'Pet Sematary' is best when it explores the destructiveness of male fragility, not zombies

  
Via:  perrie-halpern  •  4 months ago  •  44 comments

'Pet Sematary' is best when it explores the destructiveness of male fragility, not zombies
It wouldn’t be a horror story by Stephen King without men making unilateral, dangerous decisions about what’s best for their families.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T


By Meredith Clark

“Pet Sematary,” like the best Stephen King books, is frightening because it’s rooted so deeply in universal anxieties — nature’s power, grief, the destructive power of male fragility. The new movie version, directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmeyer, works far better when it focuses on those themes rather than on violent jump scares and zombie babies.

It still cannot match the 1983 book — it’s as much a part of Gen X and millennial adolescence and childhood as "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" — but it’s more polished and quieter than the 1989 movie, even if the 2019 ending is as absurd and laughable as the sight of evil toddler Miko Hughes modeling a top hat and a scalpel was 30 years ago.


[Spoilers below, unless you've seen the trailer.]

Kolsch and Widmeyer have made major changes to the plot of the book, but the basics remain the same. The first mistake the Creed family — Louis, Rachel, their daughter Ellie and son Gage — makes in all three versions is buying a house without doing any research into what their property includes or what kind of rural highway on which it fronts.

Louis, played in this version by perpetually suffering patriarch Jason Clarke, moves his family to rural Maine from Boston in search of a quiet life surrounded by Restoration Hardware furnishings and an older neighbor Jud (John Lithgow), whose New England gruffness includes an aversion to transparency about the area’s history or pet death.

When Ellie’s beloved cat Winston Churchill dies, Louis and Jud skip the locals' traditional ceremony at the pet cemetery in the Creeds’ woods and take the poor creature to a less peaceful, more sinister resting place.

190404-pet-sematary-ew-530p_d7e087f09f48Pet Sematary, from Paramount Pictures.Kerry Hayes / Paramount Pictures

As Jud says when he explains why the cat has reappeared with a new personality, “sometimes dead is better” — but never really explains why. But then, it wouldn’t be a horror story by Stephen King without men making unilateral decisions about what’s best for their families.

There is also an interesting story to be told about the ways that parents try to shield their kids from the reality of death, and how damaging it can be when those kids realize that adults would often rather lie than have a difficult conversation. And Kolsch and Widmetter try to tell it — but "Pet Sematary" doesn’t spend enough time developing that part of the plot to make either Ellie's vague understanding of what happens in death or the betrayal inherent in her parents' fairy tales truly pay off.

By the time plot reaches its dark and bloody conclusion, the movie has lost every trace of the atmospheric mystery established in the film’s first half. But that first half is full of beautifully shot, well-acted scenes, and Clarke manages to make Louis’ utterly idiotic decisions believable and sad. And anyone who grew up afraid of the VHS box for Mary Lambert’s 1989 version (with the face of Brad Greenquist as Victor Pascow, covered in blood with a hint of viscera, ready to haunt them) will appreciate the character's appearance here.

Three decades of improvements in technical effects and makeup make Pascow’s ghostly presence and Rachel’s memories of her dead sister much more visceral and frightening than either were the first time around. But the heart of the story remains where it was buried in 1983 and 1989 — with family and with forces we can’t explain but also can’t resist trying to exploit, rather than in gruesome effects and gnarly-looking cats. And, it’s wonderful to see horror move away from gruesome torture porn and back towards the "Twilight Zone."

That's part of why many of King’s tales have never gone out of fashion, though only a handful have translated to enduring, successful films. Stanley Kubrick’s version of “The Shining” will always be terrifying and better than the ABC miniseries version, while “Maximum Overdrive” (and its wall-to-wall AC/DC soundtrack) will forever be hilariously awful even if self-driving cars one day start plotting against humans.

Where this "Pet Sematary" lands on a comprehensive list of King's adaptations will depend somewhat on how the special effects age because there are so many of them, and they hold the least lasting power over the audience; a pet funeral procession full of children is eerie and upsetting while using only masks, but the scowls from CGI-enhanced, reanimated cat are more likely to elicit giggles in perpetuity than dread.

More adaptations (and re-adaptations) of stories and novels are in the works — a chance for a new generation of writers and directors to adapt their King-induced nightmares for an audience — but producers should take the success of the “It” reboot and the unsettling fun of this "Pet Sematary" as a reason to look for new voices in horror fiction rather than repeatedly going back to King’s abandoned mine shafts and mills.

