A couple of months ago I finally cracked open my first edition ‘Pet Sematary’ by Stephen King and I polished it off in three days. This may seem odd considering the nature of this blog but I loved it! It has become one of the best books I have ever read and one of the most thought provoking. I must admit I was only scared because my cat who looks like butter wouldn’t melt. Observe:
Don’t let looks deceive you! That sadistic creature decided that she needed to jump on my face while shrieking at 4am was the thing to be done for a week straight. That wasn’t exactly pleasant after reading about an undead cat. Thanks a lot, Meegles.
Anyway, as this is me then there has to be moaning as what else could I write about. The source of my irritation was when I decided to watch the film. My God! That film is horrendous and offends me, not just because it is a terrible B Movie but also because it misses the point of the damn book. The good news is that a remake is in the works and it has been promised that the new adaptation will be faithful to the book which is a relief. However, I still want to talk about this so off we go!
(This will be spoiler heavy, so be warned.)
To refresh people’s memories then I shall give a summary of the plot. Dr. Louis Creed and his wife Rachel move their two children to Maine where he has accepted a job at the university. They meet their friendly and elderly neighbour Jud Crandall who warns them of the mean road that has claimed the lives of many of the town’s pets which are buried in the woodland cemetery by the children. Things steadily get worse as on Louis’ first day at work a student is hit by a car and as he dies he warns Louis not to go beyond the Pet Sematary. Later that night Victor Pascow’s ghost takes Louis there and warns him again. Tragedy hits again on Halloween when Jud’s wife Norma suffers a heart attack but Louis saves her. So when Louis’ daughter’s cat Church is hit by a car then Jud feels the need to repay Louis and takes him beyond the Pet Sematary to the Micmac burial ground to bury Church there. Louis hears noises but Jud tells him to ignore them and they return after burying Church. The next day Church returns but is a little strange and smells bad. Jud explains that pets buried there come back to life but a little different then before and that they are a little dead. The next victim of that mean road is Louis’ two-year-old son Gage, Jud warns Louis against burying him in the cemetery and tells him of Timmy Baterman who came back and was evil. Louis ignores him and does it anyway. Gage comes back as an abomination who kills Jud and Rachel. Louis proceeds to kill Church and Gage then sets the house on fire while he takes Rachel up to the cemetery to bury her. The end is probably one of the best endings of a book:
“The steps ended directly behind him.
A cold hand fell on Louis’ shoulder. Rachel’s voice was grating, full of dirt.
“Darling” It said.”
This leads us into our first discussion and that is the ending!
The Finale (Part 1)
Read that again! Jesus, that’s creepy and already one of my peeves with the movie. I love the ambiguity of the ending as we the reader don’t know what happens to Louis. We know he is completely insane at this point but we never know if he lives or dies. Some aspects tell us that he may live as he says in Chapter 12 when Pascow dies and 35 before Gage’s death:
“Looking back on it, Louis would think – when he could bear to think about it at all – that the nightmare really began when they brought the dying boy, Victor Pascow, into the infirmary around ten that morning.”
“Louis Creed came to believe that the last really happy day of his life was March 24th, 1983.”
This would make sense as he loses everything after those days and it would be doubtful he would recover his sanity enough to be truly happy again or to even look back. I love that we just don’t know what happens which is why I think the film ruined the impact the ending had by having Rachel looking like this:
I will go into more detail as to why I have a problem with this look. I also loathe having her bringing down a knife onto Louis which completely destroys the mystery of the ending which therefore takes away the impact. It’s a classic horror ending but this story is so much more than a cheap horror story. This book delves into the flaws of human nature, our love and how people deal with the agonising grief of losing a loved one but also how far man will go to deny the laws of nature. It is tragic and thought provoking as well as a horror story but the ending is just pure crappy horror in the film. It almost feels like this is a film about dead things rising up but once again this book is pure human tragedy and isn’t just a supernatural horror with zombies but the film couldn’t be bothered with that. This leads us to the next point:
The Undead Animals
The humans will be discussed next as they are a huge part of the topic and my annoyance with the film. I find the animals brought back from the dead one of the most fascinating parts of this book. They aren’t mindless and blood thirsty zombies, they are just wrong. They walk as if they are drunk, their eyes are dead and muddy but they also stink of the ground they were buried in and no amount of baths will stop the smell. They seem almost normal but they give an aura of wrong. People instinctively don’t like to be near them but can’t explain why. The two main animals featured that have been resurrected are Church the Creed cat and Spot who was Jud’s dog.
