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          For most families, moving is a new beginning.  But for the Creeds, it could be the beginning of the end.  Because they've just moved in next door to a place that children built with broken dreams, the Pet Sematary.  It's a tiny patch of land that hides a mysterious Indian burial ground with the powers of resurrection. 

"The soil in a man's heart is stonier."
                      - Victor Pascow

          This 1989 horror film directed by Mary Lambert is probably one of the best Stephen King adaptations so far (next to The Shining). The film makers have fully succeeded in bringing the literary work to life on screen, a task where many before them have failed. They have managed to capture the essence of the novel and translate it into images, every single one filled with emotional complexity. The result is a powerful, intense & highly atmospheric thrill-ride, a film that is both visually and emotionally perfect, a film that will leave no-one untouched. The credit for this must first and foremost go to director Mary Lambert, who handles the subject matter with steady and skillful hands. But, like with so many things in life, this is also a team-effort, and it is the combination of different elements, of different skilled individuals, that makes the film work as a whole. This is a prime example of a horror film where everything is perfectly timed; All the different elements, the well-written script by Stephen King, the stylish cinematography/camera work, the creepy music, the excellent special effects, the convincing direction, and the great performances, are perfectly balanced and strung together, and the result stands heads and shoulders above any of the pseudo wanna-be horror film shit to have come out of Hollywood lately (yes, I´m talking about "Scream" and it´s numerous sequels and imitations, if you were wondering!).
          The film´s plot focuses on a family of four, the Creeds, who have just moved to a new house out in the seemingly idyllic countryside. The head of the family, Louis Creed, is a young doctor, probably in his early thirties, who is just about to start work as an M.D. in the local community (the family´s reason for moving I guess). The rest of the family consists of Louis´ wife Rachel, a woman haunted by memories from her childhood, and their two children Ellie and Gage. Unfortunately things start out real bad for the newcomers: Upon arriving at the house the young daughter falls from a swing and hurts herself and the young couple´s 3-4 year old son is almost run over by a truck. Later, on the first day of work, Louis is confronted with the casualty of a dreadful accident; A young man with his skull smashed in. The young man dies on the operating table but returns to haunt Louis in his dreams, warning him against some unknown threat (and thus foreshadowing events to come). Everything is somehow connected to a place out in the woods. You see, behind the Creed house there is a path leading do an old animal cemetery (hence the title), a place of sorrow and shattered childhood illusions....and, according to one of the characters in the film, "...a place where the dead speak". After the family´s cat, Church, has been run over by a truck, Louis and the aging Judd Crandall, the neighbor, take it to an ancient Indian burial ground beyond the "pet sematary", a place rumored to have supernatural powers. Of course, the dead cat returns from the grave, wreaking havoc. Everything goes straight to hell from here, and the rest of the film is a downwards spiral rarely seen even in a horror film. While the family are out on a picnic a moment of negligence results in the death of their son; He stumbles out onto the highly trafficked road that runs passed their house and is hit by a truck. Consumed with grief and guilt, Louis decides to bring his son back to life and he takes him to the ancient Indian graveyard for resurrection. But something has changed, and when the dead boy returns Louis suddenly realizes what the old man (Judd Crandall) meant when he said "Sometimes dead is better".
          This interesting, though admittedly not exceptionally original concept, serves as a framework for a number of religious and philosophical questions (which are raised more than once during the course of the film), among others "What lies beyond death?", "Why do terrible things happen to seemingly innocent people?" and "Is there a God?". The whole film is an illustration of our own mortality, or more correctly our reluctance & unwillingness to accept this mortality, and how everything in life is perishable. A film that intelligently and profoundly, not shallowly or superficially, explores & examines death and our understanding of it, our longing for immortality, and how death can strike suddenly and without warning, leaving a trail of destruction and personal holocaust in its wake. The overshadowing theme is doubtless the "fear of death" and the distance we create to it; Our refusal to accept death as an inescapable destiny, our refusal to accept and overcome the death of loved ones. But there are other important themes as well; The questioning and undermining of one´s personal faith (brought forth but the death of someone close to you and the hatred towards God for this act of cruelty inflicted upon the innocent), children as being more open to the supernatural than grown-ups, and children as evil (after all, they have not yet developed an understanding of life and death, nor a set of morals). In addition the film examines to what extent we live in & are ruled by the past, haunted by memories, consumed with grief over loved ones we have once lost, unable to carry on.
          All in all this is a personal favorite that rates way up there (on my top 10 list that is), second only to Romero´s "Day of the Dead". A film that is both emotionally and intellectually challenging, a film that will keep you on the edge of the seat and leave you fully drained after it´s over, wishing the illusion would never end. A film that is nothing short of a horror classic. The performances, especially that of Miko Hughes as Gage, are incredible, and it´s amazing how realistically this child actor interacts with the adult actors. Even more amazing though is how the film makers have succeeded in taking a 4 year old kid, turning him into one of the most menacing and frightening figures in horror film history.
          To sum it all up: Pet Sematary is a dark, pessimistic & frightening tale filled with splattery F/X, claustrophobic atmosphere and doomed protagonist. It is also one of the few films that really makes my skin crawl, and if you´re a horror fan, seeking it out is obligatory.

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          - When Rachel gets off the semi, the numbers "666" are on it.

          - Writer Stephen King can be seen as the minister at the funeral.

          - The idea for this story came about when Stephen King's daughter's cat, Smuckey, was killed on the highway outside their home.

          - The role of Zelda, Rachael's dying sister, was played by a man. The role called for her to look emaciated, and apparently there were no women skinny enough.

          - 7 cats were used to play the part of "Church."

          - Stephen King required the movie to be filmed in Maine and his screenplay to be followed rigorously.

          - The picture at Rachel's parents' house is a painting of Zelda as a child, before her spinal meningitis. Gage is later seen wearing a similar outfit (as well as having her red hair) to signify that Zelda has come back through him, which was Rachel's deepest fear.

          - The factory that the truck that hits Gage is leaving from is the International Paper (formerly Champion Paper) factory in Bucksport, Maine.

          - The filmmakers were concerned for Miko Hughes, so a mechanical doll with animated facial features was used for several sequences: 1) when Gage is near the semi which initially kills him 2) when he slices Jud's Achilles tendon 3) when he cuts out his mother's eye 4) when he is given the shot by his father. The waxy look to the doll's features are particularly noticeable. Miko himself has said he remembers playing with the doll on set.




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