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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sometimes Dead Is Better

Pet Sematary(1989)
Director: Mary Lambert
Cast: Dale Midkiff, Fred Gwynne, Denise Crosby

The awful tagline above is fitting, given the quality of this movie. Adapting from his own novel, Stephen King unleashes yet another weak-scripted and shallow, emotionless movie. Most of King's adaptions are often terrible, but the few that have succeeded(Carrie(1976), The Shining(1980) have given the author more cinematic credence than is warranted. Pet Sematary is a bad movie on all grounds, unable to capture any real terror and most damaging of all, no emotion. It's a cheap and exploitive film that is trapped in 80s horror cliches and characters of the dumbest kind and never transcends above the imposed genre limitations.



The film begins with a new family moving into a seemingly idyllic spot in a rural area, complete with semi trucks that roar by the house 24 hours a day with no rhyme or reason. Fred Gwynne is a neighbor across the street who speaks about mysterious things with a rustic charm. He's about the only life there is in this movie and about all that I can reccomend from it. He takes the family down a path to an old pet cemetary, misspelled because it was made by illiterate children. Admittedly, the film is fairly smooth sailing thus far, establishing plot and characters decently, but it takes a turn for the stupid when a ghost begins haunting Dale Midkiff's character for whatever reason. The ghost is of a young man who was hit by a truck(big surprise in this town) and he haunts the family throughout the picture. He also adds nothing and just seems to be there to add some macabre elements, because subtlety is apparently all but lost on the filmmakers.
Predictably, the family cat is killed by a truck and Fred Gwynne suggests that Midkiff bring the dead feline to an inidan burial ground. It's a real moody, creepy place, but not much is made of it. The cat comes back the very next day and he smells bad and hisses alot. Plus, he's got glowing eyes, providing me with many a laugh, because he is also a fat cat and i'm very fond of silly domesticated animals.
We then learn that Midkiff's wide, played by Denise Crosby, has some hang-ups with death because she was forced to look after her deformed sister as a child and let her die. The flashback here is creepy, but adds nothing to the story, for her character will be so little involved that it ultimately was a fruitless addition. This is one of many things that should have been shortened from the picture.
One sunny afternoon, the family are together and the couple's two children are flying a kite. Miko Hughes playes the youngest child, named Gage Creed and Blaze Berdahl plays the little girl, Ellie Creed. The children's reactions to death and existence could have made for a more fascinating film, possibly in the vein of something like The Curse of the Cat People(1944) or Pan's Labyrinth(2006), but those are thoughtful and intelligent movies and this is not. Miko ends up following the kite into the road in an incredibly cruel scene, and is killed by a passing truck. The ensuing funeral is a fight between Midkiff and his wife's father, which results in the child's casket being knocked over.
Overtaken with grief, Midkiff wants to resurrect his child, but Gwynne warns him of the folly. In a flashback, he relates a story about a deceased soldier who was brought back as a murderous corpse(shades of Lovecraft's Herbert West-Reanimator) and had to eventually be slain. It's a fairly good sequence, but little is made of it and one has to wonder, considering there was also a previous flashback involving Gwynne's childhood dog becoming a monster, why they went to the burial ground in the first place.
Before you can recite the cheezy tagline that Gwynne repeats like five times in a minute, Gage is back from the grave and goes on a rampage, killing Gwynne in a gruesome fashion and even his own mommy, who comes back from a trip with her parents for no reason, leaving behind her child fpor contrivance sake.
Midkiff realizes his erro(I think) and poisons the cat and his son. What should have been a scene of unparalleled horror, is on the comic side, with none of the depth of emotion and madness required for such a nightmarish sequence. Midkiff even comically talks about "Thanksgiving for cats" before killing his cat!
Never one to give up, dumb-ass Midkiff decides to ressurect his wife, who is missing an eyeball and has a snapped neck. She comes back, they kiss and she stabs him. The end.









It's a mystery what anyone could find redeeming in a movie of such abysmal quality as this. Death is a sensitive issue and in most good horror films, it's a topic to be explored with both wonder and fear. The existentional qualities of the narrative and concept are tossed right out the window, replaced instead by some of the worst of 80s horror excesses. While I have a certain affection for the trashy 80s horror product, well aware that a few classics did creep out of the woodwork, it's films like this that make one realize also how overall medicore most of the decade's product were.
Pet Sematary offers a good concept for a horror picture, presuming to tackle the fears and obsession connected with death and it's many mysteries. It also could have been instrumental in depicting that feeling of loss and the true horror of losing a loved one. It's been said that no one knows true fear, until they have children and to a degree, this film attempts to play with that fear. Unfortuantely, because of the shallow character development and the lack of a psychological edge, along with much needed sensitivity, the film becomes hollow and predictable.



The film is heavy on subplots, far too much for a 90 minute film and most of what is presented never lives up. There's a character played by Mara Clark that hangs herself, but her character feels pointless, as she does nothing to propel the plot. Even the discussion between father and daughter after her death, does not really justify the need. Maybe she died so Stephen King could appear as a priest at the funeral. At least that made me laugh.
Gwynne is delightful as the neighbor, bringing the only real warmth and humanity to the picture and it's a pity that his character is killed off so heartlessly. His relations of strange events are genuinely effective and form the only frightening moments in the film. Midkiff is on the other hand, a bland lead, not generating the level of emotion or insanity that was really needed for the part. Likewise, Crosby is vacant and dull as the wife and brings very little to her , admittedly, underwritten character. The children are decent, Miko Hughes going on to such esteemed character parts, such as the child who informs everyone that boys have penises and girls have vaginas in Kindergarten Cop(1990).
Church the cat delivers a brilliant performance in the film, hissing and yowling for no apparent reason, but looking ultra-menacing nonetheless. He also eats alot and makes really funny faces that only a gifted thespian such as he, could master. If anything in the film is truly noteworthy, it's that it was blessed with his presence.







Pet Sematary is like it's namesake, rife with error and destined to an eternity of darkness, or at least that could be hoped. It was amazingly followed by a sequel, that if it can be believed, was actually worse than the original. If lightning did strike twice, hopefully it silenced this series for good. Unquestionably, one of the worst King adaptions of all-time and a very lamentable horror picture. Anyone expecting anything thoughtful or terrifying should look elsewhere. This thing is barely even good for a cynical chuckle. Reccomended only for King completists and masochists. Sometimes dead is better.

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