Let’s discuss Spot first as he is the first to be resurrected in terms of time lines and is also the shortest to talk about. In the book Spot died after getting an infection from barbed wire, Jud’s father shot him to put him out of his misery. Jud is taken up to the burial ground by Stanny B the local drunk. I am going to put some quotes up describing Spot when he returns home:
“Standing in the doorway was Spot, my dog. The fur on his belly was filthy, knotted and snarled. He was just standing there – not growling or nothing – just standing there, but it was pretty clear that he had backed her into a corner, whether he meant to or not.”
“So I found some scraps and called him, and at first he didn’t come, at first it was like he didn’t know his own name … But the second or third time I called him, he came. He sort of jerked towards me, and when I led him out to the porch, damned if he didn’t run right into the side of the door and just about fall over.”
“I got on my knees and hugged him, I was so glad to see him. For just one second it scared me to be hugging him, and I – think I must have imagined this, but he growled. For just a second. Then he licked my face, and …”
“Louis, his tongue was cold. Being licked by Spot was like getting rubbed up the side of your face with a dead carp.”
“But that day Spot just sat in the tub and let me wash him. He never moved at all. I didn’t like it. It was like … like washing meat.”
“Spot was always a good dog. He always smelled like dirt but he was a good dog.”
I found the descriptions one of the many reasons as to why the book is fascinating as they are just wrong but aren’t obviously zombies. The film completely destroyed this by showing Spot covered in blood and barking and growling viciously at Jud’s mother. If these animals are that bloody nasty, then no one would do it. The only animal that came back truly mean was Hanratty the Bull but most just assumed that the bull as a one off as most animals were still friendly but stupid.
Jud even explains that Ellie will still love her cat like he loved Spot but will sigh with relief when they die the second time due to the aura of wrongness about them, this is clearly not true in the film as why would you love a vicious animal. It completely takes away from the creepy nature of these animals to have them acting to the extremes of viciousness as it is obvious something has happened to them. The beauty of the undead Spot is that he was always a good dog, even after he came back but he was just odd and smelly now.
Now onto Church! It is Church’s resurrection that helps convince Louis to take Gage to the cemetery as Church seemed like Spot as in a bit stupid. However, Church has taken up the cat hobby of hunting to a higher level than before as he kills and eats a crow on Christmas Eve but also brings home other kills. Still fairly common for cats but Church now does it far more frequently for a neutered cat. This is ramped up to the extremes in the film. When Church comes home and Louis draws himself a bath Church joins him in the bathroom for a truly and subtly creepy scene:
“Church was swaying slowly back and forth as if drunk. Louis watched it, his body crawling with revulsion, a scream barely held back in his mouth by his clamped teeth. Church had never looked like this – had never swayed, like a snake trying to hypnotise its prey”
“Church stared at him a moment longer – God, his eyes were different, somehow they were different – and then leaped down from the toilet. He landed with none of the uncanny grace cats usually display. He staggered awkwardly, haunches thudding against the tub, and then he was gone.”
That to me is subtly creepy, I can’t explain why but it is the swaying as it is just odd behaviour and not frightening but yet it is as it is just not normal for a cat to do that. The film thinks they need to really ramp this scene up by having Church throw a rat at Louis while hissing but also looking like this:
Wow, how subtle.
I must admit I nominate this cat to play Church in the remake as they are in character already:
How Rachel and Ellie don’t seem to notice the demonic glowing eyes is beyond me. They must be that stupid, as I am sure I would find it odd if Meegles’ eyes now acted as glow in the dark torches. I guess it was the 80s so it was difficult to have the things mentioned in the book but throwing a rat at Louis is frankly ridiculous.
