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Pet Sematary
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Pet Sematary (1989)

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Plot Summary:
"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 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."

Review by
Ryan McDonald
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Review Date: 22 April 2010 My Rating: out of 5


Seemingly normal American family (Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby, Miko Hughes, Blaze Berdahl) move to rural Maine so Midkiff can set up his medical practice. Things seem happy for a while, until the family cat gets hit by a car on a notoriously dangerous stretch of road. Friendly neighbour Judd Crandall (Fred Gwynne, who should’ve done more films) directs Midkiff to a nearby ‘Pet Sematary’ (Hence the misspelled title), for all the road kill from the area. He tells Midkiff that just beyond the cemetery is an old Indian burial ground, and if he puts beloved ‘Church’ to rest there, the cat will return. And so he does, and so the cat indeed does return. The cat is not quite the same, though, as Judd is known to say; ‘Sometimes better’. And soon tragedy befalls another member of the family, and grief-stricken Midkiff thinks about doing the unimaginable.

Time has been fairly kind to this Mary Lambert (who cut her teeth doing the controversial video to Madonna’s best song, ‘Like a Prayer’) directed screen adaptation of the Stephen King novel. With decades of hindsight and many bad King adaptations behind, one has to say this is nowhere near the bottom of the list. What keeps it from being a total success are dull lead performances by Midkiff (Bruce Campbell would’ve nailed the role effortlessly, and was indeed first choice) and Crosby (and a horrible one by little Berdahl) and a failed subplot concerning a reanimated/ghostly corpse (Greenquist, with unconvincing makeup) that rips off the best part of 'An American Werewolf in London' minus the humour (and minus the impact).

Otherwise it has a darkly amusing sense of humour (and King’s patented cruel streak towards animals, most vehemently shown in 'Sleepwalkers' and 'Cujo'), and top performances by Gwynne (TV’s Herman Munster as the perfect blend of avuncular and unsettling) and a startling young Hughes (one of the all-time best kid actors IMHO, and he was only three at the time!). Crosby’s childhood story involving her ill/deformed sister (played by a heavily made-up male actor, Hubatsek) is particularly hilarious, and really sick stuff. King is a very warped man indeed.

I gotta give Lambert and King credit for going all-out with the morbid humour (a funeral scene involving a casket being knocked over and a punch up, etc) and some pretty controversial acts of violence here. A shame the FX are so uneven, the budget being around $11 million. Nice cinematography by Peter Stein ('Reuben, Reuben') featuring some terrific night-time shots of a foggy forest with dark blue backlighting. Screenplay by King himself (he amusingly turns up in a cameo as a preacher), supposedly fairly faithful to his source. Title song by The Ramones is rather dull, actually.

Not for animal lovers, and absolutely not for children- it will likely scar them for life! Not everyone will get this, but I didn’t think it was bad and often appreciated its grisly and morbid sense of humour.

Reviewer: Ben Aslett @horrorasylum
Review Date: 31 October 2001 My Rating: out of 5

Stephen King had built quite a reputation writing books. It was not until he sold the rights to his books to be made into films that his reputation expanded to its full potential. For now the world of King has been brought to a far wider audience. Now more people are able to appreciate his talents, in a fraction of the time it takes to read a book. Pet Sematary is just one of the many films that has been cast from a Stephen King book. It is, however, one of the greatest.

Pet Sematary is a story of a man's love for his family; a love that proves to be too strong for his own good. When he starts to interfere with the laws of nature, bringing the dead back to life, it's not surprising that the situation takes a turn for the worse. But that is the ultimate message behind the book and hence the film. Mother nature is someone that you don't want to be intervening with.

Possibly the best aspect of this film is the choice of lead actors. It's not often that you find two great actors that not only work well on their own, but also form a unique chemistry when on the screen together. Dale Midkiff and Fred Gwynne have great talents and are shown to their full potential in this film. Not to be outdone, Denise Crosby pulls of a good supporting performance as Rachael Creed. But the Oscar has to go to Miko Hughes who played the young Gage Creed. He was such an adorable little kid it was hard not to like him. His overall innocence and distraction by his surroundings made it all the more enjoyable to watch. His sweet and innocent side was as compelling to watch as his dangerous and murderous side was - especially the scene where he is wearing the top hat, suit and holding a cane. It will send shivers down your spine.

The whole idea behind Pet Sematary is that of resurrection. An idea that, to my surprise, was pulled off incredibly well. There is always trouble when you make a film about dead things coming back to the world of the living, it could back fire. You may want them to appear as ghost, but make them look like 'something'. You may want them to appear as zombies but make them look like 'something'. You may even want them to be something completely different but still look as if they were once dead. Pet Sematary deals with this problem marvelously. When anything is brought back to life these things do appear to be normal living beings. But there is still that sense about them that they are not what they appear to be - a subtlety in both acting and directing that builds an eerie ambience. This idea would, unfortunately, soon be ruined in the sequel. Making them as cheesy zombie-type creatures with none of the class and restraint that Pet Sematary had.

The title - Pet Sematary - implies that this film would revolve around pets, and this is a little misleading. The idea of the resurrecting is due to the pet sematary and the forbidden Indian burial ground itself, but that is mainly where you draw the line. The Creed's cat Church was brought back to life but this is the only animal. But the underlying factor that this film holds is the one for love and companionship. The pet sematary was an excuse for the bringing back of the dead; this appears to be the only true reason for it. In a way it is a stepping-stone.

What makes Pet Sematary appeal to the audience is the dark setting that is portrayed. The second half of the film is set in the dark, and subconsciously you begin to realize that this is fully intentional. It is not just being shot in the dark because the whole subject matter is death. It is being shot in the dark because it is a contrast. It is a contrast to the perfect world that was depicted in the first half of the film. One of a happy family, two kids and a cat. A friendly neighbour. A world that is all turned upside down by the deaths of family members; a world that is turned upside down by what at first seems to be love for his family, but turns into an obsession to regain the perfect world that is slipping out of his grasp fast.

'#ccc'>OVERALL SUMMARY This is one of the best films that I have seen adapted from a Stephen King book. It also ranks highly on my best films of all time list. From the gruesome effects, to the vivid and in some case morbid imagery, this film keeps the scares coming none stop. Pet Sematary is a must to watch and indeed a necessity to admire.

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