Tag Archives: Stephen King

It (2017): How to Do a Better Remake

After seeing this movie, I went straight home. My fiancé was gone for the night, so everything was dark and quiet. Playing music from off my phone did nothing to comfort me.
I spent hours watching YouTube videos and laughing at funny Facebook articles, and yet when it was time to sleep – at least 2 hours after I told myself I’d go to bed – I hesitated to turn the lights out. I closed my closet door, staring fixedly at the wood to avoid looking into the inky blackness beyond. I hurriedly jumped into bed, narrowly avoiding – in my mind – a Gage Creed-style tendon-cutting jutting out from beneath the skirt.

Then came the tremors. I noticed as I was lying in bed, muscles tense, I was also shaking slightly. Any moment, eyes closed or open, I expected to get a jump scare. As I tried to force my thoughts aside and focus on something else, I could still hear Pennywise luring Georgie to reach into the storm drain.

That is how effective the It remake was for me, and I’ll tell you why. This movie spent lots of time getting to know its characters, so not only did I actually care when they were being threatened, but I also felt their fear mirrored in my own way after the movie was over.

I’ve always judged horror movies by how long they stick with you after the credits roll; if not one or two particular scenes, then the concepts bundled up in all that frightening imagery. In The Shining, I contemplated the idea of one of my parents, who I trust to love and care for me, turning on me, even attempting to kill me. It didn’t matter that Jack Nicholson was over-the-top in an almost corny way; the notion that an adult, so long thought of as all-knowing good, could prove to not only be fallible, but actively a danger to you, the child, was and is scary in a very personal, yet universal way.

So too is the atmosphere of It, in which the adults are either blind, unreliable, or complacent to what is happening.

The plot is as follows: a bunch of ostracized kids who dub themselves “The Losers Club” discover a creature that preys on their town’s children, incapacitating them using their deepest, darkest fears. It most appears as a man calling himself “Pennywise the Dancing Clown,” but the kids refer to it as “It” in any form it takes. While “It” tries to drive them apart and pick them off one by one, they fight to stay together, led by a boy named Bill, who lost his younger brother Georgie to “It” earlier in the year.

One thing I noticed (and loved) was that every time a TV was playing in the background of a scene, the female show host would say a word or line that instantly made me think “that’s Pennywise.” It adds to the theme of subtle manipulation quite well, and makes said scenes feel a little more tense without feeling like a jump scare is coming right away. If I remember correctly, sometimes nothing more sinister happens at all.

Also, every good Stephen King fan appreciated the turtle references. Maybe Maturin will appear in the next installment?

But despite its effectiveness, the movie is not perfect. It felt like a faithful adaptation in its heart, but some iconic scenes and dialogue scraps from the book were missing.

Pennywise is a bit silly at times, but then again, no more so than Tim Curry was. He’s also a clown, there’s only so serious you can take him to begin with.

The jump scares are often predictable, but they don’t always come with a swelling orchestra sting, which is a nice change. And beyond the “startling” nature of said scares, what comes out of the darkness is certainly creepy, making the effect linger longer than your average “boo!”

Obligatory creepy clown closeup.

There are silly, dated song sequences and montages that don’t really go with the darker parts of the movie, but they do provide a laugh now and then, and they served to remind me of the kids’ humanity as characters. Ben’s love of the band “New Kids on the Block” is goofy, but endearing, as is his crush on Beverly, the token girl of the group.

All of the Losers Club kids feel like they would be “token” characters in any other movie, but they mesh well together and have believable friendship chemistry. They each have at least one quirk to make them stand out, but even if a few come off as one-note, they carry the plot forward well as a group.

Far too many movies these days will make the characters annoying, leading to a sense of detachment, annoyance, and frustration from the audience that is only alleviated by said characters’ inevitable death. There is no sympathy or empathy; just a sense of catharsis coming from the wrong place. The less death is feared, the less genuine horror is achieved.

By contrast, look at a film like Poltergeist (the original, not the POS remake). It takes a longer time getting to the major supernatural shenanigans, but by the time it gets there, it’s all the more meaningful and scary because of who led us there in the first place. In short, classic horror films knew how to answer the question: “Why should I be invested in this?” It was by giving us at least one person to care about.

It is like Poltergeist because while it gives plenty of scares fairly early on, the film still devotes tons of time to bonding scenes, as well as exposition. Chances are good that you will like and relate to at least one of the Losers, and if you like more than one, so much the better. That drives the tension when they are confronted by the psychotic killing clown man.

