Our staff heads to the theater to check out “Pet Sematary”, the highly anticipated remake of the Stephen King classic thirty years in the making.
Intro by Angry Princess
Later this month, on April 21st, Mary Lambert’s beloved adaptation of one of Stephen King’s most haunting works, Pet Sematary, will turn 30 years old. To mark the occasion, the visionary directing duo Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer (the team behind the brilliant Starry Eyes) have resurrected this terrifying tale of death and grief for modern audiences. It’s a bold move, considering the original film was penned by King himself. But Kölsch and Widmyer, along with writer Jeff Buhler (from a screen story by Matt Greenberg), fearlessly exhume the property from sacred ground and give it shocking new life.
Refusing to pull any punches, the filmmakers pay loving respect to the source material while expertly infusing enough changes to the original to keep the story fresh and unexpected, even for die hard King fans. The result is a tense, brutal and emotionally impactful film with a harrowing final act. But, as you can tell from the following six very different takes on the film from our writing team, this new take on a classic story is not for everyone.
One lesson Pet Sematary has taught us all is that nothing that gets brought back ever comes back quite the same. This remake is no exception.
When the film made its world premiere last month at SXSW, the audience and critical reception was overwhelmingly positive, with many hailing the film as one of the best King adaptation to date. Since the film’s widespread theatrical release this past weekend, the reviews have been more mixed among horror fans. Perhaps that’s a result of disappointment due to heavy hype and high expectations, backlash from purists over the film’s significant changes, or merely the fact that this bleak and relentless film was never intended to satiate the masses.
Personally, I’m starting to think being vehemently hated and loved in almost equal proportions is a badge of honor. Most of my favorite horror films of the modern era — the ones that have challenged me and left me chewing on the material long after I’ve left the theater — have been deeply polarizing. Consider that when you read the reviews below and those from other film critics and fans.
If you haven’t seen the film, please proceed with caution. There are some spoilers in the reviews below. And if you’ve managed to avoid trailers or the ever-present marketing for the film up to this point, do yourself a favor and watch the film completely unspoiled. It’s a much more satisfying experience if you know as little as possible.
TAKE ONE: A GOOD FILM, BUT DOESN’T RISE TO GREATNESS
I have to say; I had some feelings watching the new Pet Sematary. The first was relief; relief from the exhaustion of avoiding the trailers and unskippable YouTube ads and TV spots. When the second trailer dropped for the movie, I heard about the spoilers and set out to avoid it. It was nice to be able to sit and watch the movie, not knowing where every jump scare is going to be – because trailers nowadays don’t seem to care what they give away.
The second was joy, I hadn’t been able to watch a movie like that in a long time; it makes me wish I could avoid trailers more easily. I liked the changes made form the original film (I haven’t read the book, just to clarify). It was different enough that I still didn’t know what was going to happen, even though I was familiar with the story. Overall, though, the move was just ok. It failed to blow me away, it wasn’t a game-changer, but it wasn’t the worst thing to happen to the horror genre, by far.
TAKE TWO: DOESN’T DO THE SOURCE MATERIAL JUSTICE
By Jamie Marino
I was in Orlando and 13 years old when I first read Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. It was, and remains, the most disturbing King novel I ever read. There were shocking horrors in the book that, at that time, I didn’t think could be shown in mainstream mallrat horror cinema.
One of the reasons I got excited about this new remake was the fact that in 2019 the technology was available to do everything in the book. I remember when the movie came out in 1989 it was the hot movie to see. I was 14 and it frightened the hell out of me, even though I knew when scares were just around the corner.
I think maybe my overall lukewarm feelings about the 2019 version are because it didn’t have the punch that the 1989 version did.
I really hate to compare like that, but I can’t help it. Movies really scraped my mind deep when I was that age, and some of the things in Pet Sematary 1989 made it a banquet for my nightmares to feed on. Back then, there wasn’t as much of a reliance on “quiet . . . quiet . . . BOO”. These days mainstream horror seems to pretty much depend on it. “Quiet . . . quiet . . . BOO” is not scary! It’s a music stinger and a surprise image. A cattle prod, and it takes no creative talent to do it. Stephen King writing the screenplay for the 1989 version might have something to do with it, too.
There were things that everyone remembers. It’s one of those movies that you know exactly where you were the first time you saw it. Gage laughing. The Zelda flashbacks. Jud’s ankle. Undead Rachel. Although I will give the 2019 version credit for relying mainly on imagination and atmosphere and not “quiet . . . quiet . . . BOO”, there isn’t anything as memorably sick as there was in the 1989 version. It felt like there was a lack of passion.
I didn’t mind the changes at all. The new look of the cemetery and what lies beyond it are very Hammer-esque and beautiful. Church the cat looks fantastic, and almost identical to the cat on the iconic book cover. But the scene with the parade of children was never explored. I wish that was explored a little more. Like each time a pet dies, the owner has to make their own drum as part of the ceremony. That would’ve been cool.
And I’m not going to spoil the biggest change, because it’s a really bizarre one, and it is never explored. A few sentences, a scary picture, a roar in the woods, and a painted tree. I wanted so much more. Something really over-the-top. And damn it, I’ve seen so many arthouse horrors that I obsessed for the entire movie whether or not the knocked-over letter L “meant” something.
This movie is definitely an example of average, vanilla, good-ideas-taken-nowhere, safe mainstream horror cinema. Not bad, but not memorable either. And after It, we should demand better.