Pet Sematary is a 1989 horror film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name. This is another one of those movies that I watched at a very young age and it certainly had quite the impact on me at the time. In fact, certain scenes in the film led to me having nightmares so I’d recommend holding off on showing this to your young kids. Anyway, let’s have a look at Pet Sematary and see if it can have anything close to the same impact –
The Creed family moves from Chicago to the small town of Ludlow, Maine. They end up befriending their elderly neighbour, Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne), who some time later takes them down a well-tended path which leads to a pet cemetery (misspelled “Sematary”) where the children of the town bury their deceased animals.
It is pointed out that Sematary is of course misspelled and although it’s never explained why in the film, it is pointed out in the book that the sign was made by kids and that they had misspelled it.
Later, Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff )is working at the University of Maine when a young student named Victor Pascow is brought in with severe injuries from a car accident. The young man dies, but not before warning Louis (by name) of the pet cemetery.
That night, an undead Victor visits Louis, taking him to the cemetery and issuing a warning about its power. Louis wakes up the next morning convinced the incident was a dream, but he discovers dirt on the sheets and his feet.
It’s well established that the Creed’s live next to a very active highway that seems to have a constant flow of huge trucks going by and it’s this same road that has led to the deaths of so many young children’s pets. Ellie Creed (Beau Berdahl), just so happens to have a cat (Church) and expresses her concern over the safety of Church to her father. This leads Rachel Creed (Denise Crosby) to have concerns over her daughter’s fears about death and wonders whether the whole concept of a Pet Sematary has gotten to her daughter.
Rachel disapproves of discussing death and she worries about how Ellie may be affected by what she saw at the Sematary. It is explained later that Rachel was traumatized by the early death of her sister, Zelda, from spinal meningitis — an issue which is brought up several times in truly disturbing flashbacks. In fact, Zelda may just be the single most disturbing thing about this whole movie as her appearance and physical state is horrific.
Unfortunately, while the family are away at Rachel’s parents’ house for thanksgiving, Church is run over by a truck and has died on Jud’s front garden. The effects used for the dead cat are seriously impressive and had me questioning whether they had used a real one. Jud informs Louis who has stayed home because Rachel’s parents are not very fond of him. Louis frets over breaking the bad news to Ellie. Sympathizing with Louis, Jud takes him to the pet cemetery, supposedly to bury Church. But instead of stopping there, Jud leads Louis farther on a frightening journey to “the real cemetery”: an ancient burial ground that was once used by the Micmac. There Louis buries the cat on Jud’s instruction, with Jud saying that animals buried there have come back to life.
Not really believing, Louis thinks that the subject is finished until the next afternoon, when the cat returns home. But it is obvious that Church is not the same as before. While he used to be vibrant and lively, he now acts very viciously as well as having a new pair of eyes that glow a bright yellow. The cat also smells so bad that Ellie no longer wants him in her room at night.
Tragically, Gage Creed (Miko Hughes) is run over by a speeding truck several months later, even though Louis very nearly manages to prevent the accident.
Overcome with despair, Louis considers bringing his son back to life with the help of the burial ground. Jud attempts to dissuade him by telling him the gruesome story of the last person who was resurrected by the burial ground. Jud concludes that “the place has a power” and that this power caused Gage’s death because Jud introduced Louis to it.
Despite this, and his own reservations about his idea, Louis’s grief and guilt spur him to carry out his plan; with horrifying consequences for him and his family
On the flight, Ellie has a nightmare, stating that “Paxcow” warned her that Louis is going to do something really bad, and that he is trying to help because Louis tried to save his life. Rachel realizes who her daughter is talking about and calls Jud after Louis does not answer the phone. She asks if he has seen Louis, and then tells him she is returning. Jud warns her not to, but she has already hung up.
Louis takes his son’s corpse to the Micmac burial ground. Pascow’s spirit unsuccessfully tries to stop Louis. Louis returns home, exhausted from his activities. Gage later arrives and enters his father’s room, removing a scalpel from one of his bags. Gage enters Jud’s house and kills Jud while Church watches.
Rachel arrives home, hearing something that sounds like her late sister, Zelda, calling her name, then Gage’s laughter. Rachel enters Jud’s house and finds Gage in an upstairs bedroom. Gage tells her he brought her something and shows her Louis’ scalpel. Rachel hugs her son in disbelief and is murdered.
Louis wakes up to find Gage’s muddy footprints on the floor, his doctor’s bag open and his scalpel gone. He receives a call from Gage who tells him that he’s inside Jud’s house and that he wants to play. Preparing shots of morphine, Louis heads to Jud’s house, running into Church once more. He distracts the cat with a raw steak, and then kills him with a shot of morphine. He heads into the house, once more taunted by Gage.
Louis searches the house only to have Rachel’s corpse fall from the attic, hanged by her neck. Gage attacks his father, but Louis injects the boy with a morphine shot, killing him. Louis soaks the house in kerosene and sets it on fire, carrying his wife’s body out.
Pascow watches, attempting to apologize and begging Louis not to make the same mistake. Louis replies that he waited too long with Gage, and that it will work with Rachel because she had just died. Louis walks through Pascow, who vanishes screaming.
Late that night while Louis plays solitaire, Rachel’s reanimated corpse returns to the house. She and Louis embrace and begin to kiss. Unbeknownst to Louis, Rachel reaches for the knife on the table and raises it behind his back……
Pet Sematary is a truly disturbing horror movie and it isn’t afraid of taking risks with some of its imagery and dark scenes. Not many modern movies would be bold enough to show small children dying and then being reanimated only to become murderous psychopaths. The flashback scenes involving Rachel’s sister Zelda may not be as terrifying as I remember them but they’re still very disturbing and really stick with you.
There’s also a scene that I didn’t mention that involves the Creed’s housekeeper who complains about stomach pains and is clearly very depressed and jealous of the Creed’s being a happy family. Eventually there is a short scene in which we see her hanging herself and it’s very unsettling to witness.
Although there isn’t that much in the way of gore when it is used it’s pretty damn spectacular as you can see with the gruesome effects used on Rachel at the end.
I think one of the best things about the film is the acting. Dale Midkiff does an exceptional job as Louis Creed and you really get a sense of the despair he is feeling over the loss of his son. Fred Gwynne is great as the loveable Jud and of course Miko Hughes is impressive as the seriously cute yet deadly Gage Creed.
One of my only complaints about the film would have to be regarding the burial ground itself and how it’s not really explained why burying people there makes them become so evil other than that the ground has gone “sour”. I would have liked to know more about what exactly had gone wrong with it and what had happened to the people that created it.
Pet Sematary has a strong, creepy concept and it’s executed in such an excellent way that turns out to be one of the best horror movies of the 80s and quite possibly ever. It is undoubtedly a scary film that holds up remarkably well considering its age, I’d definitely recommend you don’t show this one during family movie night.
Stephen King's: Pet Sematary