Also, who else has watched the Nostalgia Critic’s review of the It miniseries? I almost wondered if the writers and/or director might have kept a few of those critiques in mind when making this new movie. No flashbacks? Check. More than one scene of the adults in Derry acting strangely negligent? Check. Better effects? Well, that’s kind of a given. Henry Bowers having a scene that establishes how he became a bully in the first place? Check.

As further proof, the first trailer before the movie was for The Disaster Artist, an upcoming movie about the making of The Room, which also became more well-known after the Nostalgia Critic reviewed it.

Coincidence? Probably…
8/10

*I do not own the clips, images, or audio used in this post.

 

Advertisements

Pet Sematary 2: Just….Why?

Pet_sematary_ii_ver2[1]

 

I’m on a roll with reviewing things I detest recently, so here’s another one!

Even though I have raved for several pages about Pet Sematary, I really do hope that I’ve communicated that it’s by no means a perfect story. While some issues in the book are due to poor and goofy execution, the film in particular can come across as weak because it doesn’t illustrate or explain enough.

A movie adaptation should be able to stand on its own, and the people who have gripes about Louis’s “stupidity,” or other things like Judd falling asleep when he’s supposed to try and stop Louis from resurrecting his son, aren’t wrong. The book typically implies when the burial ground’s influence is at work, whereas the movie often leaves you guessing at how far it can travel and how potent it can be. Leaving things up to interpretation can create all new scares, but it can also cause distraction, most often in the form of plot holes. 

That said, the sequel is absolute garbage.

An actress dies during a low budget film production, and for some reason, her son and divorced husband move to the town where she died: Ludlow, Maine. The father, Chase, takes over at the town’s vet clinc, and the boy, Jeff, befriends a local kid named Drew, who has an abusive stepfather played by Clancy Brown (who, for shits and giggles, I will now refer to as the Kurgan).

pet_sematary_ii_07_stor[1]

 

The Kurgan is an obnoxious, small-town cop who was a boyfriend of Jeff’s mother in high school, and his presence clearly unsettles Chase.

The Kurgan kills Drew’s dog Zowie one night for messing with his rabbit pen (even though he electrified the cage and it worked just fine in discouraging the dog), so Drew employs Jeff to help him take the dog beyond the pet sematary, where it will be resurrected. On Halloween night, the Kurgan begins beating Drew for sneaking out, only to be killed by the new and “improved” Zowie. The kids take him to the Micmac burial ground and he comes back as stiff, weird, and rapey, but nicer to Drew for some reason.

Goofy, stupid things happen. Jeff goes insane for no reason and employs the Kurgan to help him resurrect his mother, who apparently has not decayed in all this time. Zowie attacks random people and things, as well as popping up in Jeff and Chase’s home somehow to growl menacingly with glowing eyes. A bully constantly berates and annoys Jeff, seemingly because he’s offended by him having a dead mother. The Kurgan kills the bully and is seen by Drew doing it, so he suddenly goes kill-crazy and uses his car to run Drew and his mother dead-on into a potato truck.

Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 2.11.51 PM[1]

 

That’s a weird way to go in a horror movie.

It’s silly, gory, and not the least bit scary; a B movie in every sense. I almost really enjoyed it for that, but it felt the need to keep reminding me that Pet Sematary exists, with tons of pointless, stupid throwaway lines and visual callbacks that didn’t even look the same as the first movie. Even if I weren’t irritated on behalf of Stephen King and his original work, it’s not a good idea to remind me constantly in your crappy film that I could be watching a better film.

And hey, if this is a sequel, is Rachel still “alive” and wandering around killing people? They hint that some time has passed, since Ellie is now apparently institutionalized, but they didn’t even have the gall to continue the story from Pet Sematary’s ambiguous ending. That probably would have still insulted and detracted from the first film, sure, but at least it would have been interesting and made some kind of sense as a sequel.

b0037372_02033390[1]

 

It’s not like Taken 2 or The Hangover: Part 2 or their sequels, which might have benefited from a character shuffle at some point.

Instead, they just name drop copyrighted things for their stupid little zombie story. Why not just make it a generic zombie story then? Their burial ground isn’t even consistent; it initially changes what the Kurgan comes back as, leading the kids to wonder if the burial ground differs depending on what someone was like prior to death, only to throw that out the window shortly afterwards!

pet-sem-2-b[1]

 

Again, if they took the name Pet Sematary off this movie, it would have been more interesting, if not more fun. Cribbing off of a serious and thought-provoking horror story just for a cheap and frankly bizarre cash-in (I don’t think this movie was ever super big or popular) is just shameful, and especially when it comes from the same goddamn director of the original film.

