Pet Sematary (1989) Review

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Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should. Pet Semetary is a movie that I grew up hearing my parents talk about how scary it was when it came out. It was always a lot like Poltergeist in their eyes and while I do remember watching Poltergeist as a kid, I can’t recall watching Pet Semetary. The one thing I did know growing up was that Stephen King was a bit of a twisted individual but very much a gifted writer. This story is a somewhat simple and predictable tale, but one that I know could be executed in a way that makes it a really great movie. That’s what I thought going into it, but after watching it I soon realized something, just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should.

It could just be this adaptation of the book since I haven’t yet watched the new remake, but this movie seems to show the flaws that King does have when writing. I understand he write the screenplay as well, so there’s no blaming the writing on another person. I can’t say that this isn’t a good story in a book format because I actually think this story is good if I were reading it, but I think it tends to not work as well in movie format. I will go ahead and explain what I mean by that.

So the movie is pretty simple as I said before and incredibly predictable which is fine as long as it can pull off the execution. We have a family moving into a new house which leads to the discovery of the Pet Semetary which leads to their cat being killed only to be revived by Louis and then eventually his son being killed and of course he revives him. Sorry for the spoilers on this movie from a few decades ago, but it seems pretty easy to put two and two together to come up with this even if you just read the premise.

So the plot is all well and good, but that’s the extent of where this movie goes. The only backbone it has to support it as being watchable is the last thirty minutes when everything starts to come together and the real horror begins. That’s the problem though, it takes too long to set up everything without any kind of midway threats or exciting moments to get the blood going before we get to the main event.

King is a horror writer and this movie is considered to be in the horror genre, but that only really becomes true in the final act of the film. I guess it could be me being desensitized by not being scared by much anymore, but all of the ghostly appearances or paranormal like scenes are good I guess, but it doesn’t do its job. Those scenes specifically are made to add to the level of terror and the impending doom that we finally reach at the end, but they really are just there for the sake of being there. Is the family being haunted because of Louis’ connection to the Semetary? I mean that’s fine except that it really isn’t explained all that well unless I just missed it.

On top of that, there are some visuals that don’t make much sense like when Louis goes into the house at the very end and it looks like the house is all rotted and covered in moss. These are connected to like paranormal visions of some kind, but why is he seeing that and why can their daughter have dreams of everything that’s about to happen? There are just too many questions that are left unanswered that could have been explored more to give us more depth to the story and characters.

All of this comes to a peak though when you’re struggling to make the best out of this movie, but even the actors can’t help you. I don’t know if this movie was just considered a risky project so they didn’t want to spend that much money on getting some acting talent, but these performances are just not good. Our main character Louis should at least be someone that can hold his own, but he seemed silly and unbelievable anytime he opened his mouth. And to bounce this back to the writing and I would say the directing, how would you be so oblivious to your surroundings to allow your young child to get that close to the road?

Okay, maybe I’m starting to think too realistic about this and not giving it a little bit of leeway for being a movie, but still, this movie has a lot of problems. On the flipside though, the last thirty minutes is actually really good considering it was made a few decades ago. Of course the practical effects can look a little wonky and laughable at times, but it’s the real horror that kicks in at this point and gives me what I was hoping for the whole film. We see that Louis has descended into complete madness of course by bringing back his son, only to elevate his madness when he tries to bring back his wife.

His character is most interesting in these last thirty minutes because of this descent. The only downside to the ending though is that while we do get some interesting shot of this young boy murdering two people that makes me think of Chucky. It does seem that they could have shown a bit more for us to actually enjoy the gore and horror. I was impressed by the young boy though who had to play a sadistic killer in the vein of chucky except that he was actually a real boy so props to him.

In the end, I’m left with a simple question that I started this review with. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should, right? This story might be loved in book format, but just because it is a King novel, does it really warrant an adaptation. Let alone a remake? I haven’t watched the remake so maybe it does a better job and I’ll have more to say when I review it, but as of right now I just feel like this is a movie that just let me down and shows the unevenness that King can sometimes have in his writing. I just wish it was more of a horror film rather than just thirty minutes of horror. I would say for now just go ahead and skip this movie unless you are like my parents who think it’s scary even though they probably haven’t watched it since it first came out. Wait for my review of the remake to see whether either of these is worth watching.

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