Pet Sematary is (or was), according to Stephen King, his most bleak book. The first movie made from it (Mary Lambert, 1989) never reached the iconic status of The Shining or Carrie, but it nevertheless conveyed the dread of resurrection. It also followed the novel pretty closely. The new movie version, which came out last year, uses the more slick, modern horror style that just doesn’t have the same feel as the slow pace of dread. The whole thing feels rushed to fit too much in. It does add some nice touches, however. Borrowing the creepy animal masks of The Wicker Man, it adds a religious procession of children to the eponymous cemetery right at the start and uses a mask to add menace at the end. There will be spoilers here, so if you’re even slower than me at getting to movies, be warned.
The main source of fear, which is only shown a couple of times before the accident, is the speeding Orinco trucks along the road that kill people and pets. Since horror is an “intertextual” genre there are several knowing nods toward the 1989 film, sometimes lulling the viewer into a false sense of security. (Can you have security watching horror?) King’s novel, and the original movie, point to the impending death of Gage, the young son of the family. Faking out the viewer, the new film has the truck killing Ellie, Gage’s older sister, instead. While this must’ve made Jeté Laurence’s role fun to play (for the dead child comes back—and when the monster is a fragile little boy of four or five it’s hard to believe) but it interferes with the explanation of death to her that makes up so much of the story.
Why the wendigo is brought in only to be dropped is a mystery. The wendigo would make for a great movie monster, but trying to squeeze mention of it into an already crowded plot doesn’t really help. The ending of the new movie is well set up, and the realization that she’s living dead on the part of Ellie is well played out. Otherwise the film assumes the watcher already knows how it goes. I suppose that’s a perennial problem with remakes. The source of horror in the novel and in both films is the idea that the dead can come back. It’s an ancient fear and one with which all of us eventually deal. Now that the nights and early mornings are turning cooler and darker, movies like Pet Sematary come readily to mind and we know the horror season has begun.