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.
TAKE THREE: MIXED FEELINGS
Sometimes dead is better, but are remakes?
Remakes. Almost a bad word in a way, because when a movie is remade, it almost insinuates that the original was not good and needs to be done over. Stephen King films have been hit and miss over the years, but Pet Sematary has always been a huge favorite of mine. Even with a little monster who was so cute it was hard to fear him, the 1989 film never failed to bring shivers down my spine. The death of a child is such a primal fear, one that all parents feel constantly the moment their baby gives their first wail.
So, 2019 brings us a new version of the classic 1983 Stephen King novel. We watch again as the Creed family deteriorates as fast as the giant oil trucks drive down their road. It’s truly heart breaking seeing what a parent is capable of when they love a child. The new incarnation brings us just as many tearful moments as the first time but then goes even farther into the haunting undead world on the other side of the dead fall. (Warning — some mild spoilers ahead.)
The newest Pet Sematary was well done, no doubt about that. But I’m on the fence whether it was better. There were jump scares galore, awesome flashback nightmares, bloody ghosts, some amazing SFX and a great cast. But I had a question going in: Why would show in the trailer that they switched out which kid gets taken out first? That seemed to take the surprise out of twist number one.
For about three-fourths of the film I was very invested, but in the last half hour or so, there were quite a few eye-rolling moments and times when the dialogue was just plain silly. Too many times where I was pulled out of the story to think, “They wouldn’t really say that.” Luckily, it pulls back together and brings us to an unthinkable, but oh yes, that’s what happened moment! When the undead kitty named Church jumps up on the car and we hear the chirp of the car door….
To quote Stephen King from this book, “And the most terrifying question of all may be just how much horror the human mind can stand and still maintain a wakeful, staring, unrelenting sanity.” Louis Creed’s mind snapped at the loss of his child and he does unthinkable things.
Pet Sematary 2019 is an entertaining film, and even non Stephen King fans will appreciate it as a good solid zombie horror film. But I was left questioning this: If an undead family wants to live happily ever after, maybe setting the neighbor’s house on fire, thus alerting the authorities, wasn’t a perfect idea. Just saying.
TAKE FOUR: SURPASSES THE ORIGINAL
Imagine yourself a child again, and you wander into your favorite mom-and-pop candy store — the aroma of cocoa teases your nostrils as you saunter in — selling Willy Wonka sweets. Your go-to candy bar of choice is a rich, smooth and delicious Wonka Bar made of milk chocolate. It hits the spot every time, but on this particular trip you feel like indulging in a Wonka with a little more oomph to it.
Perhaps, you should choose one of Wonka’s Scrumpdiddlyumptious bars. It’s a tiny bit different from the original, but surprisingly superior, nonetheless. No, you want something even more outlandish and extraordinary, something 30 years in the making. Today, you’re going to spend your hard-earned allowance on the ultimate Wonka wonder: an Everlasting Gobstopper. And, in your wildest fantasies, you never expect the Gobstopper to surpass the Wonka and Scrumpdiddlyumptious bars. But it does.
This allegory will not be lost on fans of Stephen King’s 1983 novel Pet Sematary and the subsequent adaptations in 1989 and now 30 years later. What might surprise purists of King and his literary marvels is that the Gobstopper in this story is the 2019 remake/reimagining by filmmakers Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer (Scream: The TV Series).
The new Pet Sematary, particularly its stunning ending, will petrify patrons.
The three most intriguing characters of the film, in order of importance, are Ellie (Jete Laurence) — this child actress has a marvelous future in front of her — Louis (Jason Clarke) and Church the cat. In addition to these mesmerizing on-screen performances — yes, even the kitty cat from hell — the haunting imagery of the children in their masks, and the superb cinematography, gives Pet Sematary its creepily creative vibe. The story is still solid, but the narrative has been tweaked a tiny bit.
The decision to change destiny in Pet Sematary, with respect to having the older child Ellie be the primary antagonist, allows young actress Jete Laurence the chance to shine brighter than a super nova. A 3-year-old Gage simply couldn’t converse and emote in the same way that Ellie does so brilliantly with her father. The scenes after Ellie first returns from the grave might be the very best moments of the whole film.
Laurence’s exquisite performance as both the kind-hearted offspring of Louis and Rachel (Amy Seimetz) — alongside her chilling portrayal of the murderous Wendigo — carries the film. But having Ellie take Gage’s place was intended to shock faithful followers of the 1989 movie.
“It was meant to be fun for the fans of the original movie that we had switched it up on them,” producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura explained in an interview. “We weren’t expecting marketing to put it in a trailer.”
The real shock for enthusiasts of the original motion picture, and those fortunate enough to have bought tickets, comes at the end of the 2019 Pet Sematary with its new and utterly terrifying resolution. With the help of Rachel’s reanimated body, Ellie successfully defeats her father. As Gage helplessly beholds from the inside of the family car, his mother, father and sister lumber ever closer. They have all fallen victim to the Wendigo, and it is Gage’s turn to succumb to the murderous madness as the screen goes black.
In a stunning turn, and in stark contrast to 1989’s Pet Sematary, Gage goes from the villain to the victim. Undoubtedly, some audiences will take exception with a young child being murdered by his whole family, even though the deed isn’t shown on screen, but Pet Sematary is a macabre movie for a reason. And it’s a grand entry in the horror genre.