The line “sometimes, dead is better” comes up, of course, and of course it’s twisted and stripped of its original meaning. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the filmmakers were playing it for laughs. At least when the makers of South Park did it, it was clear that they knew the source material and were trying to make a funny point. Maybe if you don’t want someone to do something unholy, you shouldn’t tell them about it and give them directions on how to get there.

Shame on you, Mary Lambert. Shame on whoever greenlit this majestic flaming turd. Pet Sematary the novel showed me that books can be just as terrifying as movies, and the film adaptation, while inferior, had its own chilling charm. 

This, on the other hand, is just crap. Unlike its predecessor, it in no way deserves to carry the name.

 

4/10

*Pictures belong to whoever. This movie isn’t worth crediting, but you know the drill. Not mine.

 

Pet Sematary, Part Four: The Conclusion

I love the story. It is so much more than just a goofy horror story, and definitely by today’s standards, the gore in the movie isn’t gratuitous. There is a lot of great suspense, atmosphere, and, perhaps most importantly, an investment in the characters that sees you through to the end, despite your chills. I would put Pet Sematary up there with the likes of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, except that Poltergeist’s characters have more easily likeable charm (probably due to it being a Spielberg movie in sheep’s clothing).

The movie is a decent stand-alone version of the story, but there are aspects of it that make more sense if you’ve read the book. That’s true of many adaptations, but the more you rely on viewers having read the book, the more likely you are to have confusion and plotholes for those who didn’t.

Despite its flaws, or even because of its flaws, it deserves to be studied and discussed.

If you haven’t seen or read it, I recommend the book over the movie, but both are pretty good. If you would like a nice medium between the two (slightly short than the book but cuts out less than the movie), check out this BBC radio play from 1997. The actors are spectacular, although I’m not crazy about Gage because he sounds too old in my mind.

Whatever you do, do NOT see the sequel movie.

 

Book: 10/10 

Movie: 8/10

*All pictures, video clips, and other media belong to their respective owners (Stephen King, Mary Lambert, etc). None of the images or sounds belong to me.

 

 

Pet Sematary, Part Three: The Film

Again, first, the positives:

 

  • I like that Jud doesn’t tell Louis why they are burying the cat at the Micmac burial ground. I think that Jud tells Louis in the book, but Louis just doesn’t believe him, but I think it’s more spooky and mysterious. But regardless, the fact that Louis would continue to follow Jud all the way up there, despite some obvious danger, all to bury the cat where Jud thinks would be best, speaks to how much they have bonded and how much respect Louis has for Jud.
  • The little reference that the movie throws in to the Wendigo, which is never mentioned, is a nice, subtle touch. A good reference should be easily recognizable to fans but not so obvious that it is confusing and frustrating to newcomers, and this reference found that middle ground perfectly. I particularly like the weird bird and bestial sounds that signify its presence (we hear similar sounds later, as Louis is taking Gage to the burial ground).

I am sad that the Wendigo needed to be cut from the story, but understand why King might have made that choice.

Jud even makes a reference to his dialogue in the book: “Just a loon.”

ps_shot1l

 

  • Fred Gwynne was made to play Jud Crandall, and I adore Miko Hughes as Gage. In addition, Zelda was played by a man supposedly because they couldn’t find a woman bone-skinny enough for the role. I can’t really explain how, but in my opinion, Andrew Hubatsek brings so much more of a creepy, hovering presence to the character than even Zelda’s book self couldn’t.

l_620a7002e65ff59229ba6d10eb5d777c

 

  • The music is very good for setting the mood, wedding childhood innocence and wonder with deathly terror.
  • Both the pet sematary and the Micmac burial ground look spooky and unsettling, particularly in the dark.
  • The over-the-top acting adds some humor and levity at times without necessarily being too distracting.
  • In the same vein, I was tempted to put this line in the negative section, but it’s so weird and hilarious that I had to put it here:

original

 

Louis, luring Church in with food and then killing him: “Today is Thanksgiving Day for cats…but only if they came back from the dead…Go on. Lie down. Play dead….BE DEAD!”

  • Pascow gets more lines and scenes in the movie, which I like. Thanks to his actor, Brad Greenquist, he can be quirky and almost funny in later moments, which helps break the tension a little bit, and it benefits the story in several ways.

victor-pascow

 

Pascow claims that he wants to help Louis because Louis tried to help him. We don’t know what Pascow’s history in Ludlow is or who he was before death, but in death, he shows great conviction in trying to prevent Louis and his family from being harmed. The fact that he would appear again, several times after his initially warning, and only give up when nothing more could be done, strengthens that conviction further. This is especially strong if you consider Pascow, not Jud, as the true catalyst of the bad events; because, while Jud is the one to reveal the Pet Sematary to Louis, it is Pascow who tells him that something mysterious lies beyond, which could have peaked his curiosity and quieted some of his misgivings when Jud tries to lead him over the deadfall.

