Pet Sematary (1989)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #422

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Number of Views: Two
Release Date: April 21, 1989
Sub-Genre: Supernatural
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $11,500,000
Box Office: 57,500,000
Running Time: 103 minutes
Director: Mary Lambert
Producers: Richard P. Rubinstein
Screenplay: Stephen King
Based on Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Special Effects: David LeRoy Anderson
Visual Effects: Gene Warren Jr.
Cinematography: Peter Stein
Score: Elliot Goldenthal
Editing: Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill
Studios: Paramount Pictures, Laurel Productions
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Stars: Dale Midkiff, Fred Gwynne, Denise Crosby, Miko Hughes, Blaze Berdahl, Brad Greenquist, Michael Lombard, Miko Hughe, Blaze Berdahl, Susan Blommaert, Mara Clark, Kavi Raz, Mary Louise Wilson, Andrew Hubatsek, Liz Davies, Kara Dalke, Matthew August Ferrell, Lisa Stathoplos, Stephen King

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Suggested Audio Candy

[1] Elliot Goldenthal “Pet Sematary”

[2] The Ramones “Pet Sematary”

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It’s an unavoidable fact of life that most of us are destined to outlive our pets. While cats in particular are endowed with a generous nine lives; they are also nine times more likely to wander out into the road in the dead of night and earn themselves tire tracks. A lot depends on which animal you select at the pet store. Should a tortoise appeal then, chances are, you will have yourself a house guest for the foreseeable whereas, pick a goldfish, and all you really get for your $5 is a reason to test out your toilet’s flush mechanism. Whatever your chosen cross to bear, ultimately it’s going to amount to a trip to the dead pet preserve.

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Stephen King wrote his original novel back in 1980 but shelved it for two years on account of it hitting a little closer to home than he suspected his readership would be comfortable with, coupled with and a less than encouraging response from his friends and family. His involvement with Mary Lambert’s 1989 big screen adaptation was more hands-on than was customary and he even wrote the screenplay, originally intending George A. Romero to direct. When shooting was delayed rendering Romero unable to partake and Tom Savini turned down an offer to helm the project, Lambert was drafted in although King remained present for almost the entire shoot to ensure his vision was being interpreted with due respect.

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The fact that King himself penned the treatment makes this more palatable to his legion of fans. He was already growing restless at the number of liberties being taken with his fiction when translating it to film and here he told the parts of the story he believed were integral and condensed them down into 103 minutes accordingly. Of all his numerous works, it is Pet Sematary that scares him most, as a father himself he appreciates the devastation of even the faintest concept of burying your own child and channels that angst into a tale which taps into personal tragedy. Any parent will no doubt find this to be one of his most distressing parables and it is undoubtedly one of his bleakest.

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The unimaginable occurs when the Creeds move to the idyllic Ludlow to escape the hustle and bustle of Chicago and their two-year old Gage is decimated by a speeding cargo truck during an afternoon soirée with their new neighbors. Wracked with guilt over not paying due attention when catastrophe struck, Louis (Dale Midkiff) is desperate to do anything required to bring his boy back, so when he learns of the mysterious rejuvenating qualities of the animal burial plot behind their house, he activates his selective thinking and ignores the dubious folklore behind the site.


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The moment when the Creeds lives become torn apart by the loss of their son, we are posed a rather uncomfortable question. How far would we go if there was even the vaguest hope that we could revive our loved ones, especially when we were responsible for giving them life in the first place? I would roll the dice regardless of remuneration thus, whether or not Louis’ actions seem misguided, they are always relatable. Presumably, his wife Rachel (Denise Crosby) has read The Shining and decides it best to take daughter Ellie on a trip and give dad some alone time. While his spouse is away, Louis takes matters into his own hands and relocates his son’s remains to the animal graveyard. Dick move Louis.

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Miko Hughes is staggeringly believable as the toddler, especially given the fact that he was less than three-years old during filming, while the late Fred Gwynne gives an assured performance as kindly next door neighbor Jud Crandall, a man consumed by remorse and desperate to convince Louis that “sometimes dead is better”. Lambert refrains from using too many locations, helping to create the feeling of being penned-in and isolated from the wider community. She also focuses on oppressive atmosphere as opposed to an over-reliance for jump scares and unnecessary grue. When it is called for, Pet Sematary is only too pleased to go for the jugular but isn’t gratuitous or sensational with its bloodletting, instead pushing the story along with each incident.

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A sub-plot involving Rachel’s past in which she’s constantly haunted by the death of her spinal meningitis-stricken sister Zelda (Andrew Hubatsek) will likely fuel your phantasms for months and again showcases King’s intention to explore the inexplicable nature of death and limitations of human control. Of all the adaptations of his work, it is undoubtedly one of the most faithful and offers a thought-provoking insight into the complexity of the grieving process and the depths of despair. Both spine-chilling and sorrowful, it introduces us to a likeable nuclear family then proceeds to relentlessly bombard them with ill-fortune, making for a particularly unsettling experience. I’d stick with the goldfish if I were you.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: How much do you value your Achilles tendon? Pet Sematary provides sound reasoning against walking about your home in carpet slippers and that’s just one of the grisly sights on display. As for poor Brad Greenquist whose best attempts to keep his character Victor’s brains inside his wide agape cranium, the effects were so sickeningly authentic that none of the cast could bear to eat their lunch with him while in make-up. David LeRoy Anderson’s sickening effects still hold up remarkably well to this day for the most part.

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Richard Charles Stevens

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