Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why the Flaws of Pet Sematary Help to Make It My Favorite Movie

The more research I do on horror movies for the well being of my own scary flick, the more I realize just how brilliant "Pet Sematary" is.

Even to this day, I remember seeing this movie as a kid and distinctly remembering two visuals that will never leave me for the rest of my life.

1. The tiny shoe tumbling after the truck hits little Gage. No gore, no visual of impact, just a slow motion shot of that shoe explained everything.

2. The character of Zelda (suffering from spinal meningitis), with her creepy laugh and her spine practically puncturing out of her skin. "I'm coming for you Rachel, and this time, I'll get you."

Written by Stephen King and directed by Mary Lambert in 1989, the movie was a box office success. Shot for 11.5 million dollars and earning 57+ million domestic, it spawned a sequel starring Edward Furlong, as well as a 2012 remake, written by "1408" scribe Matthew Greenberg with a rewrite from the great genre screenwriter David Kajganich. Needless to say, it's rare when box office success meets popular success (both commercially nationwide, and horror/cult status). "Paranormal Activity" is obviously the latest example.

It's hard to put your finger on a single reason why "Pet Sematary" works so well. Its initial audience obviously came with the Stephen King following, but the film DOESN'T work well on many levels, and that's one reason why it works. Wait...does that make sense? I think so.

Again, "Pet Sematary" works on many levels, but it's the things that don't make any sense at all that really catapult "Pet Sematary" into super stardom. The following is a list of things that make no sense to me whatsoever pertaining to the film. If you disagree, please feel free to elaborate. And remember, I'm talking strictly of the movie, not the book. The book might have these answers, but the movie does not. Here goes:

1. What type of mother are you? Those trucks are freaking dangerous. Why not have a fence installed so the kids don't go wondering into the street? Why is there no discussion of this between parents.

2. I love Jud as a character, but why would you show them the powers of the cemetery when you know what evil it does? You tell the family that kids have to learn about death sometime but then you teach the father about bringing a dead cat back to life? Pretty sure you're making the whole death thing a bit confusing.

3. As a child, why leave Rachel alone with someone clearly close to death with Spinal Meningitis. I mean, that is parenting at its finest. Can we teach that after Lamaze class? Would Charlie Manson even do that to his own kids? (Did he ever have offspring?)

4. Denial is a main character in this one. Louis Creed brings back a cat...it goes wrong. Then he brings back his son...he goes wrong (but soooo right). Then he brings back his wife...she goes wrong. This is a doctor, a man of science. Check the stats, play the odds.

If it didn't work the first time, it won't work the second or the third. And I don't care if he says something about not doing it soon enough. He's out of his mind and Dale Midkiff needs to be in more things. If anyone has connections, I want him in my movie. Please, someone make a call for me. He could be Ash's younger brother.

(Coincidentally, Bruce Campbell was the first choice for this role.) And if he was bringing all those people back, I really wished he brought Jud back. Jud would have came back like a George Romero zombie. It would have been cinematic history.

5. How many people have ever gotten into a fist fight with either their father in law, or son in law? I'm sure there are many of you. Of that number, how many of you had that fist fight at a funeral? At either your son's, or your grandson's funeral. Really? You couldn't have taken it outside? Now yes, seeing that coffin open and close after getting hit was a great moment, but damn. You have to pick the right moments for a fight.

6. Jud saves Gage from going into the street of killer trucks once, and yet they still end up letting him get ran over by a truck. Worst parents ever?

7. Spot the dog came back evil. Then Jud witnesses a person being brought back and they had to burn his house down. Again, why would Jud teach Louis how to bring the cat back after going through all that? This is beyond my comprehension.

8. Victor Pascow is a great character. But let's resort to a hypothetical. Say you've just died. Don't you have things to figure out? Look at Patrick Swayze in "Ghost." He has so much work to figure out where he is, and what his capabilities are.

Pascow dies and all of a sudden, he's helping out this doctor he doesn't even know. Yes, I know he's helping Louis because Louis tried to help him. But doesn't Pascow have dead family members he could be reacquainting himself with? Or maybe he could be trying to send these messages to a wife or mother and not the doctor he's never met. Isn't that bizarre? And stop saying things like "The soil in a man's heart is stonier." Why is it that ghosts can't just say simple sentences. How about the version where he says, "Don't bring the dead back to life Louis. That's messed up."

He could learn from Jack Goodman in "An American Werewolf in London." He goes to his best friend and helps him right away and doesn't speak in gibberish either. He says, (paraphrasing) "Sorry best old buddy, you're going to have to kill yourself." Simple and to the point.

Okay, I'm pretty sure the list can go on and on. But remember, it's the faults in horror movies that make them great. The best example is this:

A beautiful bimbo runs through the forest at night from a hideous serial killer. She almost gets away until...she trips.

As soon as "the trip" occurs, the whole audience in the theater moans and groans. Why? "The trip" has to be in horror movies because of the reaction it gets. I love the moan and groan every time I hear it. This is why horror movies will live on way past romantic comedies and other genres. You get the moan and groan, you get grossed out, you get aroused, you get spooked, etc. You get all these wonderfully bizarre moments.

"Pet Sematary" is my favorite scary movie. I watch it multiple times every year, and find something new that I hadn't spotted before. It wasn't til this year that I realized a man played Zelda. Apparently, the reason was because they couldn't find a woman emaciated enough to play the part. Won't have that trouble for the remake.

Can't wait to go home and watch this film again. I want to see Gage in his cute little outfit at the end saying "No fair" and then tripping and hitting his head on the wall.

All in all, the only thing I can say is this, and I want you all to truly take this to heart..."Sometimes, dead is better."


  1. After reading your post was going to pose the question - is a story behind the misspelling of Sematary? Then I figured since you took the time to write this great post(which of course makes me want to watch the movie again) I should seek out a little info on my own. SO...for those who may not know already - this is what I found on imdb.com: "Stephen King misspelled it for the title because, in the book, the kids that made the sign for the pet cemetery misspelled it. King explains in a new introduction to the book that the real pet cemetary near his rented Maine house had a sign reading "Pet Sematary." This mispelling (obviously made by children) found its way into the book and the title."

    Perhaps you'll have to make a road trip to Maine some time to see the original!

  2. As to number 2 and 7, I can't remember now if it's explained in the movie, but it's a pretty big deal in the book. Judd explains to Louis that he feels like he killed his son because he told him about that place. It's hard to have a secret that big and not tell anyone about it. The power of it gets to you, and even if you know it's wrong, you still feel like you have let someone in on this huge power.

  3. Interesting. He does go on that one spiel to Louis. But...

    Jud should have told some of those truckers about the sematary's powers instead, getting some REVENGE for all those animals killed.

    Of course, if he did that, we wouldn't get to see little Gage run wild with a surgical knife.

    Thanks for the comment!

  4. @Jolly - A road trip to Maine sounds like a wonderful idea. We should make a list of all things Stephen King oriented in the state, check them out, chronicle each spot, and then upon return, blog every single minute detail about it.

    I'm sure this has been done by numerous fans already. Time to search the blogosphere.