Pascow could be used to explain Ellie’s dreams, making her not just a part of Stephen King’s “unexplained psychic child fan club”, to paraphrase the Nostalgia Critic.

Pascow is an even more interesting character when you realize that he comes back from the dead (though not in the same way as the resurrected) and doesn’t mean the family harm, but rather wants to help. It makes him seem more human with every attempt to prevent them from disaster.

Also, Pascow’s presence makes you wonder about the existence of either God or some other force, spiritual or supernatural perhaps, that is of equal and opposite power and intention to the Micmac burial ground.

petsematary01_2

 

  • At first glance, the added aggression to Church post-resurrection seems like a downgrade from the book (as well as a return to goofy zombie movie tropes), but I think it communicates the horror of the living dead cat better in this particular medium.

Church still tears apart mice, but he jump scares frequently at Louis with glowing eyes and fierce yowls, focusing all of his aggression at the man only, not anyone else in the family. He becomes a personal torment to Louis, almost as though it’s revenge for what Louis made him become (rather than letting him rest in peace), which really hammers in the idea that, at the Native Micmac burial ground, “Each buries his own.” Later, Jud remarks to Louis, “it’s your cat now,” meaning that Church is now his responsibility and his burden.

  • The moment that we see Louis wake up, having realized what Gage is up to, but then walk into the kitchen and reveal that he had laid all of his son’s toys out for his homecoming is so bittersweet. You can see the moment that Louis realizes that it was all for nothing, and it’s pretty heartbreaking, despite the audience being fully aware that what he did was stupid, insane, and wrong.
  • Here is a half-compliment: Gage saying, “No fair,” after Louis sticks him with the needle is not nearly as poignant and heartbreaking as “Daddy!” But I’m okay with this because the cry that Gage lets out when the needle enters his neck and the look on Louis’s face as he does it is almost worse than even that, so it balances out….Yay?

Gage-Creed-from-Pet-Sematary-600x327

 

  • Gage’s last grimace at Louis before he dies again subtly illustrates a great point. Despite killing other people, you really get the sense that Gage is going it to torment Louis. Like Church, who focuses all bile at him, you can interpret that Gage knows what Louis did to him (resurrecting him selfishly instead of letting him rest in peace) and hates him for it. It adds a nice bit of personal hell to the mix, rather than saying that these corpses are puppets, just mindlessly following the instructions of the burial ground or Wendigo. Perhaps a fraction of who they were before death is still in them, even if it has been twisted and perverted.
  • I like that Stephen King wrote the screenplay, because the movie does feel like it keeps to the spirit of the book fairly well. Also, he had a nice little cameo as the preacher during Missy’s funeral.

 

Now, the negatives:

  • That said, the movie is basically the diet version of the book. The look and key elements are there, but some of the flavor and nutrition is definitely missing.
  • The omission of Norma Crandall is a strange one, as she pairs well with the titular pet sematary as the story’s representations of natural death and grief. The gravesite is where kids from the town bury their pets and mourn properly, and Norma is taken by old age, despite Louis helping her in the midst of a heart attack earlier in the book. This in particular emphasizes that death is inevitable (even if it was put off once before), but it doesn’t have to be taken so negatively; Jud refers to a point “when the pain stops and the good memories begin.” The book was stronger for including her (even as a means for Gage to taunt Jud with his own and/or her past infidelity).
  • The omission of Irwin (Rachel’s father)’s offer to put Louis through med school if he broke off his engagement isn’t a major plot point, but it made the man more arrogant and easier to dislike in the book.

In the movie, before Rachel’s confession about Zelda and the scene at Gage’s funeral, Louis’s dislike of his father-in-law is acknowledged, but it’s not really explained or justified very well. It’s implied that Irwin doesn’t approve of him, but that isn’t well explained either, since you would think that a doctor is a perfectly respectable position for the husband of his daughter.

petsemetary1

 

  • The dialogue is very corny and sappy at times, and the music can add to this. You may as well stamp “Disney-esque Happy Family Doomed for Death” on every scene the Creeds spend together.
  • The loss of Louis’s resentment to Rachel and Ellie detracts from the comments the story makes about men and how they always have something that keep to themselves.
  • The various cats that played Ellie’s beloved pet Church were very good at their individual talents, but the way the cat is handled by the humans on-screen looks like animal abuse. It makes me feel a bit icky if I give it an ounce of thought.
  • Louis’s dramatic “NO!” shout is really goofy. It’s on par with Anakin Skywalker’s, and the photos of Gage and family that they cut to while he screams are unnecessary and almost silly. We know why the scene is tragic. We don’t need the director to spell out for us why it’s tragic. Ditto for Pascow’s no at the end, although it is a bit more iconic.

