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  • Writer's pictureMr. Pat

Pet Semetary

While in grad school, I've been taking a lot of marketing classes. One of the things I've learned is the best times to post on Facebook to maximize the reach my posts can get. I can't change the time of day I get to make my posts because it would be very difficult with my current workload. With that knowledge, it's interesting to check the analytics of my posts and see them play out in real-time. Anyway, today I decided to check out...

Pet Semetary (1989)

After ignoring it for a very long time, I finally got around to reading the novel. I had never seen the movie in full, but I saw bits and pieces and I knew the plot, so I never bothered to check out the book. I decided to give it a try after hearing that out of every book Stephen King has written, this one scared him the most. After reading it, I can understand why. I didn't want to read it because I have a son of my own and stories where parents lose their kids are difficult to watch. A decade ago, that wouldn't have fazed me, but I'll admit that I turned my head and looked away when Gage walked onto the road. It's such a tense scene. We start with the happy family enjoying the weather and then we show the big truck pulling out onto the road. They keep switching back to the different points of view so everyone knows exactly what's coming. It's brutal.

The book is really, really good. I knew what was going to happen but the sense of foreboding is so thick that it's uncomfortable in the best way waiting for the other shoe to fall. While watching the movie after reading the book, I know why so many Stephen King adaptations fail. King doesn't skip out on the details. We are treated to the character's inner thoughts and motivations that we can follow along during their descent into madness. It's harder to do that in movies because they don't have the time to include every little detail that King does. The screenplay was written by King so I think this is as close to his original vision as we could get in this format. It's funny, he didn't even want to publish because he was worried that he'd "gone too far." Turns out, not only would he publish it, but he'd write the screenplay and make sure the filmmakers stayed as true to it as possible.

So, a doctor moves his family to a small town in Maine where he was hired to be the university's doctor. He befriends an older gentleman across the way who shows him the ancient indian burial ground after the family cat gets hit by a truck. From there, things go from bad to worse to just awful. We watch the series of events drive Louis Creed insane. He's caught in a spiritual tug-of-war between the evil forces of that burial ground and a dead college student named Victor Pascow who tries and fails to ward Louis away from the graveyard even before the cat dies. Pascow tries his best but loses completely once his young son, Gage is killed. The more that I think about it, I wonder if Pascow was unwittingly doing that place's bidding. Through his influence, he manages to get Louis' wife, Rachel, home. He was trying to save the family, but ultimately he led them to their destruction. Like, if Rachel had been stranded a couple more hours or so, things may have been different because Lous had a tiny bit of his sanity left.

It's a good movie, I liked the sense of unease it had hanging over it. I also really liked the shots of the path leading to the pet cemetery. It was lit up by the moonlight and at the end when you're waiting for a certain someone to come back, it looks creepy with the wisps of fog coming out of the forest onto the path. It's not so much scary, but some moments will put you on edge. The toddler who played Gage wasn't even three at the time but managed to pull off a pretty good performance all things considered. It gets a little silly during the fight scene because Louis is wrestling with a puppet, but the other option is to have Louis throw the two-year-old down a flight of stairs. Something tells me OSHA wouldn't approve.

There are some things I didn't like. For starters, everything that comes back is clearly evil right from the jump. In the book, what comes back isn't the same as what went into the ground, but they weren't outright hostile at first. When Jud tells Louis about his old dog Spot, something was clearly off with the doggie but it wasn't snarling like a rabid animal. In the flashback for the movie, the thing is barking and losing its mind the whole time. There's no way Jud would keep that thing for years after it acted the way it did toward him and his family.

I also wasn't too keen on the ending. The book ending is absolutely perfect and you don't hear that often for a Stephen King novel. Usually, you can sum up the finale to a lot of his stories by saying, "And then everything blew up." He loves the explosion ending almost as much as the MCU loves big CGI fistfights involving two characters with similar powers. In the book, Louis' last bit of sanity left him when he found Rachel's body, but you realize he had no shot from the moment he moved it. You even jump into the point of view of a separate character to understand the pull of that evil place. After torching Jud's home, Louis then buries Rachel and goes home to wait. Eventually, he hears footsteps but can't bring himself to look up. The book ends with the three most chilling words I've seen in a novel. "'Darling,' it said." I love it!

I think that's originally what they went with but someone at some point, someone wanted a punchier ending. What we end up with in the movie is Louis embracing his wife who, unlike the others who came back, is still sporting fresh wounds. The movie ends with her grabbing a knife, then it goes to black, followed by Louis' pained screams. I wonder how the book ending would have gone over with movie audiences. The one they went with certainly puts an exclamation point on the film and proves Jud right that, "Sometimes dead is better." But I loved the ambiguity in the book. Louis is insane at this point, but you have to wonder if maybe he's onto something that Gage turned out this way because he'd been dead so long. The book ending sticks with you, the movie ending may be more satisfying but it's not as memorable.

7.5 Dr. Chainsaws!

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