Pet Sematary (1989)
A Pet Isn't Just For Life.
Stephen King, the literary master of horror. Although I have been told that King's books are quite the reads, I've never really been big into the horror-book scene (which could be strange considering my penchant for VHD and Predator novels) and to this day have never actually gotten around to reading any - I've been more than content with the film adaptations. I say adaptations lightly, because I know there's those hardcore reader fans who would tell me that these things are barely half-hearted attempts at creating something that was amazing on page - which I do suppose must be true to some extent, as the track record of "Stephen King" movies (most of which he isn't really associated with, outside of Maximum Overdrive, as far as I can tell) isn't exactly spurring one to believe he's any more a master of the dark ends of human psychology than a saturday morning cartoon. Well, let's put a literary twist on cemetery and see if this flick can be brought back from the grave, or if it should have just been left there.
Our story revolves around a family who just moved into a (for them) new home - a happy bunch, consisting of a doctor, his wife, and their two children. The biggest downfall to this quaint little country house is that the roadway it's next to is plagued by truckers who absolutely haul down the road at breakneck speed. The neighbor across the street even in fact saves their youngest kid from discovering this too closely by snatching him up when the parent's are distracted by the daughter hurting herself after falling in the tire-swing. Of course, the family will get along with this friendly and helpful new elderly man just fine - and he knows all about the property as well, including the path the daughter had spotted while swinging. When the father visits the man later, he even relates the tale that this road has caused many a kid grief, claiming loved pets, most of which have been buried in the cemetery at the end of that same path questioned earlier.
The next day the family goes to the pet cemetery the with their elderly neighbor, and we learn that he too has a pet buried there. The next day, the doctor needs to go to work and (under the advice of the neighbor) get the cat neutered to give him extra incentive to stay away from the road. At work, the doctor's hopefully uneventful day is shattered when a man is brought in after having been hit by a truck (that didn't even stop). Although he's good as dead, the doctor does what he can to try and help the man - which leads to an unexpected outcome of the doctor getting a bit of a helpful haunting from the man. That night, the ghost of the man takes the doctor out to the graveyard and warns him - no matter how much you think you have to or should, never go beyond the brush as the soil there is sour. Mysterious, and proven to not be a dream, but the doctor doesn't dwell on it too long.
When the rest of the family goes on a thanksgiving trip to visit family back in Chicago, the cat dies. The neighbor, feeling bad for how much the daughter loves that cat, introduces the doctor to a strange secret - an indian burial ground that seems to revive what's buried there. The crisis of the dead cat is averted when it arrives the home in the garage, but there is something that seem off about the cat now - something more than overly reflective eyes and being a bit more scratch happy. It's not till later that the neighbor tells him the same thing happened with his dog - that he brought it back, and that it wasn't the same dog he knew. For the most part, everything is fine for a while - until that road finally rears it's ugly head again, and in an instant of nobody paying attention their youngest is struck down by a speeding truck. Grief ridden, we can understand the doctor wanting to revisit what he did with the cat - but the neighbor is highly against it, telling the tale of a man son who died in the war that just wasn't the same when he was brought back. Choosing not to listen to the warnings, could the doctor put his entire family in danger?
Plot is something i have to talk about here - partially because it's a main player in the scare department and mostly because I feel some stuff needs to be brought to light. First off, for something based on a book, you need an incredible suspension of disbelief for this movie to work and you not have any complaints. Although I was able to achieve this (because when I'm watching a movie I find it hard to care enough about details when my express purpose is be entertained), I can definitely see where some are going to be like "are you that stupid?" Particularly for people who have kids, they may be finding it appalling that anyone would let a kid slip out of their view long enough to wander that far away into a road (and likewise people undoubtedly wonder why that person's kid is getting away with stuff they do), particularly when it is know that the road constantly has tractor trailers whizzing by at mach speed. Beyond that and some other flaws (particularly evident towards the end), the plot can bring up a couple of serious matters - like faith, what's right and wrong, how far one can go under stress, and how stupid people can be.
Whereas a literary work needs to worry about how a sentence could be read, a movie needs to worry about how those lines are delivered. In this case, and it pains me to say this a little, I feel like this is the worst acted Stephen King movie I've watched thus far (and at this point, my track record has me having watched quite a few, even having already reviewed two or three at this point). Maybe it's just the stale delivery from the doctor, or the normal kid-actor performances of the kids, but it's strange that the cat and neighbor (who sounds like someone told him to be a stereotypical country farmer as best they could) deliver the best performances. I assume at least for that cat it came natural, but there's moments in the acting here that I would have rather been watching Maximum Overdrive - although to be fair, the overall acting in this might slightly beat MO, if only by a little.
Audio is fine, and what little effects there are to worry about come off fine - although elements of it, such as ghostly fading, suffer a bit from age (you know how in cartoons you can tell what parts of the background are going to be interacted with by it's color? Yeah, its kinda like that with the ghost fade). There's a branched little subplot going on with the wife and her deceased sister that gets introduced halfway in, which does give us a bit of prosthetic/makeup use and looks pretty well, and violence is handled in a matter where it's practical and not too over the top. In some instances, the violence is pretty much overridden by the plot needing it to not be so bad (that kid looks like he wasn't even touched by a truck, never mind the fact it hit him so hard that his show was blown off his foot). Again, remedied a bit through suspension of disbelief.
So, I'm gonna be brutally honest here - although this movie might be terrifying if you're a parent, I wouldn't recommend this over other King flicks like It, The Shining ('80), Silver Bullet or even Graveyard Shift. Sure, it's got some moral/faith stuff going on in it, but as far as those looking to be scared, the cat provides the main oomph of jump scares, the idea of something else coming back instead of what you wanted to feels more like a cautionary scare, and for me personally it's hard to maintain an interest in the family. If you're a fan of King conversion movies, you'll probably want to watch it just to complete your collection, but for the rest I'd say this one's probably pass. Sorry King, this hearts just a bit too gravelly I guess.