Although, this does kind of go with the part of the book that tries and fails to psych readers out, telling us how Gage wasn’t hit by the truck and went on to have a great life into college and beyond.

  • When in the book Jud’s death comes across as a bit of a punishment (possibly for his past infidelity, as well as playing with fire and setting Louis up to destroy his family, however good his intentions were), in the movie it seems needlessly cruel. Don’t get me wrong; it’s cruel both ways, and I didn’t want Jud to die, but still…

Gage

 

  • I’m sorry, but Gage would not look that pristine after being run over by a truck. Maybe the filmmakers wanted to keep the gore toned down, especially because the death of a child is pretty sad and gruesome in concept, but Gage should, at the very least, be dirty from being buried and walking all the way home.

Pascow still has his battle scars, and he’s just a ghost!

  • As nice as it is that the movie tries to keep true to the book (Timmy Baterman looks to be chewing on a human bone at one point, and while Rachel’s corpse doesn’t look bitten, Gage does finish Jud off by tearing out his throat with his teeth), without the Wendigo and other talk of the Micmacs burying victims of cannibalism (which is what might have caused the ground to go sour and attracted the Wendigo to the area in the first place), the biting and chewing of not-brains seems a little odd in this over-glorified zombie movie. Maybe it’s just to add a savage and animalistic edge to things?
  • Gage’s ability to shapeshift and create hallucinations comes out of nowhere in the movie. Timmy Baterman didn’t appear like that, and neither did Church or Jud’s dog Spot, so while I like how twisted it is, it’s inconsistent with the established patterns.
  • The biggest issue I have by far, which in part comes with the loss of narration that often happens in the transition from page to screen, is that the explanation of how the Micmac burial ground affects people is dumbed down to non-existent. I am frequently frustrated, but begrudgingly understanding, of people who complain that the plot is weak because people could just simply avoid the burial ground.

In the book, the place is portrayed, or at least implied, like a drug; it rewards people who use it and tries to keep them hooked. And perhaps like an abusive partner, it lures people in with promises and manipulates situations in its own favor. The movie hints that the place might have a malevolent sort of consciousness that can manipulate events, but it’s just as easy to write off Louis’s continued attraction to and use of the burial ground as grief, insanity, stupidity, or some combination of the above, and the burial ground may not be playing an active part in it.

 

All the explanation of its influence that we really get in the movie is Jud saying, “The place might have made Gage die because I introduced you to the power,” and when Pascow addresses Rachel on her way back to Ludlow to check on Louis. He follows her on her journey, and we get the sense that Rachel senses him, but can’t hear or see him, though he does like to talk and around her. After her tire explodes and she drives into a ditch, he says, “It’s trying to stop you! Do you hear me? It’s trying to stop you!”

Pet-Sematary-Remake-2

 

In the book, Louis remarks that he feels great on the way to burying his daughter’s cat, and feels even more so immediately after the deed is done. That is clearly a weird, unnatural thing to feel, implying that something else is at work. The truck driver who hit Gage even said that something compelled him to speed that day, which implies that the burial ground can extend decently far outside of itself to affect fate. That is one of the most terrifying things about it; how much of what happens is Louis’s own doing and how much can be blamed on the burial ground?

Also, at the end of the book, Louis’s friend Steve comes to check on him and follows Louis to the pet sematary, as he prepares to carry Rachel to the burial ground. Steve almost follows him past the deadfall, feeling terrified and crazy as he attempts to climb the death trap behind Louis, but he stops at the very top. He gets the sense that something is regarding him, considering something…but then passes over him, uninterested. Realizing what he is doing, he climbs back down the way he came, while Louis continues onward.

Jud and the other men of the town seem to treat the knowledge of the existence of the burial ground like a bizarre rite of passage in the book; something that really shouldn’t exist or be known to anyone, but once you know about it, you guard the secret with your life. Animals that are brought back are regarded with wariness, but despite their unnerving, obvious “wrongness”, they are pretty harmless to people.

But moving from animals to people has proven to be a slippery slope, even for those who have never used the burial ground before for anything (Bill Baterman, for example).

