolly Dearest, Miko Hughes grew up (at least a little) to voice Tommy Anderson on Life with Louie, Blaze Berdahl would go on to voice Frazier on the series Ghostwriter, Susan Blommaert would later play Mrs. Carson in Doubt, and Kavi Raz would later understudy the role of Dr. Vijay Kochar on St. Elsewhere.
The special effects are also exceptional, and fortunately, by 1989 the MPAA had begun to mellow out a bit and allow people in the makeup effects industry ply their wares in ways that prospective employers could actually SEE. So, thanks to that loosening of the noose, we get three exceptional zombies/ghosts (Gage seems to have escaped the semi-truck barreling down on him fairly unscathed, which, while unrealistic, you've got to expect, as you'd never be able to keep a kid that age from picking at his prosthetics), the disfigured Zelda character, a dead cat that's so realistic I'm not sure it was actually an effect, a severed Achilles tendon, a slashed mouth, and a chewed up throat. The only effect that's even slightly lacking is the slashed mouth, and it's still pretty good. If you're looking for the chink in the armor, you're not gonna find it, because the shooting locations are great too. The Pet Sematary is the centerpiece, but the Micmac burial ground with the Satanic rock geometry is also a high point, as is the path leading to it. Even the interiors of the houses are authentic, with Fred Gwynne's house being the better of the two, as I think just about everybody knows/knew an elderly person who had a house that's decorated in this style. This house, of course, goes on to become even more integral to the atmosphere of the movie once it becomes twisted and desiccated by Gage and Zelda's evil presences. As for the soundtrack; it's probably in my top ten list as far as being both atmospheric, and a great listen. The opening track is the best, with it's haunting child choir playing over the credits and the tour of the Pet Sematary, in fact, I like that track almost as much as the first time I heard it, in The Amityville Horror. Alright, they're not exactly the same, but there's a good chunk of it that's practically identical, so much so that it *almost* seems lifted from Amityville. Still, there's a lot more to like than just the opening track, because every single one of them is chilling, eerie, and hauntingly beautiful. And of course, let's not forget about the END credits, that features The Ramones' "Pet Sematary." It's definitely one of my favorite songs from any horror flick, complete with lyrics that actually pertain to events in the movie. If you've ever read the book, you'll recall that it contains multiple references to The Ramones' song "Hey Ho, Let's Go!", which lead to their involvement in the screen adaptation. The sequel would also feature a Ramones song playing over the end credits, which was the equally enjoyable "Poison Heart." Overall, King's best novel translates into his best movie adaptation, and it still plays well after almost 30 years. So check it out again sometime, or buy it blind if you're from the unfortunate generation who had to grow up in the new millennium, years after the golden age of horror had ended.