Sometimes, Dead is Better . . .

Like, pretty much always. It’s sort of intuitive, isn’t it? There are lines that shouldn’t be crossed. As my beloved Dean Winchester said, “The dead should stay dead.” Otherwise all kinds of unfortunate mishaps and general ballyhoo are likely to follow.

Case in point: Pet Sematary, directed by Mary Lambert. There is much with the ballyhoo, the glowing of eyes, and the mindless violence.

In other words: total win.


*Spoilers are clearly marked in the bottom of this review under the Spoiler Section. If you do not wish to be spoiled, just stop reading there.*

I read Pet Sematary like a decade ago, but that’s not why I picked out this movie. In the 100 best horror movies of all time (once again, listed here: http://www.best-horror-movies.com/100-top-horror-movies-2009.htmlPet Sematary is the only one that was directed by a woman. Can you believe that? Only one chick? That, more than anything, makes me want to take up the camera. Of course, I know next to nothing about filmmaking, but still. Only one woman out of a 100? I’m just thoroughly depressed right now.

Anywho. Pet Sematary is based off of a Stephen King novel, and from what I recall, it actually follows pretty well. Of course that only makes sense, because Stephen King actually penned the script. Louis Creed, with his wife and two kids, just moved into a nice, little country home, complete with a road that semi-trucks barrel down and a garden path to a creepy pet cemetery. But what the realtor probably forgot to mention is this: not everything buried in the cemetery stays there. If you know where to go, you can put your dead cat into the ground, and the next day you’ll have a cat that’s not dead. Mostly.

Like I said before, nothing good ever comes from shit like this. That pretty much sums up the entire horror genre. You are doing very bad things, and you will die from it.

Pet Sematary is smartly written. It hits pretty much every aspect of death—how you deal with it, when you should learn about it, fighting against it, playing God. It’s probably the most human of the horror movies that I’ve watched and reviewed this year. It’s all about how far a parent will go to protect their child from the world.

Most of the acting in Pet Sematary is relatively decent. I particularly like Dale Midkiff as Louis, the range he provides from beginning to end. Also: Miko Hughes, who plays Gage, may, in fact, be the cutest fucking baby ever known to man. Seriously, all this kid has to do is wave, and your freaking heart melts into a puddle of useless goo. Blaze Berdahl, who plays his sister Ellie, isn’t quite as cute and, frankly, isn’t the best child actor I’ve ever seen. But, hey, I forgive her: not every kid can be a Culkin. It’s Denise Crosby as Rachel who just doesn’t quite pull it for me. Sorry, Tasha Yar. A stronger actress could have rocked the lines you were given.

There are scenes in Pet Sematary that are so awful that they make you laugh—not awful like bad movie awful, awful like gut-wrenching, like deep-seated horror. I’m not crazy about Denise Crosby, and I’ve got a few small problems with certain transitions, but for the most part, Pet Sematary is pretty damn good. It hits you hard, the empathy and the horror.

If this is what it means for a woman to direct scary films, I’m saying, bring on the women!

Some random notes/feelings:

1. I’m not sure if this can be attributed to Mary Lambert being a woman or not, but while watching the film, I was struck by certain shots in Pet Sematary, namely, whenever the Creed family was together, just doing little stuff, eating meals, talking, whatever. Ellie and Gage weren’t just convenient plot devices. They actually acted like little kids, which was nice to see. It’s not that it’s uncommon, particularly in dramatic films, to see the happy family all shiny and perfect before everything goes all to Hell, but there was something about these moments that struck me as more genuine than that. At several points in the film, I almost felt like I was watching glimpses of home videos instead of a horror film. It was kind of neat to see. Was it a woman’s touch? Couldn’t say for sure.

2.) Although, not everything can be rah-rah feminism. Maybe shit was different in the 1980’s, but nowadays? I wouldn’t just be letting my husband choose the house that we were going to live in without ever seeing the place! I mean, good God! That’s going to be your home for presumably a long time. Don’t you want to at least give it a thumbs up or down before all the paperwork is drawn up?

3.) And let me just say this, Mr. Creed: you are, of course, forgiven for not knowing that the house you purchased came with a semi-direct path to a burial ground where you can raise the dead. You are not, however, forgiven for choosing a house that sits next to a highway so dangerous that they created an entire pet cemetery for all the little Rovers and Benjis that end up pancaked because of it . I’m saying, do some damn research, man! Trucks barrel down that thing like they’re going down the Indy 500 speedway or something. Isn’t the point of moving to a country home to get away from noises and dangers like that?

4.) It’s apropos of nothing, but the Stephen King cameo? Let me just say: awwwwesome.