There is great new horror out there by artists raised on King’s stories and writing advice. Joe Hill, King’s son, has several adaptations of his work in progress; Ridley Scott’s production company has purchased the film rights to “The Hunger,” a supernatural retelling of the Donner Party voyage by Alma Katsu; and Blumhouse and A24 studios are building empires by seeking out young and first-time filmmakers, from the United States and all over the world. Some things, as great as they were at the time, are better buried.

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Perrie Halpern R.A.
1  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.    4 months ago

I'm not sure how I will feel about this version of the story. It deviates far from the book that I couldn't put down till the break of dawn. I not even sure I agree with the reviewer's idea that Stephen King's stories are about men making bad decisions for others. They are usually cautionary tales of warnings not heeded, and the unfortunate outcomes. In the original story, it is a warning about not burying an old Indian burial ground, while here it implies that something was bad there, and even the Indians knew that. 

I am sure that people will be scared to death from this movie. This story can do that to you. But to a real Stephen King lover, like me, this was his classic tale of horror and I hate when you mess with an already perfect thing. 

What are your thoughts?

 
 
 
MrFrost
1.1  MrFrost  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @1    4 months ago

I am in agreement...to fool with perfection invites the inept. The argument, "build a better mousetrap" applies here; the story is fine, why try to fool with it? Odd. 

Thank you for this excellent article. 

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
1.1.1  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  MrFrost @1.1    4 months ago

You said that well! 

 
 
 
Ender
1.2  Ender  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @1    4 months ago

I read the book. I actually got chills when reading about him running around the cemetery, trying to avoid detection, then digging up his son. Was very creepy.

Sometimes movies can never do a book justice.

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
1.2.1  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Ender @1.2    4 months ago

A good point, Ender.  I think I once did an article about which was better - a novel or a movie adapted from the novel, or in the very rare situation where a novel is based upon a movie (such as Star Wars).

 
 
 
nightwalker
1.2.2  nightwalker  replied to  Ender @1.2    4 months ago

That seems to happen a lot with King's books and stories, he does a lot of the character's thoughts, feelings and personal experiences that don't translate into a movie very well. Also producers and script-writers always like the stories better if they pee in the soup first, and smooth it out so it doesn't scare people TOO bad.

I loved "The Shinning", "IT" "Salem's Lot" and "The Stand" but the only one I thought that translated well into a movie was "the Stand" and the book was still better.

 
 
 
JohnRussell
1.2.3  JohnRussell  replied to  nightwalker @1.2.2    4 months ago

When you read a book you have to use your imagination to make the words come to life. When you watch a movie someone else's imagination is in control of what it looks like and sounds like. Really two different things.

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
1.2.4  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  nightwalker @1.2.2    4 months ago

I think they did a good job with "The Dead Zone". The story lends itself best to a movie since John Smiths thoughts are verbally articulated. In "The Stand", how do you get into the dogs head?

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
1.2.5  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  JohnRussell @1.2.3    4 months ago

That's true John. We bring out own experiences to the story.

 
 
 
Ender
1.2.6  Ender  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @1.2.1    4 months ago

Some can do a good job, like the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. I think peter Jackson did a good job bringing it to life.

Then there are some that stray really far from the original.

 
 
 
Ender
1.2.7  Ender  replied to  nightwalker @1.2.2    4 months ago

I never read Salem's Lot but I remember the old movie. I did read 'It'. No movie can do that one justice.

 
 
 
sandy-2021492
1.2.8  sandy-2021492  replied to  Ender @1.2.6    4 months ago

I actually enjoyed the LOTR movies more than I did the books.  I liked the books, but they tended to meander about quite a bit, and there were some songs and poems that were really sort of annoying.  I was glad Tom Bombadil was excluded, for example.

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
1.2.9  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  JohnRussell @1.2.3    4 months ago

Agreed.  Our imaginations are capable of exceeding what we see.

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
1.2.10  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  Ender @1.2.7    4 months ago
I did read 'It'. No movie can do that one justice.

I totally agree. That one the horror can only be in the mind. Clowns get lost in translation. 

 
 
 
SteevieGee
1.3  SteevieGee  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @1    4 months ago

I have to agree Perrie.  I'm a huge Stephen King fan and I've read just about everything he's written.  The movies are always disappointing after reading the books.

