For, Friday, April 5, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: In 1989, ‘Pet Sematary,’ scripted by Stephen King and based on his 1983 novel, was a big hit despite being vilified by critics, including yours truly. In fact, it did so well that in 1992 there was a ‘Pet Sematary 2,’ though without King’s participation (he actually had his name removed from the credits) it was, predictably, a box-office flop. Now comes a remake, so in advance of that, here’s my review of the original, published in the Deseret News on April 26, 1989.

Stephen King's "Pet Sematary" is his biggest selling novel — and that's no small feat when you consider how phenomenal his book sales are in general.

And I remember King saying in an interview when the book was published that he didn't think this particular story would make a workable movie. Now that it has become a movie, we have evidence that King should have stayed with his initial instinct.

What is wrong with "Pet Sematary" — the movie — mainly has to do with some things being more acceptable in the reading than in the watching. Movies are such a visual, literal medium that lapses in logic that may not be as obvious on the printed page leap out at the audience when transferred to the big screen. Some such lapses here are so obvious that the protagonists appear to be real nincompoops, despite their college-educated yuppie demeanor.

And then there's the "Chucky" problem.

But before getting into that, let's warn you that in the course of this review, in order to discuss the film's more serious problems, I am going to be giving away some key plot elements. So if you are planning to see the film and happen to be in the nation's minority — those who have not read "Pet Sematary" — you might want to stop right here.


Stephen King has a cameo in 'Pet Sematary' (1989)

"Pet Sematary" is about a Chicago family — a physician, his wife, their young daughter and toddler son — that moves to rural Maine, where Dad will be teaching at a nearby university.

The house they buy is on a truck route where huge 18-wheelers go barreling down the road in front of their home at all hours. Behind the house a path leads to an ominous pet cemetery, and beyond that is a hidden Indian burial ground.

The minute they arrive at their new home, which Mom and the kids have apparently never seen, the young boy toddles into the street and is barely rescued from becoming road-killed by the kindly old neighbor from across the way.

The first noticeable lapses in logic arrive immediately: Why is it such a surprise that this is a hazardous truck route? Why didn't they know about the pet cemetery, if not the Indian burial ground? Why don't they put up a fence to protect their young children from the road? If they aren't going to put up a fence, why do they keep turning their backs on the kids and letting them run into the road?

A short time later the kindly old neighbor takes them to the ominous pet cemetery, and later still he tells the doctor a couple of horrifying stories about how the Indian burial ground can resurrect the dead.

Given the nature of his stories about animals and people becoming violent, murderous zombies when this is done, why does he encourage the good doctor to bury a cat there so it will come back? And why does the doctor later do the same thing when his son is killed, despite all evidence that this will be a very dumb move?


            Miko Hughes, 'Pet Sematary' (1989)

And finally, the "Chucky" problem.

Despite its success at the box office, "Child's Play" last year, about a slasher doll called "Chucky," was completely unconvincing and even ludicrous because no matter how it scowled that little doll was just not very menacing.

The same thing happens here when the doctor's little boy comes back as a zombie toddler. Having the child scowl into the camera just prompts laughter from the audience. And when he goes after people with scalpel in hand, you may wonder why someone doesn't just pick him up and spank him!

It's just all too silly, and on top of the inherent problems, director Mary Lambert ("Siesta") allows the final third of the film to sink under a mound of slasher-movie clichés. Meanwhile, her two lead players — Dale Midkiff and Denise Crosby — perform so stiffly they seem more like zombies than the zombies. The children are also rather stiff, particularly Blaze Berdahl as the young daughter. Only Fred Gwynne as the neighbor remains unscathed.

Suffice it to say "Pet Sematary" is a dreadful failure on several counts, although that hasn't stopped King fans from storming the theaters, making this the biggest opening ever for a King film and a record-setter for an opening weekend at this time of year.

Oh, well. They made "Cujo" a hit too.

"Pet Sematary" is rated R for considerable violence, gore and profanity.