5.) While we’re speaking of Stephen King, though: I’m so glad he’s the one who wrote this. The script just sounds so S.K., with lines like, “Is Zelda dead yet?” and “What we did was a secret thing.” Those might not sound like much to the non King fans out there, but trust me, those are his lines, and when they’re delivered right, they are awesome. Of couse, when Denise Crosby delivers them, they’re just sort of adequate. Dammit, Crosby. I’m not saying that you were the worst thing I’ve ever seen on film. Just, when this movie eventually gets remade (it’s inevitable, isn’t it?) I’m hoping that they cast a stronger actress in your part.

6.) And speaking of not-so-stellar delivery: like I said before, the little girl who plays Ellie isn’t the best actress in the world. However, I do like the part when she’s worried about her cat, and she says these awesome lines: “He’s not God’s cat! He’s my cat!” There’s just so much in there to work with. It’s such an interesting thing to play with, what you owe to God and what God owes back to you.

7.) The music in Pet Sematary kind of strikes me as the unique lovechild of the music in Sleepy Hollow and Flatliners. That’s not a complaint or anything. I just kept thinking of those movies as I watched this one.

8.) Louis Creed has a bumper sticker that asks: Have you hugged your MD today? And now I have a question for all you MDs out there: is that something you actually want?

9.) Also, Louis: I get that you have a crappy relationship with your in-laws (more on that in the Spoiler Section) but to send your entire family off to visit them during the holidays while you stay at home and . . . I don’t know, mope? Seems like starting a bad precedent to me. Either suck it up and deal with them, or say, “Screw you, Pops-in-law, but our family is going to eat here and you’re not invited.” To purposefully alienate yourself from family gatherings might seem like a good idea, but in the long run, it’s probably not a great one.

10.) Also in the Spoiler Section: Jud is kind of a suckmonkey.

That’s it for you spoilerphobes. The rest of you, follow me.

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If the 70’s were all about the Antichrist and demon children, then the 80’s were all about living on or near Indian burial grounds. What were the 90’s and 2000’s about, I wonder? I can’t think of any actual themes, just high school slashers and Japanese remakes.

So, the kind of funny thing about Pet Sematary is that the pet cemetery itself isn’t actually evil. It’s the Indian burial ground kind of behind it that’s the big bad mojo. And Louis would never have discovered the place at all if Jud (played by the judge in My Cousin Vinny) hadn’t decided to tell him all about it.

See, first Ellie’s cat, Church, bites it. Louis isn’t really looking forward to breaking his little girl’s heart, so Jud instead has the stellar plan of burying the cat in the cursed graveyard where “the ground is sour.” Jud, unlike Louis, knows exactly what’s going to happen: the cat’s going to come back, and he’s going to come back wrong. Jud knows, because he did the same thing to his dog when he was a boy. I’m not entirely sure why he feels the need to share this experience, other than to save Ellie some pain, which . . . look, that’s very noble, but dudes, Ellie will get past it. Losing your pet is awful. To others, it’s just some animal, but to you, it’s your pet. You love it, if you’re worth anything as a pet-owner at all. That being said, you do move on, and it’s better to have a dead pet than an undead pet that smells like death and throws rat corpses in your bathtub. Even little Ellie would probably agree with this.

So, once Church bites it, the next to go is baby Gage, who gets hit by a semi when he runs into the road. It’s one of the more awful things I’ve ever seen while watching a movie. Not that it’s graphic or anything. It just kind of punches you in the gut with a spiked sledghammer. In a way, you don’t expect it to happen, even though it’s the natural progression of the storyline, and even though Gage almost gets killed in the exact same way in the beginning of the movie (can we spell “foreshadow,” children?). Still. This kid is just so fucking cute, you feel like that they can’t actually go there. They wouldn’t really kill this kid. But they do, and it’s heartbreaking. It’s hands up to your mouth, ohmygod, heartbreaking.

I do think the moment’s kind of ruined a second later, when Lambert makes the poor decision of transitioning from the death scene to the funeral scene with a few corny photographic shots. It feels out of place in the film, and it takes you out of the story, which is not so good. But I’ll forgive them for it, if only because I liked the rest of the movie so much.

Moving on: against the advice of Jud and friendly ghost Victor Pascow, Louis goes ahead and digs up his son to rebury him in the Indian cemetery. (We’ll talk more about Pascow later.) Gage does come back, and he comes back seriously creepy. He doesn’t just slice Jud’s Achilles tendon; he saws into it, then gives Jud a bigger smile, then bites into his fucking neck. Sometimes, I have a hard time being scared of things that are tiny enough to drop kick (read: Leprechaun) but I gotta say, Undead Gage is freaky (and, also, still kind of adorable. It’s terrible, but it’s true. He’s just so ‘ittle!) Undead Gage also kills his mother, which isn’t very nice of him. Louis, who’s pretty much gone batshit crazy by this point, kills Gage with an overdose of morphine, and then buries his wife in the Indian burial ground with the belief that she won’t be an undead psycho like his son, because she only recently died. Yeah, Louis. Let’s go with that.