This reimagining not only surpasses its 30-year-old counterpart, but it challenges the brilliance of the source material. That said, Church isn’t for everyone.
TAKE FIVE: YOU CAN’T DENY KING’S GENIUS
By Bobby Lisse
Horror is an often-misperceived genre. For those that don’t live in it, it’s dark, depraved, and repugnant. But we know. Us spooky kids don’t just come for the guts, gore, and gratuity — although just like other genres, there are plenty of films that bring nothing deeper than that — we know the true heart of this phobia prodding entertainment.
Perhaps you’re the vanilla type that likes to live completely engulfed in the Default Mode Network side of your brain, repressing all the unpleasant parts of life. That may work for you, for now. What happens when your world comes crashing down unexpectedly and you must live not only with grief, but regretting all the things you took for granted?
I’m not saying being a horror fan comes with a built-in way to deal with pain and sorrow. What I am saying is, walking out of a theater, after you’ve seen a family torn limb from emotional limb, you’re going to go home and hug your own extra tight. You’re going to appreciate every grueling and boring moment as if it was a trip to an adventure park. If you don’t have a family, maybe you cuddle your grungy cat.
There’s a side of horror that is as honest as humans can be. Life is fucked up. Life hurts you worse than you could have imagined. Feel that, because that’s what makes us the emotional creatures we are. That’s what keeps us from floating through the world as sociopathic animals. Don’t be afraid of it, not matter how hard it is to watch on the screen, because the lesson is much deeper and more meaningful than a cringe.
The best stories play on our worst fears. There’s a reason he’s The King. It’s easy to read almost any of his books and think, “There’s nothing special about these, I could do this.” I’ve thought it myself. We’re all wrong. The reason Stephen King is so goddamn good is because he pulls fear, emotion, and even dialogue straight out of our psyche. As if he has it tapped, just waiting for him to turn the valve and fill his cup. His thousand-page, tome-size cup.
So, on that non-review point I will say this, Pet Sematary brings the fucking horror. Long Live The King!
TAKE SIX: A GREAT HORROR FILM…BUT IS IT A GREAT REMAKE?
One of Stephen King’s best and most frightening novels is “Pet Sematary,” and in 1989 director Mary Lambert made an iconic movie based on that novel. The directors of the indie horror hit STARRY EYES, Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch, have come along in 2019 to resurrect PET SEMATARY for the big screen. But many potential pitfalls await Widmyer and Kolsch for recreating a story that many horror fans hold dear to their heart. To put it succinctly, there’s a lot of baggage that fans will be bringing to theater when they go see the new PET SEMATARY.
PET SEMATARY (2019) has the bones of the original story, but Widmyer and Kolsch, along with screenwriter Jeff Buhler, have changed the meat. PET SEMATARY follows the Creed family as they make the move from Boston to Ludlow, Maine to start a new and quieter life away from the bustling city. Everything is familiar at the start of the movie — the close-knit Creed family, the kind and fatherly Jud Crandall, and Church (short for Winston Churchill) the cat. But once Louis crosses the barrier in the pet sematary, everything you know about the story changes.
The 2019 PET SEMATARY is not a remake of the 1989 movie, it’s a reinterpretation of the source material — the novel. When Jud fatefully introduces Louis to the power of the true pet sematary, the movie moves into uncharted territory and becomes a truly frightening horror movie. Widmyer and Kolsch know how to establish atmosphere and bring the scares, delivering some truly soul chilling frights to fans.
However, the movie is missing something.
The book is about death and grief and how we deal with, or refuse to deal with, both. What makes the story so impactful is that we all face death at some point in our lives, we question our beliefs about what happens after death, and we all deal with the grief of losing someone close to us.
Widmyer’s and Kolsch’s vision of PET SEMATARY deals with death and grief, but not nearly to the levels of King’s novel. The movie is more interested in Louis and his growing obsession with the old Micmac burial grounds. Louis is a doctor who worked the midnight shift at a city emergency room, he dealt with death on a constant basis and had almost no power to change it. When he and is family moves to Ludlow to start his job as a university doctor, he almost immediately deals with an accident involving a dying student whom he can’t help.
When Louis realizes the power of the “sour ground” he also gains access to power that can save those whom he normally couldn’t. Does Louis grieve for the death of Ellie? Of course Louis grieves deeply for the loss of his daughter. The movie, however, never establishes a deep parent-child connection between the two that matches the bond Louis and Gage in the novel and the Mary Lambert movie.
What’s missing from the 2019 PET SEMATARY is the family connections so important in the novel. It appears that Widmyer and Kolsch wanted to push past the family building to get to the horror. The movie tells us that the Creed family is close, we’re told that Jud becomes close with the Creed family and especially Ellie, but PET SEMATARY never shows us that bond being built. While horrifying things happen in PET SEMATARY, especially during a truly wild third act, the horror doesn’t resonate as much as it could have.
The biggest change to the source story was the death of Ellie in place of Gage. While this has been a point of contention with many fans, I think it works for this movie. There is darkness inside reanimated Gage, within the novel, that a child actor of that age wouldn’t and shouldn’t be asked to portray. Having Ellie as the Creed child who is killed and brought back allows the story to explore darker themes and scenarios.
I’m still struggling with my opinion of PET SEMATARY. I know that it’s a very good horror movie, one that had the hair on my arms standing up and my hand clenched in my wife’s hand. I just don’t know if it’s a good PET SEMATARY movie.