 
 
 
JohnRussell
2  JohnRussell    4 months ago

I am not necessarily a big Stephen King fan, but I do have a comment about the article. The seeder just copied and pasted the title from the website, as we supposed to do. On the NBC page the title is

'Pet Sematary' is best when it explores the destructiveness of male fragility, not zombies

but if you read the entire movie review this aspect is a pretty small part of it. Even the actual sentence in the review that mimics the title has other points

“Pet Sematary,” like the best Stephen King books, is frightening because it’s rooted so deeply in universal anxieties — nature’s power, grief, the destructive power of male fragility. The new movie version, directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmeyer, works far better when it focuses on those themes rather than on violent jump scares and zombie babies.

The actual review barely mentions "male fragility" so why is it the title of the article on NBC?  I think that is a fair and interesting question. 

The second thing I would like to say is to thank Perrie for seeding something from this site called THINK, which is a new page on the NBC website which looks pretty interesting and I will check out from time to time.

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
2.1  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  JohnRussell @2    4 months ago

I noticed that, too. They often do that. They have a different title on the NBC page than what is on the actual article. 

 
 
 
nightwalker
2.1.1  nightwalker  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @2.1    4 months ago

Just trying to make the title more attractive. Otherwise not too many people would care to read a analysis of a movie they haven't seen yet.

 
 
 
nightwalker
3  nightwalker    4 months ago

I'm going to criticize the criticism of the article's author.

This story should have focused on "grief" and "Male Fragility?" Really? EVERY movie has to be analyzed to the point of stupidity for hidden political messages or war of the sexes fodder?

Of course what he should have done is have contractors check the foundation and walls, electricians to check the wiring, roofers for the roof, a detailed map of the area, and down to the local BAR to get any juicy rumors and fables. How many towns and cities don't have a myth of someplace haunted or cursed?

Then he could have talked it over with his wife and kids to decide to stay or go and then he moves the whole family to a cottage in Virginia that has no history but a good foundation and roof. The cat gets run over by a truck, they bury it in the flower garden with "grief", more dramatic tears and then they buy her a new kitten.

LOL

No dumb guys screwing up everybody's life. Good thing for her that females never make a bad decision in horror movies or any other movie. Romantic comedies and Romance movies would last 1/2 hour at best if everybody in them made the best decisions.

Is this a new thing, where all movies have to have a deep dark message? I always read books and watched movies for a good story. Who knows what critical social and political messages I've missed.

 

 
 
 
sandy-2021492
3.1  sandy-2021492  replied to  nightwalker @3    4 months ago
Is this a new thing, where all movies have to have a deep dark message?

Not when it comes to Stephen King.  The Shining, for example, was about alcoholism, and King always complained that Kubrick missed the mark there.

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
3.1.1  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  sandy-2021492 @3.1    4 months ago

Nightwalker, 

I totally agree with you. I can think of so many of King's stories that had nada to do with men making bad choices for their families. This reviewer is trying to make this into something that it isn't. 

Sandy,

You are correct. King was really upset with Kubrick. He also didn't like the idea that he killed off one of the most important characters, that never died in the book. 

 
 
 
JohnRussell
3.1.2  JohnRussell  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @3.1.1    4 months ago

Once an author sells a book to the movies, he's done. They can change it any way they want, unless the author is hired on as a screenwriter or consultant.

Kubrick was an "auteur"  "a filmmaker whose personal influence and artistic control over a movie are so great that the filmmaker is regarded as the author of the movie."

It was always going to be that Kurbrick would change some things in The Shining.

 
 
 
sandy-2021492
3.1.3  sandy-2021492  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @3.1.1    4 months ago
I can think of so many of King's stories that had nada to do with men making bad choices for their families. This reviewer is trying to make this into something that it isn't. 

Agreed.

I have to say, I've never seen any misogyny in any of Stephen King's books or movies, except to expose misogyny to criticism.  His female characters (with the exception of those like Annie Wilkes) are always fully developed, rational, intelligent human beings.  Male characters who see them as otherwise are always called out in one way or another, as are social attitudes that place women as second-class citizens.  Dolores Claiborne was a great example.

That was another problem he had with Kubrick - he said Kubrick turned Wendy into a "screaming dishrag", and he was right.

