← Back to Reviews

Pet Sematary

Pet Sematary, 1989

Louis (Dale Midkiff) and Rachel (Denise Crosby) move to a small town where Louis is to become the local doctor. They are accompanied by their two children, Ellie (Blaze Berdahl) and Gage (Miko Hughes), as well as the family cat, Church. But when Church is killed, neighbor Jud (Fred Gwynne) shows Louis a local secret: a high ledge where dead things that are buried come back to life.

A Stephen King double feature following Christine, and I think that I liked this one a bit more. The character motivations flow more naturally, and the horror is very relatable.

There is something particularly sad about horror that comes from someone trying to do something kind, or at least doing something very understandable. Midkiff's Louis is a man who comes to accept the magic of the high ledge, but at the same time seems unwilling to engage fully with the implications of using that power. And Gwynne's Jud is the perfect benevolently nefarious counterpoint to Louis. Jud always gives Louis just enough rope to hang himself with. Despite the obvious problems with Church's resurrection, Louis cannot help himself when he faces the loss of someone more near and dear to him.

The other characters are a bit more uneven in their execution. Crosby is good as Rachel, who has her own complex relationship with the idea of death and guilt, having watched her terminally ill older sister suffer and die of spinal meningitis. But Rachel's character isn't super well developed. Ellie is also a mixed bag. As a character she's fine, but there's this whole subplot where she has psychic visions of everything that is going to happen (or has happened) and the execution of that subplot is kind of clunky. Miko Hughes is mainly tasked with toddling around, but it has to be said that he is absolutely adorable.

I was also a bit torn on the inclusion of a character called Pascow (Brad Greenquist), a young man who dies despite Louis trying to save him in the hospital and returns as a benevolent ghost to help the family with warnings and advice. Greenquist is a fun presence, but the existence of the character is a bit weird and it's hard to see how it fits with the mythology of the ledge.

The horror content itself is pretty good. I really liked the way that the setting itself keeps you on edge, as the family lives right next to a highway where trucks race up and down at high speeds. And once things kick off in the last act, they are surprisingly bloody and disturbing.

A solid horror film, even if there are a few too many ideas zinging around for it to feel entirely coherent. My favorite piece of trivia from the IMDb entry on the film is that they had to reshoot a conversation between Pascow and Louis because Midkiff looked too sexy lounging around in bed with no shirt on. Imagine.