Pet Sematary traumatised me as a child but I watched it all over again in preparation for the remake
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Sometimes... dead is better.
If you asked most people what was the first movie that scared them senseless, more often than not it will be a kids film that had a particularly dark scene and left an invisible scar on the psyche for the rest of their lives.
The hunter scene in Bambi, the pink elephants scene in Dumbo, the kids drowning in Willy Wonka, the child-catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the opening attack in Finding Nemo... "family films" have a way of upsetting us all.
However, my parents were cooler/more lenient/too lenient(?), and allowed me to watch movies that were clearly not intended for my age at the time.
First released in April 1989 - yep, we're closing in on the 30 year anniversary - I'm not fully sure what age I was when I first watched Pet Sematary, but whatever age I was, it could be described as "too young".
There were so much going on in this story - the story that author Stephen King himself says he thinks is the scariest book he's ever written - that was too scary for my young mind to understand, but my young mind still tried its best to process what it was being shown, which resulted in it becoming the movie that I'd decided I never needed to watch again.
Clip via Movieclips Classic Trailers
Any time it was brought up in conversation, a form of PTSD overtook me, and even as people I know and trust would inform me that "It wasn't that scary", I didn't believe them.
However, now with the remake about to arrive in cinemas, I decided it was time to face my fears and see if the movie's scares had faded over time, or if my brain would completely shut-down mid-viewing as a form of self-defense.
This is a running timeline of how that viewing went, and here is your spoiler warning for the 1983 book, the 1989 movie, and probably most of the 2019 movie, too:
00:00 - The very first thing I check was how long this movie was. 103 minutes. Fine. This is fine.
00:01 - We open in the pet cemetery itself. I realise now how difficult this is going to be to continue to spell the word "cemetery" correctly, since I have forced myself to spell it wrong for the title.
00:02 - There is a fishbowl in the pet cemetery. My first thought is of a reanimated zombie goldfish, and now I wish I were watching that movie instead.
00:03 - We're out on a big main road, and a big oil truck drives by. I shall call this Chekov's Truck, considering we know how this story turns out...
00:05 - The new family has moved into their new home, which includes Louis (the most American-looking man to have ever lived) and Rachel (who was Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation!) and within 30 seconds, the daughter has fallen off a swing, and the very young son has wandered out into the road. So the movie is going well so far. The family's new neighbour Jud saves the lad from being run over by Chekov's Truck, and I've only just now realised that Jud is Herman Munster from The Munsters.
00:07 - First jump scare of the movie goes to the family's cat, and as we all know, cats are evil, so this won't end well. Have to pause the movie to pick up the bowl of popcorn I just threw into the air in fright.
00:09 - The family's sorta-maid Missy arrives, and it is never fully clarified who she is. She always seems to be coming and going with clean clothes, so maybe some kind of laundry delivery service? Either way, she's got the hots for the Dad, but she's also complaining about a belly ache. None of this is good news for Missy.
00:10 - On what appears to be the family's very first day in their new home, Jud takes the family on a hike to a nearby Pet Cemetery Sematary. No other sites to check out in this new town, no? No nice coffee shops or malls or something? Anyways, the hike doesn't go great, as it ends with Rachel shouting at Jud about the concept of death (?!) before Jud reveals he buried his own dog here back in 1924 (?!?!), which raises some serious questions as to how old Jud is, or what year this movie is set in.
00:15 - Louis' daughter realises that their cat is going to die one day (Good!), and gets upset about the idea that God is going to take her cat away. This might have been the moment in my own young life that the idea of "God takes people and things you love away from you" arrived, which may also go some way towards why I now hate this film.
00:17 - It turns out that Louis is a doctor, and they moved so he could be the head doctor in a local, small hospital. On his very first day, a teenager arrives with his brains literally pouring out his head. Actually, come to think of it, maybe this was the moment my young mind snapped.
00:18 - Jump scare number two goes to Victor, the brain-oozing teenager who turns out actually wasn't dead. Yet. He dies a few seconds later, after sending my popcorn flying again, and telling Louis that he'd be visiting him because... reasons.
00:21 - Victor visits Louis in a dream, and takes him on a walk to the pet cemetery, but then points in the direction of where he Definitely Should Not Go, which is the equivalent of showing Father Dougal Maguire a big red button saying Do Not Push.
00:23 - Family go on holiday from Thanksgiving, but Louis stays behind alone because Rachel's dad hates him.
00:24 - Cat's dead. Good.
00:26 - Jud takes Louis to the place that they Definitely Should Not Go. It is a multi-hour mountain climbing expedition, with shovels and a dead cat in tow, and at no point does Jud explain why they're going there, which means Louis might be an idiot.
00:28 - We finally arrive at our destination: an ancient Indian Burial Ground (IBG). The fact that Louis didn't immediately turn around and leave means that he is definitely an idiot.
00:33 - Jump scare number three goes to that fucking cat again, who has come back from the dead and is now evil. Well, evil-er. It is still a cat, after all.
00:35 - Louis asks Jud why the cat is alive. Turns out that Jud's 1924 dog was also buried at that same IBG and came back from the dead and was totally evil. But there was no reason to think that might happen again, right? Right??
00:37 - Evil Zombie Cat drops a chewed up rat in the bath that Louis was trying to relax in. Gross.
00:38 - Louis collects his family from their holiday... on the runway! How'd he get passed security?? You wouldn't get away with that these days!
