Monday, October 11, 2010

31 Days Of Horror: Day 11: Pet Semetary

(This Fanmade poster contains more wit, creativity and craft then the movie in its entirety)

Pet Sematary is a wretched wrong headed film. The kind of film that makes you wonder if those making it were crazy, incompetent, or just high.

It takes one of King’s most emotionally devastating, horrific and bitter novels and grinds it down into bland thin gruel. Some may accuse me of not being able to let the book go. But I do recognize that a film must stand on its own, that slavish fidelity to source material is no virtue. But if a film is to stand on its own it must have something to stand on. Pet Sematary has nothing to recommend it, independent of its source material, save the freaky makeup on Zelda, and one of the better latter day Ramones’ Songs.

In all fairness, Pet Sematary is one tough nut to crack. Content aside- some of King’s roughest, and most conceptually awful- while most of King’s books are largely internal, Pet Sematary is almost solely internal. It’s some of King’s best writing, some of it even crossing the line into poetical in a way that King rarely does (“…he grows what he can there and he tends to it.” Call me melodramatic but I’ve always thought this particular musing about the difference between the genders is more or less dead on.) The entirety of the book is told from within Louis Creed’s mind, and as that mind gradually becomes a more and more unpleasant place to be the horror grows almost unbearable.

Also problematic, while Sematary has some of King’s most upsetting imagery and concepts: dead children, undead children, matricide, patricide, cannibalism and the scene that made an entire generation terrified of multiple sclerosis. But what it lacks in the novel, the dread of these things is built off screen as much as on. In the negative space that film, or at least studio film really can’t do. So paradoxically, even though all of these horrible things are present, they’re all also oddly affectless. I mean it’s tough to make shots of toddlers being hit by Mac Trucks, and subsequently feasting on the throats of the elderly have close to zero impact, yet somehow this movie manages. Even the celebrated Zelda scenes seem more out of the blue then anything else, given that she wasn’t allowed the luxury of marinating in guilt and dread prior to her debut.

All of this still fails to capture just how wrong the movie goes. Just how little investment anyone behind or in front of the camera seems to have in the film (Dale Midkaff is particularly bad, the role calls for grief crazed, he barely reaches dumbfounded). How little care is taken in anything, except for occasionally stealing beats from An American Werewolf In London wholesale.

There are bad adaptations and then there’s butchery.

6 comments:

Klod said...

ah ah..i'm still terrified of multiple sclerosis..that woman is worse than Linda Blair! I hate her! That's the only thing that really scared me...anyway... i prefer "the haunted" (1991)!

Emily said...

Very interesting Bryce. I find this movie generally overrated, but I do think there's merit here and there. It's extremely limited, like so many other early '90s horror, by its very time period, which called for so much more but always seemed to censor itself.

My issue with the film is more the plotting, which feels so forced. Why oh why would Judd possibly show the dad the semetary, knowing full well what will happen? Why would the dad then continue to raise EVERY SINGLE THING that dies. It makes sense for Gage sure, but by the time it's his wife, you have to suspend a lot of sense.

Still, the film has some things about it that work, although as you point out, it may be more story than style. The shot of Gage's hand in the coffin. The cat. Fred Gwynne. It's a flawed film--VERY FLAWED--but I still do find it scary (though some of that may stem from a nightmare I had as a kid where gage and Chucky teamed up to hunt me down, go figure).

Bryce Wilson said...

@Klod: Huh, never seen it, it's on the list now thanks!

@Emily: You make some great points. But I will just point out that Louis's actions make alot more sense as the product of a grief soaked insane mind, as opposed to someone who just won't learn his fucking lesson.

Gwynne is decent, though I wish he had better stuff to work with. But Gage has never worked on screen for me at all. Mostly because occasionally hilariously, the kid is so obviously not into it. Here's poor Gwynne trying to look terrified, and there's Gage playing with "Gwampa!"

Though that dream you had would give anyone a mulligan with this film!

Will Errickson said...

A wonderful and insightful review of a really disappointing film. When I heard, back in the day, that not only was this novel, probably my favorite of King's, was being made into a movie but that the Ramones we're doing the title song, I was beside myself. Alas. I particularly hated how the filmmakers made Zelda into a scary monster; it's exploitation in the worst way. Grief and abandonment and loss are the true horrors of the novel.

Bryce Wilson said...

Thanks man, very well said.

And now that you mention it, they really did fuck of Zelda.

Fuck I hate this movie.

Biba Pickles said...

I don't want to be burried in a pet sematary sequel. Oh god, it's Edward Furlong!