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
3.1.4  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  sandy-2021492 @3.1.3    4 months ago
That was another problem he had with Kubrick - he said Kubrick turned Wendy into a "screaming dishrag", and he was right.

I totally agree with that. She was very much her own person in the book. 

 
 
 
nightwalker
3.1.5  nightwalker  replied to  sandy-2021492 @3.1.3    4 months ago

I think Kubrick was star struck with Jack Nicolson. He was a good choice because nobody can look or act crazier then he can but that's the only good choice he made with this movie.

When the elevator doors opened and released a river of blood (not from the book) I decided that neither Kubrick or the scriptwriters had read "The Shinning" beyond the description on the back cover.

 
 
 
nightwalker
3.1.6  nightwalker  replied to  sandy-2021492 @3.1    4 months ago

LOL

I'll say he missed the mark. In the book King showed the very worst parts about being a alcoholic, and the terrible effects, mentally and physically it has on them and their families and the strain it is to try to quit and then another struggle to stay sober.

It added another layer of horror to the story.

Just as a general comment, there is a lesser know version of "The Shinning" made with lesser known actors that was actually a bit better.

 
 
 
sandy-2021492
3.1.7  sandy-2021492  replied to  nightwalker @3.1.6    4 months ago

The miniseries with Steven Weber?

 
 
 
nightwalker
3.1.8  nightwalker  replied to  sandy-2021492 @3.1.7    3 months ago

I think that's the one..

 
 
 
It Is ME
4  It Is ME    4 months ago

"The new movie version, directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmeyer, works far better when it focuses on those themes rather than on violent jump scares and zombie babies."

No it doesn't !

They tried to beat the "First", with "more than what was needed", and failed ! Ya just can't make the original better !

Movies were great when you could just go and watch it. Now everyone has some kind of Theory" and "Opinion" about what  a movie should/could/would mean.

Really Fucks up the fun of a movie !

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
4.1  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  It Is ME @4    4 months ago

Great clip from the original. Every parent's nightmare. And that is how it happened in the book. 

 
 
 
It Is ME
4.1.1  It Is ME  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @4.1    4 months ago

Scared the crap outa me when I watched it. The Reading it....not so much. I just don't get when folks think they can make something better, that was already Great !

And this analyzing crap..... WTF !

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
4.1.2  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  It Is ME @4.1.1    4 months ago

I have to agree with you. I don't get the analyzing crap, either.

 
 
 
†hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh
5  †hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh    4 months ago

My son saw this last night and had nothing but good things to say about it. Said if was far better than any other film depiction.

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
5.1  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  †hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh @5    4 months ago

He must have seen the remake of it from '2000 something. That really was not good. Very hacky. 

I am not sure why they chose to kill the daughter and not the son. Maybe he felt an older child was scarier?

And Churchill had nothing to do with the child's death. I'll probably go and see it, but I am very picky about how King stories come out. 

 
 
 
†hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh
5.1.1  †hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @5.1    4 months ago

Not sure, way to involved for me because I am not particularly a fan of the book or the author.

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
5.1.2  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  †hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh @5.1.1    4 months ago

What do you read?

 
 
 
†hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh
5.1.3  †hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @5.1.2    4 months ago

I'm a grocery store checkout rack romantic.

384

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
5.1.4  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  †hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh @5.1.3    4 months ago

Don't you mean, you like to check out the rack?

 
 
 
†hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh
5.1.5  †hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @5.1.4    4 months ago

I wear blinders so I don't get beaten.

 
 
 
nightwalker
5.1.6  nightwalker  replied to  †hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh @5.1.5    4 months ago

LOL

That's why I always go alone to book shop.

 
 
 
Jeremy Retired in NC
6  Jeremy Retired in NC    4 months ago

Like "It", I have no interest in watching a remake of an already excellent movie.  And that's it, it's just a movie.  Why are people looking for something that really isn't there or part of the story?

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
6.1  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  Jeremy Retired in NC @6    4 months ago

Got me?

 
 
 
pat wilson
7  pat wilson    4 months ago

I'm a big Steven King fan. Loved the book and I thought the original movie was pretty good. Don't know if I want to see another though. I'm getting tired of all these re-makes. We need new stuff.

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
7.1  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  pat wilson @7    4 months ago

It would be good if we had new stuff. King was never the same after the accident. Rumors have it that he now writes under another name ( other than the one he used to use, Richard Bachman). 

 
 
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