Friday, August 12, 2016

PET SEMATARY (1989) - ***


Rated R
Running time: 102 min.
Release date: April 21, 1989


Pet Sematary is a movie about coping with the loss of a beloved pet, or maybe even a beloved child. It provides a glimpse into the mindset of those left behind who may question the purpose of the untimely death. "Why doesn't God get his own cat?" cries a worried young girl, lamenting the possibility of one day losing her precious feline friend. The movie also shows that we are an impulsive lot and quick to lash out at others during times of mourning, even if it's at a funeral. The premise of Stephen King's novel is present throughout the film. The novel was much more frightening than the screen version; but the screen version takes those questions about life and death, those feelings of remorse and all the other emotions surrounding it, and answers them in a most audacious manner.

The film opens in a most creepy fashion, showing us a cemetery for long lost pets, accompanied by some rightfully atmospheric music Elliot Goldenthal, an Oscar-winning composer (Frida). This brings us to the beginning of the story, with the Creed family moving into their new home in the town of Ludlow, ME. Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) has just taken a new job as a doctor at the University of Maine and has moved his family from Chicago. His family includes his wife, Rachel (Denise Crosby), daughter Ellie (Blaze Berdahl) and son, Gage (Miko Hughes). Louis and Rachel do not win any points in the Parents of the Year contest due to failing to notice that their front yard butts right up to a busy highway constantly bombarded by big rig trucks. Across the street lives old Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne) who welcomes the new family and becomes a pseudo-grandfather figure type for the family. When young Ellie spots a path that runs down into a wooded area, the music gets very creepy as Jud tells them that when they settle in, he will show them what's down there.

Later on, they all go for a walk down the path as Jud introduces them to the local pet cemetery, established by the children of the town some years ago, hence the reason for the misspelling of the word "cemetery" as "sematary". Louis goes to his job at the university and on his very first day, a jogger is brought in, completely messed up as he was hit by a truck. The man, Victor Pascow (Brad Greenquist) dies, but breathes long enough to warn Louis about the pet cemetery. Louis is confused as to how the man knew his name and why he warned him about the cemetery. Pascow returns later that night as ghost, convinces Louis to follow him to the cemetery and points out the barrier that Louis must never cross. Never mind that the ghost is still suffering from the head injury that killed him. 

When Thanksgiving arrives, the family heads home to Chicago to visit Rachel's parents, but Louis conveniently stays behind. The plot requires him to stay behind because the family cat, Church, gets killed. The scene where Louis literally peels the cat off the ground was both unnecessary and hilarious at the same time. Wanting to avoid the heartbreak that little Ellie would feel over losing her cat, Jud takes Louis to an Indian burial ground beyond the pet cemetery, where Jud explains that he once buried his dog. Soon after, much to Louis' surprise, Church returns but with an ornery disposition. Ellie is none the wiser, however. Not long after, young Gage is killed by a truck, throwing the family, and the movie, into turmoil. The movie really shifts gears at this point, featuring a second half that turns the whole thing into a silly horror-comedy. But you know what? It turns out that it was highly enjoyable.

First and foremost was the character of the ghost, Victor Pascow. He retains the open head wound that he died with and then later on becomes a sort-of driving force into helping characters prevent what was about to happen. There is a scene at a rental car counter that just sends the tone of the film over any horror realm and into high-concept comedy. Dale Midkiff's performance as Louis Creed has to be one of the most even-toned performances you will ever see. His acting is not good, but when the movie stops taking itself seriously, Midkiff is acting like he still hasn't been let in on the goofiness. Herman Munster himself, Fred Gwynne, probably gives the best adult performance in the film, although his Maine accent is pretty laughable. The best performance comes from little Gage, Miko Hughes, especially late in the film. To be able to go from cute to maniacal, without even knowing how to say those words yet, just adds to the movie's shift in tone. The plot moves quickly with every scene necessary to the story. Characters make questionable decisions, but they do so because of their emotional state.

Director Mary Lambert starts off by giving us a standard horror film build-up, but then it's almost like she couldn't take Stephen King's screenplay seriously and decided to just go in a completely different direction midway through the film. However, here's the thing: the movie is stupid. It's dumb. It's stupid and dumb and you can't help but watch what unfolds and just smile and laugh at just how dumb and stupid it is. The movie doesn't completely work on the horror level, although there are some genuinely creepy scenes to be had here. But when you walk away thinking that this is a movie that you could watch again, the film did something right. That something was entertain. Even if it didn't answer all of your questions.

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