The burial ground seems as though it can manipulate who tells who what and when, such as reinforcing Jud’s decision to tell Louis in the book. Louis saved Norma from a heart attack and, coupled with his own growing bond with the man, Jud followed his instinct to want to spare Louis and Ellie from grief. Clearly, the place has a consciousness and schemes frequently, but its end goal is unknown.

tumblr_m129rohiE51qb7i4so1_500

 

Based on what I’ve read, I look at the Micmac burial ground as a metaphor for grief run amuck. Good intentions aside, trying to expedite (in this case, reverse) the painful but necessary mourning process by giving in to your base emotions for relief can cause problems for you and the ones you love. If you, say, tear apart a store in a fit of grieving rage (anger is a well-documented expression of grief), you are still liable for the damages you caused and the people you may have hurt. Why you did what you did doesn’t ultimately matter.

But that’s just my individual interpretation.

Also, because of the lack of narration, Louis’s fall to insanity is conveyed only by actor Dale Midkiff looking catatonic. It’s sympathetic and tragic, but not as much as it was in the book. The book is definitely stronger in this and many regards.

 

To Be Continued

Part 1

Part 2

Part 4

Pet Sematary, Part Two: The Book

First, let’s look at what worked in the book; the positives. In no particular order:

 

  • Louis Creed, the main character of the story, has a complex relation with the women in his life (his wife Rachel and daughter Ellie), which makes him a more interesting character than just an average “nice family man”. He feels exhausted by them and occasionally resentful, implicitly related to his loss of youth, “manhood”, and general freedom that being single and unattached provides.  He is drawn to male friendships such as with Steve Masterton, his colleague, and Jud Crandall, his elderly neighbor, who also acts as the father figure that Louis never really had growing up. He is particularly attached to his son, Gage Creed, both before and after the accident that spurs the story’s main conflict into motion.
  • As a doctor, Louise is a man of science, skepticism, and reason; agnostic, if not atheistic. He is clearly intelligent, which makes it all the more understandable and tragic as we follow his reasoning into whether or not he should attempt to revive his toddler from death. He attempts to hypothesize and experiment, despite the fact that we know, deep down, that he knows he’s dealing with something he cannot hope to understand or control. Some might claim stupidity here, but I think it’s a case like the Thestrals from Harry Potter.

Only those who have known loss can really see it.

  • The supernatural elements are superb and chilling. I don’t believe that the presence of the Wendigo, a cannibalistic demonic spirit of Native American lore, is ever directly stated to be the cause of the burial ground’s power, but rather drawn to its power and influence and perhaps adding to its overall strength. The unknown is inherently unnerving to people, and so the power of something not of this world, unable to be fully comprehended let alone controlled by the characters, both bringing the dead back to life and setting events beyond its borders into motion, is truly horrifying. We’re never quite sure how doomed the prey are, so the chance that they could escape or reason out of it at some point keep us invested, with eyes full of suspense.
  • The way the dead behave, both in general and towards the living, is very creepy. The book describes the animals as always smelling foul, lumbering around almost drunkenly, and having glazed-over eyes. Church the cat continues catching mice and birds, but tears them up and leaves them uneaten and bloody. The family, unbeknownst to his death and resurrection, starts to regard him as unpleasant and irritation, while Louis begins freaking out internally at Church’s touch and presence.

I also like that the rule is “each buries his own.” What you resurrect is your responsibility, and you have to want it badly enough to break through the hard, “sour ground”.

  • The dead humans speak with knowledge that they could not possibly possess, and frequently taunt their victims with their own sins, particularly while manipulating their own voices and appearances. The first human mentioned doesn’t even kill anyone, but terrifies the town and drives his father insane. Gage Creed‘s transformation to the dark side is particularly noticeable for going from speak few word sentences to full, adult sentences, and, like a zombie, bearing his hideous mortal injuries.
  • It is interesting that, when Louis considers the hypotheticals of bringing his son back to life, I think he thinks more of Gage being handicapped than potentially evil. I suppose it’s because, despite Jud’s story about Timmy Baterman, Louis thinks that Gage will be like Church, but he also completely disregards the idea that he would be as unnerved by Gage’s presence as he is with Church in the present. It is touching and tragically understandable, though, that he would still love and cherish his son, even if his mind was deteriorated.
  • If, as Jud says, “The soil of a man’s heart is stonier, like the soil up there in that old Micmac burying ground,” does that imply that a man’s heart is bad (“sour”) or that it has the potential to go bad? I think what King is trying to say is that a man has a harder time “planting seeds, growing, and mending” things in his heart, but the whole line is vague enough to be interesting in both the film and the movie.
  • I like the discussion of Rachel’s sister, Zelda. Illnesses that impact the body and mind are difficult enough to deal with for the affected person, but though it might not be flattering to Rachel or her family’s characters, it does feel like they have a real reaction to such a situation. In a time not unlike that of Rosemary Kennedy, a family had to struggle with loving their daughter and taking care of her (despite, in this case, her deterioration causing her to become resentful) and keeping up social appearances.