One of the things I really like about Pet Sematary is watching Louis descend into madness. Yeah, I know that sounds kind of mean. Still, sometimes characters just seem to shake off everything that happens to them in movies, like, oh yeah, you’ve tortured me, cut off my arms, put probes up my butt, whatever, but I’ve still got gumption, baby! I’m a-okay! I like that Louis loses his kid, and the grief kind of drives him crazy. The scene where he’s in the graveyard, smiling and laughing, and later, when he kills Church (“Today is Thanksgiving Day for cats!”) . . . he’s totally lost it, and I just kind of want to pet him. It’s horrible, but it’s a good kind of horrible, because if anything can drive a sane man crazy, it’ll be watching his baby get run over by a semi, finding the body of his wife and knowing who killed her, and putting his undead son to sleep. Yeah. Louis was doomed.

But let’s talk about that for a minute, the whole concept of doom and fate in Pet Sematary. There are forces at work in this movie . . . let’s just oversimplify and call them Good and Evil. On the Evil Side, you’ve got . . . well, just sort of an unspecified Evil, plus anyone that gets buried in the cemetery, of course. On the Good Side, you’ve got God ala his ghostly messenger Victor Pascow. By way of dreamspeak, Pascow repeatedly tells Louis not to bury anything in the Indian cemetery, no matter how much he feels he needs to. He also visits Ellie’s dreams, which is how Rachel figures out that her husband is in danger. Finally, Pascow has the power to influence decisions . . . he makes subliminal suggestions to the women who work at the airport and the car rental agency, allowing Rachel to get home to her husband faster. Of course, these end up being all for naught, since Rachel doesn’t arrive in time to save Louis and is, in fact, killed by her undead son. So, there goes that.

Now, I’m not saying that this is necessarily the case, but I do think that there’s some solid evidence against the supposedly good intentions of Victor Pascow. Because, when you think about it, all he really does is scare a little girl who can’t really do anything to help anyone; tell Louis not to do something he’s obviously going to do, and get Rachel home all that much faster to be murdered. She’s nowhere near in time to stop Louis from resurrecting Gage, so what’s her real purpose in being there? On one hand, Pascow does throw out the line that Evil is trying to slow her down, and he certainly doesn’t make her follow the creepy sounds of dead children into Jud’s house, which is where she’s murdered. On the other hand, I don’t exactly buy Pascow’s whole, “This is as far as I can go,” BS. I mean, why? It’s not like he hasn’t haunted that section of town before. Plus, he helps her hitch a ride on a truck that has a pretty prominent 666 on it. Like, that’s what we call omens, people. Didn’t you watch that movie too?

Whether Pascow is good or bad, I am definitely intrigued by the idea that the dead can influence the living to the degree that they do in this film. I think I’d like to see that movie, where the forces of Good and Evil are literally whispering in humanity’s ears and see what happens because of it. Oh, wait, that’s Constantine. Well, another movie, then. I think there’s a lot of potential in that idea.

Though we don’t technically see what happens to Louis, it’s completely clear that Rachel’s about to eat his face off. Therefore, at the end of this film, the only survivor is little, prophetic Ellie . . . who gets to live with her miserable grandparents until she’s 18 or commits suicide. Seriously, these people, especially the grandfather, are horrible. Daddy-In-Law is so distraught at the funeral that he decides to publicly attack Louis, blame him for his son’s death, and help knock his grandson’s coffin over. The quick glimpse of Gage’s arm is another hand-to-the-mouth moment. (I do feel the need to point out that Gage’s body probably wouldn’t be so, well, intact after being run over by a semi truck. But it was necessary for the story, and I’m mostly willing to overlook it.) Anyway, assuming Ellie makes it to adulthood without her grandparents or tragic history driving her absolutely fucking crazy, I’ve compiled a few lessons that she can draw from all of this.

Ellie:

1.)Do not bury anything in cursed Indian cemeteries. Ever. If an old geezer with a pronounced drawl ever tries to make you do this, hit him over the head with a shovel. Trust me. You’ll all be better off.

2.) Do not follow the sounds of your dead child’s laughter.

3.) Do not follow the sounds of your dead sister speaking. Do not follow the sounds of dead things period.

4.) Do not accept gifts from and/or touch people who have been dead for days.

5.) Look both ways before crossing the street.

Final Grade: B+

Moral: Home is where the heart is. So why don’t you and your heart reside in a place where trucks don’t try to fucking kill you?

Also: Jud, man. Your heart might be in the right place, but honestly? You suck, and I didn’t feel sorry for you when an undead toddler killed your ass.


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