Pet Sematary, then (**) and now (**1/2) when there’s no hope…

Pet Sematary – 2019

1989
Director Mary Lambert
Screenplay Stephen King
Starring Denise Crosby, Dennis Midkoff, Fred Gwynne, Miko Hughes, Blaze Berdhal

2019
Directors Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer
Screenplay Jeff Buhler based on the book by Stephen King
Starring Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence, Hugo Lavoie and Lucas Lavoie

Directors Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer
Screenplay Jeff Buhler based on the book by Stephen King
Starring Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence, Hugo Lavoie and Lucas Lavoie

The original Pet Sematary has a few moments that worked, which is more than one could say about a lot of Stephen King’s 80’s movie output. It is gross, when oftentimes scary would do.

It’s story is about Louis and Rachel Creed (Midkiff and Crosby) and their family moving from the city to rural Ludlow, Maine. They meet a friendly neighbor, Jud, who gives the family the best kind of consideration he can. Things feel real neighborly until the family cat falls victim to the endless procession of insanely fast semi trucks that fly by with no regard to the number of pet’s they add to the local Pet Sematary.

Denise Crosby and Dale Midkiff are not exactly top line talent. They are more than enough to spoon feed the audience the scraps of information needed to push us through until the terror begins.

The addition of Fred Gwynne as neighbor Jud Crandall is the film’s best feature. His fateful guidance of Luis is quizzical, given the rest of his character’s arc. His accent and natural friendliness gives Ludlow, Maine a lived in feel. What happens to him has been the stuff of nightmares.

The kids, especially Berdahl , are nothing short of awful. It’s the kind of acting we get to see when someone just dumps the kids in front of a camera and feeds them one line at a time. The younger sibling (Hughes) has some haunting moments in the last act. Overall, though, the film deserves its spot in the graveyard for being at least as close to the story as Stephen King could want. He writes the screenplay and have final choice of director Mary Lambert.

Word has it the original cut of the film is more ambiguous, but the studio wanted more gore. This is back in the days before Redbox and Netflix provided options for people to see real gore. Movie theaters had not moved to PG-13 for horror yet.

Pet Semetary – 1989

Fortunately, the new story is presented with more style than the original. There are a couple of differences from the source material, but they work story wise. One of the changes is making Louis an atheist. His concerted lack of hope in the beginning makes him a prime candidate for what is to come.

There is more of a divergence in his and his wife’s backgrounds that provides a little more realistic emotional grist. Clarke is a top line actor who is able to play of many types of complex figures. This is right up his alley.

A second important decision is in the choice of what happens to which kid. Ellie is played in an incredible dual performance by the deceptively talented Laurence. Her transformation is a key catalyst for the rest of the events of the film. The story makes better sense with the conversation she is allowed to carry on with her father.

Lithgow is a straight across trade for Gwynne when it comes to Jud. His folksiness may be a little less forthcoming of the history of the area. This makes him feel more intelligent and just a bit more sinister.

Still, there’s the story and King’s unrelenting journey towards the heart of despair. Buhler adding Louis’ feeling of hopelessness at the center of everything that is make or break for the viewer. There are no brakes in this free-fall and the last act of the film feels like a drop of of acid in one’s last glass of drinking water.

It’s a rough haul either way, but the newer story has a bit more acting in it overall, even if it’s not quite enough to recommend.

1989 (** out of *****)

2019 (**1/2 out of *****)

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