We can’t pretend that sort of thing didn’t happen. It still happens to some people, albeit to a lesser extent. These days, we are becoming more knowledgeable and sympathetic to the conditions that affect the body and mind, but though it may be cruel and unfair, Rachel regarding her sister as a monster in the later stages of her condition and her parents looking at her as “a dirty secret” in their back room is understandable when given some context. Controversial, but still.

 

And now, for the more negative:

  • The action comes to a grinding halt in the middle for a while, which can be hard to get through.
  • King’s “foreshadowing” of Gage’s death is too on-the-nose, and really takes away from what little shock there is when he tragically dies.
  • While the quirky habit of King’s of repeating of certain words, phrases, song lyrics, and colloquialisms (my particular love-hate line for this book is “Oz the Gweat and Tewwible”, which is Zelda’s and becomes a metaphor for death when brought up by the other characters) can make them more poignant and meaningful later in the narrative, sometimes they come across as goofy now, then, or later.
  • Hey…you know…if the Micmacs stopped using the ground when it “went sour”…does that mean that it ever worked out well? Did the ground always bring people back to life, or only after enough victims of cannibalism were put there?

O.o…so many unanswered questions!

 

To Be Continued

Part 1

Part 3

Part 4

Pet Sematary, Part One: Intro and Summary

StephenKingPetSematary

 

“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.” ~ Jud Crandall, Pet Sematary

 

Hands up now. Who though I was going to quote, “Sometimes, dead is better”?

I’ve been meaning to talk about this book/film combo for a long time. I was going to save this for Halloween, but hey, if the film industry can release horror flicks any month of the year and reduce October to a mere punchline of what it used to be, than so can I. (:P)

It’s practically a paper, and because I ended up having so much to say about it, I’ve decided to split it into chunks. Read at your leisure, if you’re interested.

pet-sematary-the-creepy-kid-407716

 

On the surface, the plot is pretty basic: man resurrects the dead (intentionally, for once) and shit happens. Spice it up with pets, ancient Native American burial grounds, demons, possession, infanticide, and Maine-erisms, and you have Stephen King’s take on the subject.

For a while this was lauded as one of his most terrifying books (in part due to the realism brought on by King’s hypothetical speculation on a few real-life events which happened to his family) and I maintain that reputation. Vigorously.

Before I explain why, here’s my history with both versions:

I saw the movie first, when I was maybe about 7 or 8 years old. My parents didn’t want me watching horror movies, but my friends’ parents had no such compunctions. Either that or they didn’t care, so whenever a big slumber party rolled around and we were driven to the local Blockbuster or Hollywood Video (anyone remember those?), we tried to pick out things that we knew we shouldn’t be watching.

That is pretty much the extent of my “rebellion” as a kid.

The first time I saw Pet Sematary, I found it more depressing than anything. I was so heartbroken by Gage Creed’s death, that was all I could focus on, long after we’d returned the rental. It wasn’t until the second or third viewing that I really picked up on the horror elements, and once I did, this became my favorite horror movie ever.

Pet-Sematary-1989D

 

It wasn’t just that it brought me to the dance; there is some truly grueling, psychological shit in there that had me pondering death, grief, and humanity before I even knew those were concepts. And moments of it are, in fact, pretty scary.

High school really kicked off my reading phase, and one of the first books I sought out was – you guessed it – Pet Sematary. I fell even more in love with the story, now so much creepier and subtler and horrifying, and saw the complex relationships of the characters. I wish it had been one of our required readings, because A) half of the time those were boring or we were a few years away from really comprehending or caring about them, and B) Pet Sematary is thrilling and, despite its gruesome and obviously inappropriate subject matter, contains an interesting exploration of death and how people relate to it, particularly in their fear and avoidance of it.

Grief is an element of life that even adults struggle to understand and accept, largely because no two people grieve in the exact same way and in our attempts to find a common pattern, we often end up pigeon-holing and stigmatizing healthy people.

Rather than doing a standard side-by-side comparison of the book and the movie, I’d like to talk about what I felt worked and didn’t work in both stories. By that, I mean what particularly added or detracted from the horror or otherwise didn’t seem to fit.

 

For the uninitiated and unfamiliar, here’s a summary:

Louis Creed moves to Ludlow, Maine with his family to take over a medical position at the local university. His house is right on the outskirts of town, next to a road where large Orinco trucks speed back and forth every day.

