31 Days of Hell: Pet Sematary (1989) - A Second Sight Review

One of many films to ride the Stephen King box office tidal wave during the ‘80s. Pet Sematary is an unusually grim horror film that melds elements of slasher flicks and parental loss dramas. The end result is a mix bag of terrifying visuals, grotesque effects, and a predictable denouement.

The Creed family has recently moved from Chicago to Maine after the patriarch, Dr. Louis Creed, is offered a job at the local medical college. After the family cat is killed by a truck, a friendly neighbor shows Louis the secret of a Native American burial ground behind the family's house, leading to a violent series of events in which no one, children or adult is safe.

Lance Anderson's stellar makeup work is the strongest element. The corpses are presented as broken shells of their living counterparts, with bloody prosthetics and skin crawling injuries holding the often too long focus of Peter Stein's unflinching cinematography. However, while the violence effects are solid, it is the makeup effects that transform Andrew Hubatsek's diseased Zelda into the fabric of nightmares that holds the center of stage. To expound would spoil the scares, but rest assured whenever Zelda appears, Pet Sematary breaks free of its cliche ridden narrative to produce some genuine chills.

King wrote the screenplay himself and despite it hitting the highlights of the novel, its gravity is decayed by a lackluster group of performances. Dale Midkiff and Denise Crosby play the parents and their lack of chemistry is so apparent it robs the finale of any real emotional resonance. Fred Gwynne does a decent job as the concerned neighbor, but, much like in the novel, his motivations are suspect given he knows the eventual results. There are several intriguing “dead” performances, but the undead realm is ruled by Brad Greenquist's omen dispensing spirit.

The overall problem is that the novel's central theme about the price of guilt doesn't have a chance to percolate as the film is more concerned with getting to the next sequence of violence. The burial ground and its intriguing mythology are another underdeveloped area that could have given some form of meaning to the horrifying acts being carried out by the recently returned. Terror is tied to emotions and Pet Sematary forgets this by focusing on only what the viewer can see.

Available now for digital rental, Pet Sematary was wildly popular upon release, due to some amazing makeup effects and unforgettable visuals, so much so that the copious flaws within the script are forgivable, thanks to Mary Lambert precise direction. If you're interested in an 80's nostalgia piece during the Halloween season and are alright with your horror being purely visual, then this film will delight, if only for the scenes you remember from your childhood. If you're a first-time viewer, come for the special effects and leave any semblance of depth at the door and you'll survive...mostly.

--Kyle Jonathan