Church is so important as his death leads to Gage’s resurrection. Louis has to convince himself that Church is like most cats with his new hunting skills, seems stupid and that he smells funny but all in all seems OK so therefore Gage should be as well. He ignores the fact people won’t touch him, even Ellie who no longer will let Church on her bed but would have been inconsolable if she knew that Church had died. He convinces himself while keeping Church’s kills a secret that Gage will be fine but maybe a little stupid but hey, that’s OK as he would love him anyway and he will be the normal Gage when he knows deep down that this is not true.
The most important aspect that Louis does ignore is the feeling of revulsion with these things especially when he feeds Church for the first time and he makes disgusting slurping noises that makes Louis feel revolted. We don’t see any of that, we just see Church hissing with his glowing eyes while throwing rats. The film completely misses the point of these animals as they lure you into a false sense of security as you think that a person will come out exactly the same but the film shows every animal as a vicious abomination which makes it harder to believe why Louis would even consider burying Gage there. This leads us to the next point which is the one known person buried there before Gage. Next is the Return of Timmy Baterman!
Timmy Baterman was a seventeen-year-old boy who was killed in Italy during World War Two. Timmy was shipped home to Ludlow with full military honours to be buried in his local cemetery, however, his father digs him up and buries him in the Micmac Burial Ground. Jud tells the story of his return to warn Louis against burying Gage in the cemetery and says that Bill Baterman would most likely have not done it if his wife and youngest child hadn’t died during childbirth and now after losing Timmy, Bill had nothing left.
The story of Timmy is one of the most terrifying sections of the novel as like the animals Timmy was just wrong. He was first spotted lurching up the street, he would walk up and down the street all day long. His hair was a mess and he stank of the grave. What made him terrifying was how harmless he seemed at first but also how wrong he was when he was interacting with local residents. I will quote again so you get the full impact:
“He just stood there, she said, his hands dangling at his sides and his head pushed forward a little bit, so he was leadin’ with his chin like a boxer who’s ready to eat him some canvas…Then she said he turned around it was like watching a drunk man try to do an about-face.”
“She said his eyes … she said they looked dead and dusty as marbles, Louis. But he saw her … and he grinned… and she said he talked to her. Asked her if she still had those records, because he wouldn’t mind cutting a rug with her. Maybe that very night.”
To me that is once again subtly terrifying as he isn’t doing anything scary but it is just wrong and very creepy. Especially the description of the eyes as I can assure that the eyes do change in death, it’s like the soul has left the body. The eyes are what makes this scene so scary as it is not right and subtle changes can cause people to feel scared. One common aspect films use is removing someone’s eyebrows. It’s such a small change but it gives the viewer the element and feeling that something is wrong.
In the book Jud’s friends meet at his house and decide enough is enough as the War Office is receiving too many letters reporting Timmy making one hell of a hell of a lively corpse. They go over there and it is obvious the effect that Timmy’s presence is having on his father as he is reported to have lost a lot of weight and looking very sick but most importantly he looked damned. Once again I will quote so you can really get the full impact as me just describing it doesn’t do the scene justice.
“Timmy Baterman was like that, Louis, like a zombie in a movie, but he wasn’t. There was somethin’ more. There was somethin’ going on behind his eyes … it was sly, that was one thing.”
“It was more like … a radio signal that was comin’ from somewhere else. You looked at him and you thought. ‘If he touches me, I’m going to scream.’”
They find Timmy staring at the sunset but he does look at them and grins but goes back to looking at the sunset. The men discuss with Bill about the needs of exhumation as Bill just says that Timmy never died but is just suffering from PTSD.
Timmy lurches over to the men, Jud describes it like watching a crab walk. He also describes the dimples and small healed burns on his face where he was shot with the machine gun. This is so important as the Micmac burial ground fixes the injuries of the deceased. Spot had dimpled skin from the barbed wire and white hair where he was shot. This is so important for later. Jud tells us how he stank of the grave and it was festering and spoilt. What is so unnerving is when Timmy begins to speak as if he has dirt in his lungs and tells them all their deepest darkest secrets. He is quiet at first but becomes increasingly hysterical but every bad thing he says is true. Jud last sees him screaming on the lawn.
This makes the slyness very important as Jud said Timmy was always a nice boy, perhaps a little dull but a good person. The new Timmy only saw and spoke of the bad.
