Pet Sematary (2019)




Every Summer my Co-host, Lydia and I like to tackle an array of Stephen King films – always three and always different adaptations of his work for our Podcast; Dead Air. We, for some reason call it Stephen Kingapalooza. It’s a time where I particularly get to enjoy myself doing a show I love because it allows me a chance to wallow in the work of a writer with whom I never spent enough time appreciating as a youth.

My mother’s collection of King books was intense and dare I say, chaotic. Yet, despite this I never read more than a handful over the years. There was even a time in my life where I became rather snobbish towards King’s work. Saying things like “The most overrated author of all time.” I’ve talked about this idiotic phase of my life on the show. These days, I feel I have repent my sins. I am a King fan. I feel it’s better late than never.

Ignoring the obnoxious contrarian I was when it comes to King, I still knew one story that I held in very high regard. A story of death and of grief. It was about regret, too.  In fact it was about so many things that at the time where very important to me. Our personal perceptions of death and what we would do to bring back those we loved. As always King went back to first principles. The time when most of us encounter death for the first time. The death of a pet.  He called this story Pet Sematary.

We’re at an interesting time in horror and it seems like, King is back in fashion.  IT,  made a tonne of money during its run and redefined that classic for a new generation and although critics and fans waffled on the adaptation of Dark Tower, early buzz for Pet Sematary was landing somewhere in the middle.

Pet Sematary was made in to a film in 1989, we’ve covered it on my Podcast. It has a strong following and is considered a horror classic by any standard. Although, the film has weaker moments, mostly in the acting department. It also is touched by brilliance. Fred Gwynne’s take on Jud is, in my opinion, the highlight of the film. The film is effective, creepy and relatively faithful to King’s originally story.

Now we’re in 2019 and the world is enjoying its own sort of KingaPalooza. When the early trailers dropped for Pet Semetary and we heard dialogue from the new Jud; John Lithgow, they had my attention. Kids in creepy animal masks, walking in precession with drums? Hell yes. Then the second full trailer came and with it – controversy.

It would seem that the film would have everything. Church and the Creed family, moving to Maine, trucks, highways, Jud, Pascow . The works. However, the massive difference being that Elle not Gage would be the victim of Truck-related disaster.  The director’s (Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer) response was debatable but practical. They felt Elle was just more threatening. 9 year old reanimated child can just do more than a 3 year old.

The film has style in spades, and oozes atmosphere. It starts fairly traditionally and could be mistaken for any number of haunted house films that get made by the truck-load these days. (Pardon the expression) The story does focus more on Elle, in this adaptation. She is the one who wonders to the Pet Sematary alone, she encounters Jud, first. She is the one who almost crosses the threshold of the Dead Fall.

Even though, there is a lot of re-focusing on the part of perspectives and character interactions. The introduction to the Pascow character is nearly identical to the 89 film.  It’s hard not to compare this film to the previous incarnation. As much as I hate being that person. I can honestly say while watching the movie that only thing I sincerely missed was Fred Gwynne’s iconic voice delivering those iconic lines. That being said, Lithgow does a fantastic job with his interpretation of Jud.  I felt genuinely sorry for him. A major difference I feel is how it take a little longer for him to be integrated in to the Creed family but that makes sense in today’s modern times. Elle is his way in and within that, his motivations when it comes to Church make a lot more sense.

Church, oh my God do I love that evil  cat. There is this lazy eyed, bent that the accomplish with what I’m assuming is CGI that really makes him seem extra creepy. Those glassy eyes and mangy look are fantastic. There is one particular scene where Church looks about as menacing as possible sitting in Cage’s crib.

The Pet Sematary itself is also an amazing accomplishment. Old school horror fans like me are going to drool over the amount of spooky bent trees, and fog. So much amazing fog.  The scenes beyond the dead-fall are some of the best in terms of atmosphere I’ve seen in many years.

Let’s talk Elle. Holy. Fucking.  Shit. Played by Jete Laurence and coupled with what looks like mild CGI or very good make-up. We have a recipe for an icon. Child actors are hit and miss with me. Pet Sematary skips the wide-eyed sleepy line delivery for a far more realistic and developed character in life. I buy Elle’s performance as a living girl. In death? She is a nightmare. It’s not only that she’s constantly on the verge of a violent episode. She comes back with knowledge, learned from death. She knows people’s secrets. Knows their  regrets and will mock them. (Oh massive change from the story that sheds some light on Jud)  Elle’s revenge for being dug up is to dig up everyone’s dark secrets they would rather stay buried. She is sadistic and evil to the core. Angry but it’s so boiling beneath the surface that you can’t figure out exactly what she’s going to do. It’s an amazing performance that really makes the last half of this movie strong material. Like the change or not in my opinion this was the right call.

The ending of this film, is grim and delightful at the same time. Fans of the book and 89 film will be in for what I think is a cool surprise.

I think one of the major things to take away from this film is that the details have been changed slightly but the core of the story remains the same. This story is about letting the dead rest. Facing your grief and facing death.  If you fear  death and you’ll do anything to stop it? You open your life to evil and damnation. I highly recommend seeing this film.

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