Creepy and Unnerving, ‘Pet Semetary’ Retrospective (Minor Spoilers)
Original film poster
Sometimes Dead is Better
I saw this as a child but had no idea what I was looking at. Years later I saw this on AMC’s story notes and learned a lot about how it was made and more of the story. While this film didn’t scare me, it did leave me feeling uneasy. The film is the 1989 horror film Pet Semetary. It’s based off the Stephen King novel of the same name and was directed by Mary Lambert.
The film’s plot follows medical doctor Louis Creed who moves to Maine with his family. Near his new house is a pet cemetery. Further beyond that is an ancient Indian burial ground where it’s rumored that anything buried there may come back to life, however they may not quite be the same as they once were.
While working at the hospital Louis attempts to save a man named Victor Pascow, played by Brad Greenquist. Pascow dies from his injuries, however since Louis still attempted to help him, his spirit comes to assist Louis. He warn Louis not to go anywhere near the burial ground beyond the pet cemetery.
Soon afterwards Louis finds his daughter’s cat, Church dead. As he contemplates on what to do, the next door neighbor, Jud, played by Fred Gwynne of The Munsters fame, suggest that Louis take the cat to the burial ground since it may bring the cat back to life. They go through the woods and across treacherous terrain until they eventually reach the burial ground. Jud specifically tells Louis that he must be the one to bury the cat, which Louis does. The next day Louis is surprised to find that Church is alive and has returned home, however he acts out of character, such as showing more aggression.
Sometime later the Creed family and Jud have a picnic. While playing with a kite, Louis’s son Gage, played by Miko Hughes, is struck and killed by a tractor trailer. After Gage’s funeral, Louis’s wife and daughter are sent away leaving him alone. He wonders if burying Gage in the burial ground will revive him the same way with the cat. Jud warns Louis not to take Gage’s body to the burial ground. This stems from an earlier experience he encountered decades before with a similar incident involving the burial ground.
Not heeding Jud’s advice Louis digs up his son’s body and takes it to the burial ground. Just as with the cat, Gage comes back to life with a completely different personality. He immediately attacks Jud and calls for Louis. Louis eventually goes to Jud’s house not knowing what to expect.
The cast is rather interesting, at least the main characters are. Louis is played by Dale Midkiff. He’s a new doctor at the University of Maine. Being a doctor he’s pretty down to Earth in the beginning. He raises a brow at the supernatural things that come up, specifically when encountering Pascow’s ghost and when Jud tells him about the burial ground. His experiences with the supernatural, such as the cat coming back to life and what happens with his son eventually do starts taking a toll on Louis which causes him to slowly lose his mind and go insane. A small spoiler, by the end of the film he completely loses his mind.
Jud is the friendly next door neighbor who attempts to help Louis when his cat dies. It’s revealed later that he knew about the burial ground so it makes Jud appear somewhat like an antagonist. It can be argued that burying a small animal at the burial ground isn’t as bad as burying a person there, which is why Jud told Louis to take the cat there, though knowing what he did it’s still a questionable decision on Jud’s end. On a minor note, in the novel there was another reason as to why Jud reveals the power of the burial ground and what his connection is to it.
Victor Pascow in a way is a foil to Jud. While Jud tells Louis about the burial ground and encourages him to use it, Pascow warns Louis to stay away from it. In the film he appears the same way he died, mangled and bloodied which actually gives him a zombiefied appearance. He appears creepy in all of his scenes and despite being portrayed as the film’s ‘big good’ trope, all his scenes are disturbing.
When Gage first appears he is a happy, playful, and innocent child. After he dies and comes back to life he’s completely different. His skin has a small pale glow and he malevolently attacks others. After his resurrection he’s much smarter and somewhat stronger due to the demonic possession. With so many traumatic experiences happening both Jud and Louis have a hard time focusing on dealing with Gage, despite Gage being a toddler.
Louis’s wife Rachel is played by Denise Crosby from Star Trek: The Next Generation fame. She is down to Earth, the same as Louis for most of the film. She does tell the traumatic story of her sister Zelda, played by Andrew Hubatsek, who actually gives off vibes similar to Pascow.
There are two characters who felt rather weak to the plot and don’t have too much weight. Louis’s daughter Ellie is played by Blaze Berdahl. She’s somewhat annoying in her scenes and has little to do with the plot. She somewhat becomes relevant near the end when Pascow invades her dreams. The other character is the housekeeper Missy Dandridge, played by Susan Blommaert. She has a relatively small part in the film where she complains about constant growing stomach pains. She hangs herself very graphically and the Creed family attends her funeral. It was such a small story that its only purpose was to put in another funeral scene.
Overall Pet Semetary is a recommended film, though there are much better undead films. As I mentioned it’s not really scary but it is creepy and leaves an uneasy feeling. This is enforced by the creepy atmosphere, such as the scenes with the pet cemetery and burial ground, and their dark color pallets. The whole film subtly foreshadows events to come, such as with pictures and premonitions. There is a sequel titled Pet Semetary Two, also directed by Lambert, though it pales in comparison to the original. Check out this one if you want a different take on the undead genre, just don’t expect anything major.
Original film trailer
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