Talkin' movies: Pet Sematary (1989)


"The soil of a man's heart is stonier, Louis. A man grows what he can, and he tends it. Because what you buy is what you own. And what you own... always comes home to you." - Jud Crandall

Thanksgiving is over. It was a time to get together (however could could this year) with one's family and show thanks and appreciation for one another. To show our love for each other and be greatful that we're together for another year, despite anything that's gone wrong. And thinking of family got me inspired to discuss a movie about the bonds of family...1989's Pet Sematary. I'm sure you're wondering what the fuck I'm talking about when choosing a horror movie based off of a Stephen King book to discuss family, but hear me out. And bear with me, I have a lot to say.

Based on the 1983 novel by Stephen King and directed by Mary Lambert (who's claim was directing many of Madonna's early music videos), Pet Sematary tells the tale of the Creed family. Father Louis has moved his family (wife Rachel, daughter Ellie, and toddler son Gage) to the Maine town of Ludlow after accepting a job as a doctor at the local college. While there, the family meets Jud Crandall who unknown to them introduces the family to their sad fate when showing them the local pet cematary behind their home (misspelled as "Sematary" because it was created by the kids in the town). Eventually Ellie's cat Church is killed in the road and Jud takes Louis to the place beyond it to bury him. The place beyond where the dead "walk." Tragedy later hits the Creed family as young Gage is killed and Louis, knowing the power of the Mic- Mac indian burial ground, struggles with the notion of burying Gage there. Why does he struggle? Because anything and everything buried there comes back evil and destructive.

A lot of the performances are what I'd consider decent, but I'll talk about the performances that really stand out:
Dale Midkiff as Louis is quite good overall. A very subtle performace when on his own. The subtlety changes though when showing grief, anger, or even eventually, madness. Where Dale really scores is with his chemistry with others. You really believe his love for his family, his hatred and disgust for his father in law, and his bond of friendship with Jud.
Fred Gwynne as Jud is the performance everyone remembers and talks about...and for good reason. He plays a lovable grandfather type character. You want to just run up and hug him, especially after seeing his bond with the Creeds. However, Fred also does something amazing in the way he delivers dialogue when concerning the power of the burial ground or his past involvment with it. He whispers. He gives a sense of dread to it. He knows what it does. And then on the turn of a dime, he can cry and get emotional. The man is a talent that is sorely missed. This is the role I think of when his name is brought up, way before Herman Munster.
The other two performances that need to be talked about are Brad Greenquist as Victor Pascow and Andrew Hubatsek as Rachel's sister Zelda.
First off, we'll talk about Brad as Victor. Victor was a student at the college that was hit by a truck and Louis tries to save (on his very first day of work, of course). Louis knows he's basically dead on arrival but tries anyways. After Victor passes away and Louis calls it, he's left alone with the corpse. In one the best jump scares, Victor shows that he's not truly crossed over and tell Louis that he'll come for him. And he does. He takes Louis on a journey to the pet cemetary and warns him to never go on to the place beyond it and tell him that the ground is sour. Brad doesnt an amazing job as Louis' would-be guardian angel. He brought a sense of on-coming dread, but also at times...and bit of comic relief. A spirit that truly want good to come to Louis and gives a heartbreaking final plead to Louis to not do what he's going to do.
Now it's onto Zelda, the character that terrifiyed a generation. Zelda was Rachel's sister who was suffering from spinal meningitis. She was put in a back bedroom of the home and Rachel, as a child, did a lot of the caregiving of her sister while their parents were always away at parties and such. Eventually Zelda dies under young Rachel's care and that is why she is so afraid when the subject of death is brought up. Zelda comes to Rachel in visions of torment. Mary Lambert wanted Zelda to look as scary and "off" as possible, so she hired male actor Andrew Hubatsek to play her. His rail thin body along with the makeup effects makes her terrifying to look at. But its Andrew's voice and mannerisms are what not only make Zelda terrifiyng, but just downright haunting. The echo in the voice, the cackle of the laugh, the all around performace...incredible.

Before I get to the family aspect that I mentioned in the very beginning, I'm going to briefly talk about two final things, the music and the gore/makeup effects.
There are two songs by the Ramones in this. "Sheena is a Punk Rocker" plays during the prelude to Gage's death as well as an original song "Pet Sematary" during the ending credits. Both play either during or following major events and are memorable for that reason. The score however is what is truly scary. Spooky strings as well as children chaniting or singing while it plays. Nothing is more scary that that, especially when heard during our first tour of the cemetary.
Now for the makeup effects. I've already mentioned Zelda being played by a man. However the effects on her (him?) are amazing. The exposed and twisted spine she has will never be forgotten when seen. But don't worry, we have some excellent gore effects as well. Victor is always seen in his dead form when talking to Louis and interacting with others, exposed brain and all. We get someone getting sliced in the Achilles tendon with a scalpel, a throat getting ripped out, some slices and dices to multiple characters, and when we see the final form of yet another resurrected character...it needs to be seen to be believed.

Finally, let's talk about the family aspect. This movie hits me a lot more since I became a parent 8 years ago. It really pushes one to think, "Would I do that, knowing what would happen?" And I truly believe most parents would chance it. Louis even states that if Gage comes back like Timmy Batterman (a tale Jud tells that I will leave for those who haven't seen this to experience on their own), then he'll just put him back to sleep. But there's that one chance. We don't think straight during grief. I've never lost a child, but I can only imagine his thought process. Maybe God will make it so, no matter the history. Like the mother in the story "The Monkey's Paw" (whch this takes from), spilt decisions are made. And we understand. The love of our family will make us do anything to bring us together. Sadly for Louis, it doesn't end up the way he wishes.

Anything bad in this after I've basically rambled on about my love for the film? Sure, a little. The Gage puppet looks quite fake at times when fighting Louis. Denise Crosby as Rachel at times can be a little wooden and the daughter Ellie is annoying (but all kids are at that age).

So yes. I love this film. If you're still reading, you can probably see why it's my favorite horror film of all time (and there's still plenty more that I could talk about). It's a film that really fits well if you watch during the autumn, especially due to the locations. The country feel. A film full of dread, scares, gore, and the literally undying bonds of family. If this were a drinking experience for me on a peresonal level, it's a rum and coke. Kraken rum to be exact. Why? I normally use Captain Morgan and make them strong. I once made a Kraken and coke the same way I'd make my Captain and cokes, not knowing it was stronger. So this movie is an experience that sticks with me and then kicks me on my ass every time I watch it. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving, everyone. Hold your loved ones tight and prey that there is no afterlife like the one that affects the poeple of Ludlow. Because like Jud Crandall said, "Sometimes,dead is better."

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