Pet Sematary – Child Loss Double Bill
PET SEMATARY (1989) Dir. Mary Lambert
My motto for renowned horror author Stephen King has always been, “I love the guy, but I haven’t read any of his books.” This remains true to this day, but that may eventually change with the newfound interest I’ve taken in his stories. The new adaptation of IT turned out to be well made and worthwhile minus my distaste for the new Pennywise, I recently watched The Mist which absolutely broke me with charm and tragedy, and almost every video of King’s interviews and lectures is hilariously entertaining. I’m happy to say that Pet Sematary turned out to be more engrossing and firmly creepy than I expected.
It is an amazing portrayal of how a mother and father handle the concepts of life, death, and afterlife both for themselves and for their strong willed yet innocent daughter. As well as watching a family cope with the sudden loss of a child despite living in a quiet countryside with only a single road to abide by. Despite its bizarre horror concept of resurrection it is a genuine examination of a happy family’s brush with the unforgiving forces of tragedy and the supernatural.
The cast especially put every ounce of talent into their performances for such a story. Dale Midkiff plays the good hearted father who is brought to his wit’s end as he desperately tries to weave his family back together. Similar to Harry Mason of one of my favourite video games Silent Hill, which gives credit to Pet Sematary as a creative influence, in that he’s a caring father that will stop at nothing to rescue his child from the grasp of the unknown. Denise Crosby plays Midkiff’s wife who struggles with the subject of death ever since she was left as a child to watch her older sister choke to death. Midkiff’s stunning early 90’s haircut is one of her personal highlights. Fred Gwynne as the ominously friendly farmer across the street steals the show with every line of dialogue uttered in his charming droll of caution and wisdom. Even the undead cat, Church, gives one of the best animal performances in film and remains adorable even in the violent afterlife. Indulging in a juicy slab of steak for his efforts.
One of the film’s best qualities is how its terrifying climax takes place in the morning. I’m always more terrified by the premise of facing the horrible and the unknown in broad daylight when you should feel safe knowing there’s a chance for help or public attention. And yet, we still see Michael Myers standing in the backyard amongst the fluttering bed sheets in Halloween. We still find a putrid corpse amidst the dawning sun in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
However, the only harsh mistake that the movie made was its ending. Midkiff carries his dead wife to the Indian burial ground in the hopes she will return to life, very much in keeping with the emotional core of this family tragedy; the bed sheet wrapped around her a funereal wedding gown as he carries her over the threshold. It could have ended perfectly with this morbidly romantic image with Gwynne’s narration reminding the audience that “sometimes dead is better.” But ending it with Crosby returning to her husband with a gory kiss followed by her raising a knife for a cut-to-black stinger finished the heartbreaking family story on a humorous note. An ending that absolutely works for Re-Animator or many of the Tales from the Crypt episodes, but for a powerful emotional story (albeit with a dark sense of humor) I felt that it missed its mark.
I would pass it off to studio insistence on one last scare, however, King wrote the film’s screenplay and he isn’t known for being swayed by studio suggestions. I’m still unsure if his cameo as a priest will make up for his ending. Here’s to hoping I eventually finish King’s The Regulators and discover more of his stories.