Pet Sematary (1989)


“Sometimes Dead is Better”

Main Cast: Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby

Director: Mary Lambert

Dr. Louis Creed and his family are moving to a small Maine town where Louis will be the on-site doctor for the local college.  It’s a fresh start, a chance to get themselves on track and out from under the thumb of Louis’s overbearing father-in-law.

His wife, Rachel, daughter Ellie and son Gage in tow, Louis sets about building the perfect life in the perfect home.  Or it would be perfect if the road out front of his house weren’t so busy with delivery trucks running back and forth.  If someone isn’t careful, namely Ellie’s cat Church, they could find themselves as road kill out there.

Which is exactly what happens to Church while the wife and kids are away for Thanksgiving.

The neighbor, Jud Crandall, has gotten to know the Creeds pretty well and knows how much that cat means to Ellie, so he takes Louis to a secret place, the “Pet Sematary”.  Only he’s not taking Louis to the cemetery behind the Creed house, which he had shown them their first day in town.  There’s another Pet Sematary, he tells Louis, the real sematary behind the cemetery.  It’s a treacherous walk through the woods, but once they reach the location, Judd tells Louis to bury the cat.  He does so and the next day, before Rachel and the kids get back home, the cat has miraculously returned.

Louis doesn’t know how it’s possible, but the implications are amazing.  So he does what anyone would do, because it’s the next logical step.  He asks Judd if anyone’s ever buried a person up there.  Judd scoffs at the idea at first, saying of course not, no one ever would.  But that’s not the whole truth.

When the PET SEMATARY novel was first published, I remember a lot of hype surrounding it, because there was a quote from Stephen King himself claiming it was a book he almost didn’t finish because it frightened him too much.  Well, if something’s going to be so scary even Stephen King, the MASTER of horror, can’t bear it, then it’s GOT to be good.

And it was.  I don’t think the novel was necessarily all that scary, but it had its moments for sure.  So a movie version of that story, as long as it stuck to the story and didn’t mess around too much with the plot, was a sure winner.

The first movie version of PET SEMATARY was released in 1989 with a screenplay by King himself and directed by music video director Mary Lambert.  Dale Midkiff (Elvis and Me), whom I’d never heard of, brought Louis Creed to life, and when I first saw him in the role I knew he was perfect: he looked exactly how I’d pictured Louis when reading the novel.

Fred Gwynne (The Munsters) played Jud Crandall, and, to me, it was another perfect bit of casting.  Gwynne is the heart of this movie, turning in an awesome performance.

Not all of the cast fares so well, in my opinion, however.  I wasn’t crazy about Denise Crosby (Star Trek: The Next Generation) as Rachel.  I know the character wasn’t supposed to be likable, but something about Crosby’s portrayal just made Rachel seem unnecessarily bitchy.  And the Berdhal twins, Blaze and Beau who played Ellie…I don’t think there’s been a person in history who has watched this movie and loved Ellie Creed.

Miko Hughes shines as Gage Creed, however.  He doesn’t have so much to do as the toddler in the first part of the movie, but during act three and the climax he shone.

Probably the most unnerving and creepy thing about PET SEMATARY isn’t the Creed family or what they’re forced to endure.  It’s actually something in the past.  Rachel had an older sister growing up, Zelda.  We only see Zelda through flashbacks and hallucinations by Rachel, but Andrew Hubatesek, who donned a dress and some terribly frightening makeup gave one of the movie’s best performances and definitely provided the most haunting images that stuck with the audience for years afterward.

PET SEMATARY is one of the most successful King adaptations in terms of sheer creepiness.  It’s not necessarily a scary movie, but there’s a ton of images and scenes that just make the hair on the back of the audience’s neck stand on end.  And that’s sort of why we watch these movies in the first place, isn’t it?

While there were a few less-than-convincing effects, for the most part this was a visually interesting movie.  Lambert managed to capture both the all-American imagery as well as the surreal dream world associated with the events of the plot perfectly, creating a movie that is able to ride both sides of the fence and slip effortlessly back and forth.

As horror movies go, King’s novels haven’t always translated as well as people hope. But every so often there comes along a story from the King library that restores the faith of the fans who have had to endure too many MAXIMUM OVERDRIVEs or RUNNING MANs, and who just want a killer horror movie made from the works of their favorite author.  Not everyone can bring out the best in a Stephen King movie adaptation, but in PET SEMATARY King and Lambert really delivered.

King on Film

Carrie (1976)

‘Salem’s Lot (1979)

The Shining (1980)

Creepshow (1982)

The Boogeyman (1982)

Cujo (1983)

Disciples of the Crow (1983)

The Woman in the Room (1983)

The Dead Zone (1983)

Christine (1983)

Children of the Corn (1984)

Firestarter (1984)

Word Processor of the Gods (1984)

Cat’s Eye (1985)

Silver Bullet (1985)

Srazhenie (1986)

Gramma (1986)

Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Stand By Me(1986)

The Lawnmower Man (1987)

Creepshow 2 (1987)

A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987)

The Running Man (1987)

Sorry, Right Number (1987)

The Dark Half (1993)

The Tommyknockers (1993)

Needful Things (1993)

The Stand (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

The Mangler (1995)

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

The Langoliers (1995)

Sometimes They Comes Back … Again (1996)

Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (1996)

Thinner (1996)

The Shining (1997)

Ghosts (1997)

Chattery Teeth (1997)

The Revelations of ‘Becka Paulson (1997)

Trucks (1997)

The Night Flier (1997)

Chinga (1997)

Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (1998)

Gerald’s Game (2017)

1922 (2017)

The Stand (2021)

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