Friday, December 16, 2011

Film Review: Pet Sematary (1989)

Directed by: Mary Lambert

Starring: Dale Midkiff,
Fred Gwynne
Denise Crosby
Miko Hughes

Synopsis: The Creeds have just moved into a new house in the countryside. Their house is perfect, except for two things: the semi-trailers that roar past and the mysterious cemetery in the woods behind the house. The Creed's neighbours are reluctant to talk about the cemetery, and for good reason too.

My Thoughts: OK, so I'm perhaps not the best person to go to for an unbiased account of Stephen King films. I hate to say it, but I'm a sucker for each and every one of them. Some of them truly are stand out films (Shawshank Redemption is in my top 5 films) but even the dodgiest adaptation has this weird Z-grade charm that I find hard to pass up. Because of my love for all of them, it's a little hard to distinguish with some of these older ones whether it's the quirk I enjoy, or the actual film. Especially in the ones filmed during the 1980s, where even the best are known to garner a little eye-rolling from modern audiences. So I guess this was a fairly roundabout way of saying that this film will get a high rating, but you probably should trust it.

 As I mentioned in my book review of the film, this was my very first bona fide horror film. I loved it, I remember relishing the foreshadowing, the haunting, Hermain Munster without the Hermain Munster gear (Fred Gwynne as the neighbour Jud) and all the other creepy things you expect in a horror film. It must have been weeks before I got sick of saying "First I played with Jud, then I played with mummy, now I want to play with you daddy" in a sing-song children's voice. It never really scared me (not like The Exorcist did a year or two later) but it introduced me to how fun horror can be, and how laughs can mingle with fear and general excitement. If I were to categorise this film it'd be as fun, one of those films where you know what's going to happen and you just can't wait.

Like with many Stephen King adaptations, the film does away with a great deal of the "real" horror, in this case the soul destroying loss of a child. It's still there, obviously, but rather than travel with Louis through his stages of grief, and witness the very upsetting reactions his wife and daughter also have, it fast forwards straight from Gage's death to his "rebirth". As a result there is much less time put into constructing any sort of normal life for the Creeds, or setting up any real characterisation for anyone other than Louis. Instead it chose to focus on the supernatural elements, specifically the warnings Louis received from the recently dead Victor Pascow, the insatiable pull of the Indian burial ground, and most importantly, the psychotic little rugrat that returns to play "stab daddy with a sharp scalpel". I personally found the book superior in introducing the supernatural forces and building the fear incrementally to a mighty crescendo of heart-skipping mind blowing "fuck don't turn out the lights" horror. The film relied on the more obvious methods of scaring audiences, haunting music, spooky tree branches rustling around, a neighbour who looks like Frankenstein...

That said, it wins over many other horror films simply because of the addition of a crazy murderous kid. There is something about children in horror that makes me whimper for my mummy. I guess it's the juxtaposition of precious little cherub faced Gage against precious little cherub faced Gage with a razor sharp scalpel. Mummy and daddy's worst nightmare, rather than wait for their kid to hit puberty and start resenting the parentals, he goes wild at the ripe old age of three. Gage (played by Miko Hughes) really was stupendous in the second half of the film. Not only does he have the best lines (see above), but he managed to wreck havoc and obliterate people four times his size, all with a big toothy smile on his face and not a hair out of place. You gotta hand it to the little demon child, he's got style.

It's not as compelling as the book it was adapted from, but perhaps it's because of the fond history I have with this film... I just...I really can't fault it. It's the perfect mix of creepy kids, cheesy acting, 80s horror clich├ęs and it has a theme song by The Ramones (see below). I wouldn't recommend this to anyone looking for a serious scare, and again, I'm probably just a tad biassed, but I think it's a film everyone should watch at some point, even if only to poke fun at the hokey effects!

4 out of 5 misguided attempts to bring back a loved one.