Thirty years after the original Pet Sematary premiered, Paramount Pictures released a reboot for a new generation of horror fans. So, where does Pet Sematary 2019 rank among the three adaptations?
Based on Stephen King’s 1983 novel of the same name, Pet Sematary follows the Creed family’s move from the city of Boston to a supposedly quiet life in Ludlow, Maine. In the woods behind their property is a pet cemetery (with a misspelled sign) that has been maintained by the town’s children for generations. And in the woods behind the pet cemetery is another burial ground – this one with the power to bring the buried dead back to life… though they’re not quite the same.
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The original Pet Sematary is widely regarded as a classic of ‘80s horror, while the 1992 sequel doesn’t have the same prestige. In fact, King had his name removed from the film. With the release of Pet Sematary 2019, now is a good time to take a look back at all the film adaptations of King’s book and compare them. Here’s our ranking of the three Pet Sematary films.
- This Page: Pet Sematary II and Pet Sematary 2019
- Page 2: Why Pet Sematary 1989 is Still the Best Movie
3. PET SEMATARY II
After directing the original Pet Sematary film, Mary Lambert released a sequel that’s messy, corny, and devoid of genuine scares. Structurally, the script represents the major weak spot, as Stephen King’s original tale was superseded by screenwriter Richard Outten’s take. In retrospect, Pet Sematary II has nostalgic appeal with its overt camp and dated visual effects. As a whole, though, Pet Sematary II is the least effective of the franchise films.
Pet Sematary II stars Anthony Edwards (ER) and Edward Furlong (Terminator 2: Judgment Day) as Chase and Jeff Matthews, respectively. Upon the tragic death of the family matriarch, Darlene, the father and son move to Ludlow, Maine. Before they even arrive, however, Pet Sematary II opens with an awkward death scene – one that lacks the tension and subdued dread of the original film. Incidentally, Lambert’s sequel immediately feels off from the start with its notable lack of directorial finesse and style. Rather than staying true to the original Pet Sematary premise and tone, the sequel introduces literal shock horror with a dreadful opening sequence.
In Pet Sematary II’s main roles, both Edwards and Furlong deliver performances that are basically fine. And that’s a good thing, as they mostly ground the film with heart, thus allowing Clancy Brown to play it up as the sheriff-turned-zombie Gus Gilbert. While the first half of Pet Sematary II prioritizes exposition in order to establish the town baddies (Gus and the bully Clyde Parker), the second half features various memorable moments, ridiculous as they may be. There’s a dream sequence sex scene in which Chase imagines a nude woman with a dog’s head, and there’s a gory death scene when Gus terrorizes (and kills) Clyde.
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But these highlights aren’t enough to make Pet Sematary II an early ’90s classic, or even a good film. The awkward editing and pacing creates unintentional comedy, and the storyline lacks King’s polish, even though it wisely references the original film’s story. Aside from the weak script, the ghost elements also devalue Pet Sematary II. Overall, the sequel feels like it’s directed more towards the casual moviegoer rather than genre enthusiasts who appreciate a proper scare.
2. PET SEMATARY (2019)
In May 2018, filmmakers Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer suggested that their Pet Sematary reboot would be the “scariest” Stephen King adaptation. On various levels, the films works, as the structure mostly stays true to the original film – albeit with a few major changes – and the directors seem invested in pleasing die-hard horror fans. Whereas Pet Semetary II is campy and corny, the new Pet Sematary organically immerses viewers into the story. Unfortunately, Kölsch and Widmyer’s film just isn’t that scary.
Technically, Pet Sematary excels with its sound design, from the roaring Orinco trucks to the ominous score. In addition, cinematographer Laurie Rose (Overlord) strengthens the film with her fluid visuals, most notably the overhead shots that establish the town itself as a villain before introducing the film’s undead baddies. It’s also evident that Kölsch and Widmyer are skilled filmmakers, as Pet Sematary doesn’t feel rushed, nor does it force blatant scares on the audience. At times, though, Pet Sematary feels too restrained. It’s not that the film lacks gore and WTF visuals, it’s that various sequences don’t end with a proper scare. And considering that the trailers spoiled one of Pet Sematary’s main twists, the reveal doesn’t have as much impact as it should.
John Lithgow’s interpretation of Jud Crandall also isn’t especially memorable. In the original film, Fred Gwynne appears slightly menacing and strange with his physical mannerisms and notable accent. There’s a “lived-in” effect, and Gwynne steals most of his scenes as Jud. In Pet Sematary 2019, however, Lithgow walks the line and plays it simple. There’s nothing wrong with that, and Lithgow doesn’t give a bad performance, but the film already has a grounding force with Jason Clarke as Louis Creed, and doesn’t need another one.
In Pet Sematary’s main role, Clarke and Amy Seimetz give fascinating performances. As Louis, Clarke naturally comes across as a strong patriarchal figure; a stark contrast to Dale Midkiff’s aloof and almost campy character in the original film (more on that later). Because Clarke mostly stays balanced and composed, he complements Seimetz’s more animated performance as Rachel Creed, a woman traumatized by childhood experiences, along with the death of a loved one. Over the years, Pet Sematary will age well, if only because of Seimetz’s brilliant acting and depiction of absolute dread.
Page 2: Why Pet Sematary 1989 is Still the Best Movie
1. PET SEMATARY (1989)
The original Pet Sematary remains the best franchise film because of the directorial execution and its faithfulness to the emotional core of the novel. From beginning to end, the film undoubtedly has that ‘80s VHS vibe, and in the best way possible. Early on, Lambert effectively establishes a specific mood of dread that permeates each sequence. And whereas the creepy sound design complements the creepiest characters, there’s also value in hearing the Ramones’ “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” during a pivotal scene. Of course, the Ramones recorded “Pet Sematary” for the movie – which is rad.
Looking back, Midkiff’s acting doesn’t hold up especially well because he often appears to imitate Bruce Campbell’s performances in The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II. The exaggerated reactions infuse some comedy into the film, but often in ways that undermine the horror. A well-placed line of a dialogue seems like it would be more effective than over-the-top physical reactions. But as a whole, the collectively subdued performances afford Lambert some extra room to explore the narrative premise: the rules of the actual Pet Sematary.
The original adaptation benefits from sticking to the plot of the original novel, with Louis Creed serving as the engineer of his family’s doom every step of the way. This is in contrast to the remake, where things get out of his control and he’s basically helpless against his resurrected child. Lambert’s film is less subdued than the remake and has more raw emotion, so that audiences really feel it when Rachel relays the terrible story of her sister’s death, or when poor Louis is forced to kill Gage all over again.
Some horror movies from the 1980s have aged horribly, but Pet Sematary still feels like a genuine classic. The aforementioned Gwynne provides a spectacular performance, and it becomes even more special for those whom are familiar with his previous work as Herman Munster. Plus, Stephen King himself makes a cameo. It’s all these little things that add up to make Pet Sematary so memorable and fun. And just when you’re locked into the story and fully enjoying the gnarly ‘80s aesthetics of it all, there are genuinely gory moments that are difficult to watch. The original Pet Sematary is like a pinball machine: it bounces the audience around while staying true to the rules of the game.
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