I find this genuinely unnerving as he starts speaking quietly which is very menacing. The return of Timmy is so poignant as he seems OK but odd at first but the terror ramps up during the encounter but it is still something that Louis is able to rationalise. This is why the film completely failed at the importance of this scene. I couldn’t find an English video but you don’t really need the actual words as Timmy doesn’t say much anyway, it’s more the actions that are stupid.
What in God’s name is that?! Where did he get that foot from to gnaw at?! That has to be one of the most ridiculous scenes I have ever seen as it completely destroys what makes Timmy so terrifying. It also makes Louis look like a twit as you can’t rationalise a zombie cannibal, there is just no way to rationalise that so why would he would even think resurrecting Gage is a good idea. In the book we know it’s a terrible idea but Louis convinces himself that because Gage is a child then he will be like Church and Spot but where Timmy is subtle he can convince himself that it will be OK and maybe Jud was overreacting. Someone covered in blood while eating a random foot is not something you can rationalise or ignore.
The end of Timmy was destroyed in the film too. In the book Timmy was shot by his father and then his father set the house on fire and shot himself. You bury your own in the Micmac Grounds, you therefore kill you own when it comes home to you from that place. Instead we saw Timmy pushing his father around while the men of Ludlow set the house on fire. I think that just destroys the foreshadowing that was to come where Louis kills Gage and Church. It is exceptionally hard and traumatic for them to do this but they have to as what they buy is what they own and what you own comes home to you. They had to kill what they created, they have to feel the utter pain of killing their children after everything they did to bring them back and it costs Louis his sanity and Bill his life.
The next bit is to discuss is the return of Gage and the finale.
Gage and the Finale (Part 2)
First up, let’s discuss the death of Gage. We don’t read his actual death scene until a bit later after the announcement of his death. We are led through the utterly heart-breaking funeral plans where Rachel is sedated and Ellie carries Gage’s picture with her everywhere and the false sense of relief when Louis describes Gage’s life into adulthood. We are then hit with his death scene which has the utter trauma of Louis desperately trying to catch him but unable to and finding Gage’s baseball cap filled with blood and then his trainer and then his jumper. You can feel the sense of shock and stillness as Louis finds these items knowing that Gage is dead via the mean road. He reacts like many would and that is disbelieving and shocked as how could this happen to his son.
The movie however felt the need to give a few seconds of Louis displaying some of the worst acting skills imaginable by falling to his knees screaming ‘NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’
Also, pretty impressive that a massive truck managed to get totalled and flipped by hitting a two-year-old. It is just far too drama llama to be taken seriously which is really not the feeling you want when you just watch a toddler being hit and killed by a truck. You want to feel devastated and feeling Louis’ trauma, which the film fails at! It’s almost funny which is really not what you want to feel as it seems like a whammy soap opera. I almost cried with the book whereas this was my face when I watched that:
I’m Shrek by the way! I do give the film it’s dues when Gage returns as they managed to give him dead-eye but also you can see where his skull was broken up. However, I find it disappointing that we don’t have the confrontation with Jud where Gage tells him that Norma knew of his visits to the whorehouse, which Timmy accused Jud of, but that she was unfaithful to him and is now burning in hell. I know she has been omitted from the film but still, it could have been mentioned that his wife who is dead did these things. Timmy did scream ‘Whoremaster’ in the film after all. That is bloody menacing coming from a small child, instead Gage does a Kill Bill and cuts Jud’s Achilles tendon and gnaws on his neck.
When Rachel finds him, I am utterly bemused as to why Gage is now wearing a top hat. Why?! He even has a pimp stick! Is he a demon pimp now!?! LOOK AT IT!!!
That is such a random add on. I also find Gage calling Louis to say that he played with Rachel and Jud and now wants to play with him such a let-down as the impact is Louis slowly realising that Gage has been and gone but that Rachel is over at Jud’s. We see Louis losing his sanity as the realisation hits him, having Gage just outright tells him ruins the impact.
