The wifey and I watched the film adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary again last night. I hadn’t seen it in a while, but I remember having particular feelings about it. Watching it again only reaffirmed what I recalled from my first couple of viewings. In other words, Eh.
I didn’t like the novel the first time I read it. I was young and didn’t have kids. But, because of all the hype surrounding it and some things Doug Winter said about it in one of his books about King, I reread it at some point. At some point after having kids, mind you. Wow. Totally different experience. Once you have a kid of your own you really see the horror of what Louis Creed experiences and can understand the horrible decision he makes. But this isn’t about the book.
The movie is based on a screenplay by King himself. That’s usually a good thing. And it sort of is here because he does cover all the major plot points of his novel. The film comes in at 103 minutes, a little longer than the standard 90 minutes that was the norm in 1989, and yet it feels very rushed. We are dragged from event to event without every really getting to fully digest what is happening. One of the most disappointing aspects was Jud Crandall (played perfectly by Fred Gywnne). In the book he is a very deep, complex man. With a wife. In the film, he has no wife and he’s reduced to a shadow of who he is in the book.
And, sadly, Gywnne was just about the only person in the movie who was any good at acting. Dale Midkiff (as Louis) and Denise Crosby (as wife Rachel) seemed detached the whole time. Rachel’s character, too, was incredibly complex in the novel, coming with more baggage than a 747 could haul, but all of that is pretty much reduced to a few scenes with a deformed sister in the film. Blaze Berdahl was wooden as daughter Ellie; her crying scenes are just horrible. Miko Hughes as two-year-old Gage was brilliant, though.
The dead Victor Pascow character (played by Brad Greenquist) was an eye-roller as he tried to add dark humor to the plot. He basically played the same role Jack Goodman in An American Werewolf in London. Pascow would show up to offer advice to Louis, the only one who could see him. He also helped influence the thinking of other characters by telling them things like what rental car was available. I kept expecting him to say, "These aren’t the droids you’re looking for."
This is a film that, like almost all the ones that turned a buck in the ’80s, is being remade. Mathew Greenburn, who did King’s 1402 (which I thought was just a mess), is doing this remake for a 2012 release. I’d say I hope for an improvement, but how often has a remake been better than the original? Yeah. At least we still have the novel.