The real horror is deciding to watch ‘Pet Sematary’

“Pet Sematary”
Horror violence, bloody images and some language.
Playing at: Alamo Drafthouse, Premiere Cinemas (includes D-Box auditoriums), Tinseltown 17,  Movies 16 and Stars & Stripes Drive-In.
Credits: Directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer. Screenplay by Jeff Buhler; from a screen story by Matt Greenberg; based on the novel by Stephen King. Music by Christopher Young. Cinematography by Laurie Rose. Edited by Sarah Broshar. Production design by Todd Cherniawsky. Costume design by Simonetta Marino.
Cast: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jete Laurence, Hugo Lavoie, Lucas Lavoie and Alyssa Brooke Levine.

Bill’s rating:  One-and-one-half stars out of five

It has been years since Hollywood has been lionized for the number of great writers devising screen stories. Personally, my favorite cinematic decade – one I lived to watch unfold anyway – was the 1970s; even then, there was a share of unimaginative, copycat filmmaking.

But never such a predominance of sequels and remakes as those plaguing theaters today.

What is worse is the overall acceptance of unoriginality and new scales of excellence: the amount of gore, jump scares and visual effects, much in the CGI variety.

If I sound like I am speaking from atop a superior high horse, it is because I resent having to waste time watching films which, in the past, would have been found in those department store barrels reserved for discounted, direct-to-video DVDs.

True, Stephen King has long since proven himself as an effective novelist of the bone-chilling variety. Not all of his best film adaptations (think “The Dead Zone”) found audiences and too often the films did not capture the emotional horror on the written page. The cake that was King’s literary “Pet Sematary” provided more than the zombie-flavored frosting for those who cared to seek it out.

Yet the original “Pet Sematary” film in 1989” and “Pet Sematary II” in 1992 – each directed by Mary Lambert when she was making her bones as a filmmaker – were almost instantly forgettable.

And frankly, aside from the fact a new breed of ticket buyers never saw those films, there was no good reason for any studio to finance a return to the woods and former Indian graveyard in Maine where the dead do not stay dead.

Co-directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, working from a script which finds writer Jeff Buhler experimenting with detours, still wind up boring audiences with the same story in a new “Pet Sematary,” some three decades after the first.

Mind you, I don’t recall the words Indian graveyard used this time, although there are enough references to a frightened “tribe” which realized something else previously had soured the earth.

King reportedly found his story too personal, never meaning to publish it until he needed just one more book to get out of an uncomfortable contract. The primary story has not changed. A physician named Louis and his wife, desiring a more peaceful life allowing quality time with their two children, leave Boston in favor of a house in the Maine countryside. The house looks docile enough, but there is an almost hidden highway just yards away, down which 18-wheelers appear out of nowhere and travel loudly at breakneck speeds.

One would think priority number one might be to at least construct a fence along the side of the highway, but that would defeat the purpose.

The family’s purchase includes, in the other direction, several acres including a foreboding forest.

Living alone in a house nearby is new friend Jud, with John Lithgow taking Fred Gwynne’s place in the role. Children on occasion are seen wearing animal masks, and playing fife and drums, as they form a procession to transport dead animals – cats and dogs, mostly – to an area they have deemed a cemetery. The film’s title can be credited to the phonetic spelling of their growing pet cemetery.

However, Jud has discovered an area further beyond the pet cemetery, an area where those buried in the rocky, sour ground have a tendency to return.

The high-speed traffic is just a precursor to the family cat, Church, being killed on the highway. Because daughter Elle (Jete Laurence) was so kind to him and because Jud dislikes her feeling sad, he encourages Louis (Jason Clarke) to bury Church in the sour earth.

In no time, Elle’s best birthday gift is seeing Church walking down the highway’s center stripe, back toward their home. And if Elle’s parents had been honest about Church’s fate, rather than saying her cat ran away, maybe Elle would have hesitated.

Instead, she runs to greet Church, whose fur still is mottled with blood, with likely with no heartbeat but a definite bad attitude.

It takes a while to arrive, but the major plot point involves the loss of a child.

It was, after all, the subplot of King’s novel “Pet Sematary” that made it more special, set it apart. The book was not just a horror story, but rather one that explored the depths of grief. Some people spend more hours with their pets than with friends and family; the loss of a pet can feel devastating, which is why the story’s couple attempted to relieve Elle from feeling that pain.

But there may be no worse pain, nothing more heartbreaking, mind-breaking and nightmarish than experiencing the death of a child and this pain never goes away. No doubt King hoped to keep the story locked away to avoid sharing an attempt to try anything, even supernatural means, for more time with one’s child.

It is a sick, unthinking decision, even if not considering warnings that dead things buried beyond this particular pet cemetery have not been the same when they return.

Or as Jud aptly phrases it, “Sometimes dead is better.”

And even if these dead do not come back as George Romero characters with a hunger for flesh, the comparison to cinematic zombie pandemics becomes both obvious and boring. In short, the book was no classic, but is still better.

Even so, the two-hour remake finds directors Kolsch and Widmyer striving to provide another subplot, combining grief with guilt.

The new film digs those graves a little deeper – that is, all the way down to hell. Viewers are asked to consider Lithgow’s Jud allowing his sick wife to die, and worse, Elle’s mother Rachel (Amy Seimetz) recalling being left alone as a child in her house with her sister Zelda, who suffered from meningitis. Effects were so horrendous Rachel would use a dumbwaiter to deliver meals, inevitably causing tragedy.

As for Louis, is there a physician immune to guilt when a patient dies unexpectedly?

Guilt provides an extension, if you will, to the 1989 “Pet Sematary,” which means the new film is not simply a clone of the original. That said, references to hell, and Buhler’s introduction of a desire for a demonic family reunion makes the new “Pet Sematary” a sicker project and a much worse movie.

The remake is more stomach-turning than horrific. There was little reason to make it, and even less to see it.

Gage’s rating: Half star out of five stars

I was looking forward to several films this month, including the “Pet Sematary” remake as it appeared to be an upgrade from the original. Boy, was I wrong about that – never even considering the torture felt when sitting through this horrid movie.

Jason Clarke appears to have hit a wall; he has been delivering terrible performances as terrible  characters ever since his great work in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”

Here, he is cast as Louis, a doctor who moves his family to the country for a better life; he is hoping to be able to spend more time with his wife and children. His performance is generally uninspired and, by comparison, even makes original “Pet Sematary” actor Dale Midkiff look like Daniel Day-Lewis.

The remake is so slow and boring. I thought this was supposed to be a horror movie, not a snooze fest, but I was looking forward to catching up on my sleep while watching this monstrosity.

Pacing is pathetic; it takes seemingly forever for anything exciting to happen on screen.

The screenplay takes on a ridiculous stature early on, introducing parents who would buy a family home right next to an active highway where vehicles practically fly down the road. My intuition would be to immediately build a fence, so my children do not risk being hit by the semi-trucks barreling down the road.

Updated special effects might be praiseworthy if they were not granted so little screen time. The film is rated R, but directors appear afraid to emphasize even the bloodletting which is necessary in the film’s second half.

Another consideration: Why remake a movie that was already a flop to begin with? The original 1989 “Pet Sematary” was not anything special; a remake seems unnecessary. Time and money would have been put to better use on a different project.

If horror fans really want to see this new “Pet Sematary,” all I can say is good luck – and you’ve been warned. The 2019 remake is much worse than the 1989 original. It will suffice to say I would not even recommend this movie to my worst enemies. It’s that bad.