Pet Sematary: Sometimes Dead Is Better
Stephen King has been terrorizing movie goers since Carrie in 1976. The film adaptations of his books read like a Halloween checklist for movies to watch if you want nightmares. Think of the iconic Stanley Kubrick and Jack Nicholson film The Shining in 1980 and Firestarter in 1984, not to mention Cujo (1983), The Dead Zone (1983), Christine (1983), Children of the Corn (1984) and Misery (1990). There are also cinema classics like Stand by Me (1986), The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Green Mile (1999) that movie fans can thank Stephen King for.
In short, it’s hardly news that Stephen King is an institution when it comes to cinema. Pet Sematary may not sit on the shelf with some of his film classics, but it is no doubt a classic of the horror genre. The novel itself is the only book King has written that he has admitted scared even himself.
The screenplay was written by Stephen King, the first time he had adapted one of his own novels. The result was a movie adaptation that King was far more involved in than earlier productions, including insistence on certain filming locations and adherence to the screenplay. This may have been a result of King’s experience with the adaptation of The Shining in 1980, which he initially did not enjoy due to Kubric changing some of the thematic elements of the original novel.
The movie certainly falls into the category of ‘cult classic’, as it certainly isn’t one of King’s most critically acclaimed film adaption. However, most fans of the horror genre love the movie and it was met with financial success, grossing US$57 million on release on an $11 million budget.
Paramount Pictures distributed the film and Richard P. Rubinstein produced it with Mary Lambert directing. As if the novel wasn’t scary enough, Lambert ramped up the gory special effects. Although some of those effects may have dated, the movie’s subject matter, the haunting score by Elliot Goldenthal and some powerful acting performances still ensure high levels of discomfort when watching this movie alone.
Released in 1984, modern movie watchers won’t recognize many of the cast. However, Fred Gwynne who played Jud Crandall, may look familiar from his long list of supporting film roles and for playing Herman Munster on The Munsters. The Creed family was played by Dale Midkiff as the dad, Louis, Denise Crosby as Rachel the mom, an unsettling performance by Miko Hughes as Gage, and Blaze and Beau Berdahl as Ellie. A man, Andrew Hubatsek, was selected to play Rachel Creed’s undead sister Zelda, in order to make the character even more gaunt and scary. Other cast members include Brad Greenquist as Victor Pascow and Michael Lombard as Irwin Goldman. Pet Sematary featured King himself in a cameo as a minister.
The plot revolves around the Creed family, who has just moved into a new home. Unfortunately the house is sandwiched between an old burial ground and a busy road frequented by speeding trucks. Naturally, the townsfolk are reluctant to talk about the cemetery, but Louis Creed soon has a nightmare where he is visited by a neighbor who has just died, warning him about its true nature.
The Creed family bury their cat ‘Church’, another victim of that road, in a pet cemetery next to the burial ground and the cat later rises as a vicious, undead reanimated corpse. When his son Gage dies, Louis must face the inevitable question of whether he should bury him in the burial ground in the hope he will come back. His answer and the resulting terror will not surprise you, but it will scare you.
The film was followed by a sequel, Pet Sematary Two in 1992. It was not as successful as the original, critically or financially. However, it did boast a cast more familiar to modern audiences. It starred Edward Furlong, Anthony Edwards and Clancy Brown. Long destined for a remake, Matthew Greenberg is currently writing a screenplay to be produced by Steven Schneider for Paramount Pictures.