The_Pet_Sematary

 

His neighbor across the road, Jud Crandall, takes the family on a walk into the woods behind their house and shows them the Pet Sematary (misspelled because it was basically set up and maintained by the children of the town, many of whom have lost beloved pets to the road). Jud tells the daughter, Ellie, that the markers and “gravestones” speak for the animals and the love their owners felt for them, so it’s not “a scary place…it’s a place of rest and speaking.” Louis’s wife, Rachel, recoils at the mention of death because, as we learn later, her sister Zelda deteriorated and died gruesomely from spinal meningitis. She does not think death is ever a good thing, and is upset when Ellie later expresses fear and anger that her cat will die someday.

Side note: I love Ellie’s line: “He’s not God’s cat. He’s mine. Let God get his own cat if he wants one.”

A student named Victor Pascow is mortally injured in a car accident on Louis’s first day of work. As he tries to do everything he can for the student, and then prepares his body to be taken away, Victor seems to come alive again and calls Louis by his name (though they’ve never met). He speaks cryptically, remarking that “the soil of a man’s heart is stonier”, before seeming to die again.

pet-semetary15

 

That night, the ghost of Pascow appears in Louis’s bedroom, leads him to the pet sematary, and points to a cluster of fallen branches near the back border, saying, “Don’t go on, Doc, no matter how much you may feel you have to. Do not go on to the place where the dead walk.”

Louis wakes up the next morning, convinced that he had a nightmare, but is startled to discover that his feet are muddy.

The rest of the family is off at Rachel’s parents’ house when Winston Churchill, Ellie’s cat, is struck and killed by a truck. Jud, feeling a bond with Louis, offers to help him bury the cat, but then leads him over the “deadfall” of branches in the back of the cemetery.

pet-semetary28

 

After a somewhat perilous journey, they come to a place that Jud identifies as a “Micmac Indian” burial ground, and he instructs Louis to bury the cat by himself and make a cairn over the grave. Louis does, but struggles a bit because the ground is hard to dig.

tumblr_m129rohiE51qb7i4so1_500

 

Jud tells Louis not to mention what they did, and Louis reluctantly agrees and goes to sleep. The next morning, Louis is startled when Church comes back. Jud tells Louis the story of his childhood dog (whose grave marker had two death dates on it because it was resurrected). Louis asks if a person has ever been buried up there, and Jud denies it, seeming shaken and horrified by the idea.

Someone from Ludlow dies, and after attending the funeral, Louis discusses life after death with Ellie. Rachel, overhearing the conversation, gets the courage to open up about her sister’s death, and how Zelda’s condition made her spiteful and nasty, as well as difficult to care for. Rachel admits that she felt great relief when Zelda finally died, but was also traumatized by it. Her parents were away, and she thought that they would think she killed Zelda because she couldn’t deny that she hated Zelda and wanted her to die.

zelda

 

Louis’s toddler, Gage, runs into the road and is killed. Rachel’s father, Irwin, causes a scene at the funeral by picking a fight with Louis and accidentally knocking over the casket. The rest of the family struggles to cope as Louis shuts down a bit, weighing his options. He eventually sends them away to Rachel’s parents’ house again, claiming that he will join them soon, but not before Jud gives him a talk. Jud tells him that he knows what Louis is thinking about, and that it’s been done before. Bill Baterman once brought his son, Timmy, back from the dead after he was killed in a war, which resulted in Timmy terrorizing the town and its citizens before he and Bill are killed (circumstances vary in the book and movie).

Once the family has left, Louis prepares to exhume Gage’s body and take it to the burial ground. Ellie begins having nightmares in which she is warned by “Paxcow” that Louis is going to do something bad (she also had dreams of her cat being dead earlier in the story, though Louis never tells her that it happened and denies it when she asks). Rachel, remembering Louis’s mentions of Pascow, calls home and receives no answer. She then calls Jud, who didn’t know Louis stayed in Ludlow, and despite him urging her not to, she decides to come home.

pet-sematary-3

 

Jud waits for Louis to try to stop him, but Louis does the deed and makes it home, where he crashes into bed, thoroughly exhausted. Resurrected Gage comes home and quietly retrieves his father’s scalpel, before psychologically tormenting and offing both Jud and Rachel.

In the morning, once he’s discovered what happened, Louis prepares a few needles of morphine. He kills Church and then takes on Gage, who appears almost like his old self right as Louis kills him. Louis, now insane and white-haired, takes Rachel to the burial ground, convinced that he waited too long with Gage, but Rachel would be different because she just died a little while ago.

petsematary-05

 

The story ends on a cliffhanger with Rachel resurrected, and in the movie, she kills Louis in the midst of a passionate kiss.

crosbypetsem

 

To Be Continued…

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4