Gage the Horror by a Child with a Scalpel
First I play with Judd, then Mommy came, and I play with Mommy. We play Daddy! We had a awfully good time! Now, I want to play with YOU! - Gage
There's no doubt that Stephen King writes brilliant horrors, just a shame that when adapted into movies they don't always work. "Pet Sematary" is one of those which fails to really work, feeling like the story has not only been brutally hacked to death to be squeezed into a running time of 98 minutes but also handled in such a stock manner that there is very little to it which is scary, well not until the final scenes.
Having moved to a new home in the countryside the Creed family's pet cat, Churchill, is killed when it wanders onto the busy highway in front of their home. Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne - Fatal Attraction), their friendly neighbour takes Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) to a secret Indian burial ground behind the rather gruesome Pet Sematary where he tells him to bury his cat. Shortly after Churchill miraculously turns up at the Creeds home, but having being brought back to life is no longer a friendly feline but a vicious sinister one. When Louis son Gage (Miko Hughes - Apollo 13) also dies on the busy highway, he decides to bury him at the Indian burial ground but he unleashes something far worse than he could have ever imagined.
The big issue is that for the first hour or so everything about "Pet Sematary" is handled in such a formulaic manner that it is tedious. Moments of tension and horror are lost because whilst we don't always know what will happen, the fact that something is about to happen is telegraphed, seriously telegraphed. When Louis Creed's daughter Ellie is playing on the swing and her mother shouts "be careful" well you know what is coming and it goes on with numerous other moments being insinuated at before they arrive. It spoils things because for that first hour there is nothing to really scare you or get you on the edge of the seat. Even the reveal of the Indian burial site lacks the tension that it should deliver.
The daft thing is that although it feels like the storyline has been hacked to death it's still quite good. A mysterious burial site where things which get buried then return to life, all but in a slightly different state as they take on different characteristics, is a good idea. Shame then that these living dead are for the most terrible zombie like creatures which for the exception of one are not scary.
What doesn't help is that in being hacked about certain elements of the storyline seem to have been lost. The back story over Rachel Creed's deformed sister lacks any real meaning as do the dream/ premonitions which Ellie begins to get as things spiral out of control. What's worse is the character of Victor Pascow who goes from this rather sinister afterlife figure to one which near enough plays it for laughs is totally against what "Pet Sematary" is trying to be. The comedy of Pascow helping Rachel hurriedly return from Chicago to the family home feels completely out of place.
It's not until the final half hour that "Pet Sematary" actually become anywhere close to being scary. But then it's not a tense scare where something inconsequential makes you jump rather than the concept, and apologies for the bit of a spoiler here, that of a demon child returned from the dead. It becomes quite disturbing to watch a young child with a scalpel in their hands and a child's laugh can be extremely ominous. If only the rest of "Pet Sematary" had managed to attain the same amount of horror it would have been quite a brilliant movie instead of one which is mediocre except for the climax.
Aside from the hacked up storyline, the misplaced comedy and the telegraphed drama I also have issues over the casting. Dale Midkiff and Denise Crosby are for me poorly cast as the parents, completely unbelievable and sadly neither are strong enough to create anything other than rudimentary 2 dimensional characters. Scenes where either should deliver emotion is blighted by over theatrics and elsewhere they are just flat. Thankfully the casting is bolstered by Fred Gwyne as neighbour Jud Crandall who is instantly likable despite being slightly sinister. Plus there is Miko Hughes who as the young Gage creed is pretty impressive, especially during the climax as he reaches the heights of being one of the most disturbing children I have watched on screen.
What this all boils down to is that whilst "Pet Sematary" may be based on the Stephen King story and even sees the author appear in a small cameo, is for the most disappointing. It feels almost rudimentary in the way it sets up the story and feels like it's been hacked to pieces in it's adaptation to the big screen. It's only really saving grace is a memorable visual ending which is both horrific and disturbing, but this doesn't make up for the misplaced humour and over telegraphing of dramatic moments.
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