00:39 - Remember Missy? Don't worry if you didn't, because the film itself also seemed to forget about her. She reappears her, solely to commit suicide. As every minute goes by, I judge my own parents more and more for letting me watch this...
00:40 - We're at Missy's funeral, and Stephen King is the priest!
00:43 - Rachel finally admits why she has such an issue with death, and it is because when she was younger, she was forced by her parents to take care of her extremely ill older sister Zelda, who then choked to death under her care. Everything about this flashback is nightmare fuel and I can feel my PTSD kicking in. I want to turn this movie off and leave the room, the house, the street, and go get drunk somewhere brightly lit. But I won't. I can do this.
00:45 - Oh no. We're inside the cabin of Chekov's Truck, watching the driver be distracted by his radio as he sings along. Oh no oh no oh no...
00:46 - The happy family (and Jud) are enjoying an outdoor, main road adjacent picnic. Please God no.
00:47 - No no no no no no no no.
00:48 - I've had to pause the movie. Louis' scream following the truck collision is soul-shatteringly sad. As a child, this movie made me afraid of trucks. As a grown-up, this movie has made me afraid of having kids.
00:49 - A montage of images of the young boy, from when he was born, right up to the day he was killed, and over the background, we can hear the trucks zoom by outside Louis' house. This movie is evil.
00:50 - We're at the young boy's funeral, and Rachel's dad blames Louis for letting him die, and then punches him, resulting in scuffle that knocks the coffin on to the ground, and everyone can see the little boy get rocked around inside. This movie really, REALLY wants you to feel bad. All. Of. The. Time.
00:52 - Louis to the cat: "Fuck off, hairball." Best line of the film.
00:54 - Nearly an hour in, and we're finally at the point we all knew we were heading in. Louis asks has anyone ever buried a person in the IBG, and Jud tells the story of a young man who came back from the dead - Evil, obvz - and he proceeded to creep out the town by digging up corpses and eating his own face. Which is a fair reaction to self-cannibalism, truth be told. The town then went full Freddy Kreuger on him by burning him alive in his own house, which also had his not-evil Dad in it at the time.
00:59 - Louis is digging up his dead son.
01:01 - It turns out that Louis' daughter has The Shining, because she has visions of her dad digging up her dead brother and things being generally bad for their futures. Stephen King sure loves writing about kids being psychic.
01:04 - Louis appears to have gone stark raving mad.
01:06 - Rachel has a vision of her dead sister Zelda, who claims to want to kill her and keep her in hell with her. There is a lot happening right now, to every member of this family, but not a whole lot of reasons why any of it is happening to anyone. I suppose the script probably said "And then a load of Stephen King'y type stuff happens to everyone" and then they left it at that.
01:08 - Rachel runs on to a plane without anyone checking her ticket or passport. Another example of airport stuff that just wouldn't happen post-9/11.
01:09 - Louis is bringing his dead son to the IBG, and entire trees are collapsing around him. Meanwhile, his wife is speedily driving to him, before her car crashes off the road. Victor appears at her side, claiming "It is trying to stop you!", with the "It" here being... what, exactly? The IBG? Evil itself? It the Clown??
01:10 - Victor appears as a rock-face. At least, I think it is Victor? So... there's that.
01:13 - Rachel hitchhikes back to her husband, in the very same brand of truck that killed their son. That is some dark, twisted shit right there.
01:15 - Kid's alive(ish), has found his doctor dad's scalpel, and is now running around Jud's house.
01:18 - Jud is killed is an extremely graphic and prolonged manner. Poor Jud. Although, in a very real way, this is all entirely his fault.
01:20 - Rachel arrives, but hears her son calling from Jud's house. She doesn't seem to question that it couldn't be her son, because her son is dead. Once inside Jud's house, she hears her dead sister calling out for her. All of these would be reasons to run screaming in the opposite direction. So, we're sorry Rachel, but you too seem to have brought this on yourself.
01:22 - Dead son had time for a jaunty costume change.
01:23 - Louis falls out bed and absolute SLAMS his head against the bedside locker. This doesn't look like acting. This looks like it really fucking hurt.
01:25 - Louis fills some needles with some doctor stuff. He grabs the cat and injects, before yelling at it "Lie down! Play dead!", apparently forgetting that his cat isn't a dog.
01:26 - Louis goes into Jud's house, which has been taken over by Silent Hill, all decaying walls and weird sounds.
01:29 - Louis fights his dead son, now apparently possessed by the ghost of Chucky, who managed to drag his dead mother up to the attack. Dead son dies again, Louis burns down Jud's house, and then decides... to bring his wife to the IBG. Because after the cat, Jud's dog, the son, and Jud's story about the other son, Louis sees it really working this time.
01:31 - Louis is alone at home playing Solitaire. Rachel appears, one of her shoes are gone. Oh, and one of her eyes are gone. And then they make out, with her gross, dead, eye-puss pouring into their mouths. Thankfully she puts us all out of our collective miseries by killing Louis almost immediately.
01:32 - End credits, with the song 'Pet Sematary' by the Ramones playing. No, we're not kidding:
Clip via Ramones Music
So, it turns out, yes, it wasn't that scary.
Scary for a child, absolutely. But as a grown up, not too bad. Except for the existential crisis it evokes in adults about losing their kids, or feuding with your family, or just moving home.
And also cats. Because fuck cats.
The new version of Pet Sematary is released in Irish cinemas from Friday 5 April, and you can get your tickets to it right here.
Clip via Paramount Pictures
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