Hello, I’m back, writing to you from quarantine. Today’s post is about the 1989 film Pet Sematary, directed by Mary Lambert. We should file this under movies that I saw way too young and stuck with me for years. Also, one of the first Stephen King books I ever read, and the first book I read with a sex scene. So, did Pet Sematary hold up for me? Kind of, it didn’t scare me the way it did when I was a child, but I found new things to enjoy.
The story follows the Creed family who moves to Maine from Chicago. Some of their new house’s features include; the smallest small town road that somehow has the heaviest truck traffic, a sprawling pet cemetery in the back,
and neighbor Jud Crandall (Played by Fred Gwynne). Sign me up!
This family is just not likeable in my opinion. I’m going to be up front and say this is one of my least favorite Stephen King families. Louis (Dale Midkiff) is just a jerk for no reason. Rachel (Denise Crosby) is incredibly tightly wound and dealing with the trauma of her sister, Zelda’s death. This movie has a lot of 80s child acting, where the main direction seemed to be “Act big.” But, you don’t have to like the characters to like the story.
As Jud warns them, the family cat, Church, gets hit by a truck while Rachel and Ellie are visiting Rachel’s parents for Thanksgiving. This whole movie could have been solved with a fence. That’s when Jud takes Louis to the real pet sematary, a Mi’kmaq burial ground past the pet sematary.
Church comes back, but he comes back wrong. He reeks of death and is hostile. And, worse, now the burial ground knows the family is near it, and it’s hungry.
Yes, with the use of “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” by The Ramones in the background, Gage (Miko Hughes) is hit by a truck. Despite Jud’s warnings to never put a human in the cemetery, Louis digs up his grave and reburies Gage. Gage comes back, but, like the cat, is wrong. The visceral scene that I’ve always remembered since I was little was Gage running around with the scalpel and cutting Jud’s Achilles tendon.
Other things I remember from when I was young: the horror of Louis running into Rachel’s hanging body, and Rachel’s flashbacks of Zelda.
What I missed when I was young:
How much I enjoyed the character of Pascow (Brad Greenquist). Pascow is a patient that Louis tries to save. He tries to guide Louis and warn him of the power of the cemetery, and when he doesn’t listen, he helps Rachel.
Pascow kind of reminds me of Jack in An American Werewolf in London, looking more and more grim with each warning.
As a funeral director, I love a good movie about grief. Yes, this movie is supernatural and cheesy, but it’s also about death and grieving. How do you let go of life? One character chooses to kill herself over what she thinks is stomach cancer. Was that really her choice or was it the power of the pet cemetery? How do you let go of a child or even a pet? I’m sure I know people that would choose even the bad, wrong version of their loved ones back, even for a little while. Louis himself uses the cemetery no less than three times, after watching his cat and son come back wrong. I’ve read that the original ending is more ambiguous, with Rachel just walking into the kitchen, saying “Darling,” and no knife. I think I prefer that version, because the viewer knows she’s coming back wrong.
In thinking of this movie, I always return to the two famous Jud quotes. 1. “Sometimes dead is better.”
2. “The soil of a man’s heart is stonier, Louis. A man grows what he can, and he tends it. ‘Cause what you buy, is what you own. And what you own… always comes home to you.”
In mortuary school, you learn about grief and grief work. Because grieving is a process that requires work. How you grieve is a major theme in the movie. Rachel admits that she was relieved when her sister died and is ashamed of that, but it’s something I hear a lot from people. The act of dying is hard on those who are left behind. Dying is a burden. It’s physically and emotionally demanding. And Louis just endlessly repeats it, having his cat die, bringing it back, then killing it again, having his son die, bringing him back, then killing him again. In the end, Louis is destroyed by grief.