Sometimes Dead is Better

Fred Gwynne reacts to his first reading of the screenplay for PET SEMATARY.

Pet Sematary, adapted by Stephen King from his novel of the same name, directed by Mary Lambert, starring Dale Midkiff (Louis Creed), Fred Gwynne (Jud Crandall), Denise Crosby (Rachel Creed) and Brad Greenquist (Victor Pascow) (1989): I’d forgotten what a lousy movie this was until I watched it again for the first time since its release.

Boy, it’s a lousy movie.

It’s not Graveyard Shift or Maximum Overdrive lousy — those movies set a bar so low they may never be underpassed in the ‘Worst Stephen King Movie Adaptation’ competition — but it’s pretty close.

Anyway, stupid parents move to a new house in Maine that’s located six inches from a highway down which go barrelling lumber trucks at breakneck speeds every 30 seconds. First the family cat and then Gage, the two-year-old son, get smushed on the highway.

Ah, but idiot neighbour Fred Gwynne knows a secret! Behind the ‘Pet Sematary’ in which local residents bury their pets (I’m assuming they bury a lot of them because of the aforementioned highway and lumber trucks) is another cemetery…a Micmac cemetery that brings the dead back to life if you bury them there! Hoo ha!

Is a cemetery still a cemetery if everything that gets buried there comes back to life?

Now, Idiot Neighbour knows that what comes out of the cemetery isn’t what goes into it, as he explains in a flashback about how his dog came back all crazy and mean and homicidal, as did a local-boy casualty of war. “The ground went sour,” he tells us, which explains why the Micmac Indians aren’t still immortal.

But he explains this after he’s got Idiot Father to bring the cat back. And the cat comes back…crazy and mean and homicidal! Boy, what a great idea that was!

Despite the unholy evilness of the resurrected cat, Idiot Father brings back dead Gage. Dead Gage is crazy and mean and homicidal and possessed of a much larger vocabulary then when he went into the ground, so there is that silver lining: the Micmac burial ground apparently comes pre-loaded with Baby Einstein vocabulary lessons. Gage kills some people. Idiot Father comes to his senses. Or does he? Do I actually care?

Poor Fred Gwynne does what he can with his role as Idiot Neighbour. In one scene, he repeats the phrase “Sometimes dead is better” so many times that I don’t know how he kept a straight face during the filming. Dale Midkiff looks blank, as he did in pretty much every role he ever played, and Denise Crosby looks like she’s reading from cue cards in most scenes.

Besides the plot stupidity and the awful acting from Dale Midkiff and Denise Crosby as the idiot parents, the direction and cinematography stink. This is a lousy looking movie. Frankly it looks like it was shot on videotape. There is one, count ’em, one startling shot which would never appear in a horror movie today, involving the immolation of a child. That’s it. The moral of the movie is, don’t listen to your stupid neighbour. Not recommended.

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