Now I have to admit I absolutely cracked up laughing during this scene:
BAHAHAHAHA! I’m sorry but what the hell is that!?! How did a small child zombie get a dead lady body up to the attic to hang her when the hatch drops?! How did he manage to even get the attic open?! He is a tiny little child; it makes no sense. I completely cracked up when he launches himself at Louis while stabbing and gnawing him. I am sorry but it is hilarious.
I do feel sad when Louis injects him and he toddles off to die but I still think the book did it better. This is Gage’s death in the book:
“Now Gage looked up at him and for a moment Louis saw his son – his real son – his face unhappy and filled with pain.
“Daddy!” he cried, and then fell forward on his face.”
I honestly find that heart-breaking as it could be the Wendigo trying to manipulate Louis one last time but it could also be his son who is in pain which is Louis’ final memory of his beloved son. This is when Louis loses the small amount sanity he has left and curls up in a ball and sucks his thumb for two hours. I find those two sentences have much more gut wrenching tragedy and torment then Gage growling a bit before he died.
Louis then recreates Bill Baterman’s final movements by setting fire to the house but carries Rachel up to the cemetery in the hopes of her resurrection being successful as he is convinced it will work as he waited too long for Gage. I brought up Rachel’s dead face in the beginning but after all the discussion it just pisses me off that she has no eye and is all oozy. That is just cheap horror that completely neglects the true horror. Gage and Church look slightly different with dead-eye but considering Gage and Timmy had very traumatic deaths but were fixed then so should Rachel! Louis has to make sure Gage is facing the window in the car because his body was so mashed that Louis couldn’t be sure if he had bent Gage’s legs backwards, yet the cemetery fixes him. Yet, Rachel is all oozy with no eye. It’s honestly stupid as what makes these things terrifying is how normal they look but their movements, stench and eyes give them away. These are not typical zombie but the film wanted a dramatic and gross ending and they got that by setting the excellent book ending on fire. It pisses me off as you can tell.
Norma Crandell, Wendigo and Victor Pascow
I honestly find it bizarre that they chose to cut Norma out of the film as she is very important. Her heart attack is what prompts Jud to take Louis to the cemetery but also her death is the only natural death in the book which is very important. It shows that death is natural and the pain of the loss slowly becomes happy memories of the deceased. Also her marriage with Jud is vital as they seem like the perfect elderly couple with the ideal marriage but we learn of their secret infidelities and the lies. We don’t know if Norma did cheat as the Wendigo may have wanted to torment Jud before he died but we know he did cheat on her. Her character may be small but she is vital. Why on earth was she replaced with Missy, the babysitter, who kills herself. It is honestly so pointless as it doesn’t impact the story in any way. It seems like it was done for shock value which is stupid and lazy.
I also find it baffling that the Wendigo is left out so the viewer has no idea what the power is in the cemetery and completely neglects to realise the influence that the Wendigo has on events such as Church and Gage’s death but also Rachel’s journey home and Louis’ decision. Louis isn’t innocent but the Wendigo is an important influence. The Wendigo also makes Louis’ journey to the cemetery with Gage utterly terrifying but it was just ignored which is a real shame.
Last but not least is Victor Pascow as I actually liked that he was more of a main character in the film even though I do find his final words to Rachel, which seem oddly chirpy, as strange as surely he knows something terrible will happen as he visits Ellie and warns her that her family are doomed. I think that should be changed to him almost screaming for Rachel to go to Louis and not Jud as it makes him look like he is working for the Wendigo when actually he is the source for good in the story.
Anyway! Final thoughts, I think the film sucks. I feel that the film is far too much focused on the cheap horror of a demon baby with a scalpel and undead cat to really appreciate the thought provoking messages in the book. The book shows how love can be what drives us to our destruction and has to be one of the bleakest books written, even Stephen King hates it for this reason. He describes this as his most terrifying book and I agree as it may not have killer clowns but it is the thought that our love and grief can drive us to do the unthinkable and thus lead to our utter destruction. The film is nothing but cheap horror (I was shocked to find that King wrote the screenplay) and I really hope the remake moves away from that and does a decent adaptation.
I wanted to go into Louis but I have decided to do that in another post as I have written far too much already and he is a whole other discussion but I will talk about the film too but it will be more book heavy. Until next time, dear readers!