Pet Sematary is a tragic and twisted tale that can draw a universal audience. Death and loss are concepts that are often introduced to children by the passing of a pet. The opening credits show spooky images of a burial site for local pets, complete with the voices of children of the past saying bye to their pets. Children always wish their deceased pets could come home again, and here Stephen King imagines the horrors if they actually did.
In the film, Louis (Dale Midkiff), his wife Rachel (Denise Crosby) and two small children move to an old house along busy road. Day and night, big trucks charge by, claiming the lives of many animals. Many of them were buried in the local pet cemetery, just a short hike from Louis’s home. When his daughter’s cat is found dead on the side of the road, Louis’s neighbor, Jud (Fred Gwynne), shows him a place just beyond the pet cemetery to bury it. A place a ghost warned Louis about, where the ground has gone sour. And the cat comes back, but it’s a soulless monster.
Pet Sematary is one of my favorite books by King, and I must admit that while this film is a very faithful adaptation, the book is much better. My biggest complaint is the acting. Midkiff leads well enough, but Crosby irks me too much. Especially in the flashback scene where she’s explaining about her sister, Zelda. Nothing in her voice sounds genuine to me, but eye-rollingly fake. At least we have Gwynne’s drawl and his overall Munster appearance to remind us this is a horror movie. Oh, and keep an eye out for Stephen King’s cameo in a funeral scene.
What’s important is that the horror and tragedy are portrayed well in the film. The gruesome image of Pascow (Brad Greenquist) is not an easy one to shake, his character provides some of my favorite scenes. If only Louis took his warning more seriously.
And the tragedy is far greater than that of cats and dogs, so much so that I don’t have the heart to speak of it, let alone spoil it. The movie doesn’t quite make me cry, but parts of the book had me bawling. Let’s just say that even in the most awful circumstances, sometimes dead is better.
“The soil in a man’s heart is stonier.”