Stephen King Week: Sometimes Dead Is Better: Pet Sematary (1989)

Well sometimes, dead is better. The person you put up there ain't the person that comes back. It might look like that person, but it ain't that person, because whatever lives on the ground beyond the Pet Sematary ain't human at all.

--Jud Crandall 

Pet Sematary is one of Stephen King's most terrifying stories, a tale about death and regret. The story centers around a family that has moved to a small town in Maine. Louise Creed (Dale Midkiff), Rachel (Denise Crosby), his stay-at-home wife, and his two adorable children Gage (Miko Hughes) and Ellie (Blaze Berdahl). Louise has accepted a job at the University of Maine as a doctor and is in the process of setting up his homestead in a new place. The Creed family is befriended by an amicable older gentleman (with a thick Maine accent) named Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne) who is happy to fill them in on the local area.

Louise's house is located right across from a busy highway that has semi-trucks whizzing by at regular intervals. Unfortunately, many a beloved pet has met their end trying to cross the road and their bodies are buried at a so-called "Pet Sematary" located at the back of the cemetery. Local legends whisper that if you bury a dead pet in a certain area then they come back to life, except they aren't what they used to be while they were alive. 

On the surface, Pet Sematary is basically a zombie film that takes notes from the old story The Monkey's Paw in which a man is given a magical monkey paw that grants him three wishes. He uses one of the wishes to bring his recently deceased son back to life and then regrets it when a shambling horror appears at his door. Upon digging deeper, Pet Sematary is also about the effects of grief and the feelings of guilt that consume the living. There is a scene where a hysterical Rachel tells Louise about Zelda, her long dead sister who haunts her emotions. Zelda suffered from a long debilitating illness and eventually Rachel wished that she would just die and take the burden away from her and her family. This is actually a common though that caretakers have, but it can be horrifying to entertain such thoughts. 

Tragedy befalls the Creed family and Louise decides to take matters into his own hands and bury them in the cursed cemetery. His misery has overtaken his capacity for rational thought. The horror that returns to see him is his penitence for trying to play God. 

I got some of that there eye AIDS. This sucks. 

While this is one of the best King adaptations, it does have some pacing issues, especially in the middle. The story drags a bit, but by the third act everything is moving at a breakneck pace. For the most part everything is filmed conventionally but sporadically it delves into surreal territory with a ghost that appears to warn Louise about the dangers of the Pet Sematary. These scenes add a lot of mystery and creepiness to the story and they set up the third act perfectly.

Death is something a person has to accept whether they want to or not. No amount of crying and grieving will bring the dead back. The only way to come to terms with loss is to acclimate yourself to existence without that person. It's hard. That is why Louise is a selfish asshole in this film. He doesn't even want to try, he just wants the easy way out. He finds out the hard way that "Sometimes dead is better."

-Michelle Kisner