A Spoiler-Free Review of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary (2019)

“It’s probably wrong to believe there can be any limit to the horror which the human mind can experience. On the contrary, it seems that some exponential effect begins to obtain as deeper and deeper darkness falls – as little as one may like to admit it, human experience tends, in a good many ways, to support the idea that when the nightmare grows black enough, horror spawns horror, one coincidental evil begets another, often more deliberate evils, until finally blackness seems to cover everything. And the most terrifying question of all may be just how much horror the human mind can stand and still maintain a wakeful, staring, unrelenting sanity.”

With the above passage from The Master of Horror in his now legendary 1983 novel Pet Sematary, Stephen King proved that he knew everything that we were afraid of and even some thing we didn’t know we were afraid of yet. By now, everyone has heard the myths about this story; how it was based off of King saving his son from being run over as a kid and his daughter coming to terms with God taking her cat. The biggest urban legend has to be that this is the book that even terrified King himself. The story goes that he couldn’t believe how dark he went in the final act and he put the manuscript in a desk drawer to forget about it and only pulled it out again to get out of a publishing contract. Even he has said he never expected it to be many a Constant Reader’s favorite tale of his.

For those who have never read it, there is a large portion of horror fandom that holds the 1989 film adaptation in high regards. I am not one of those people, but admit that is mostly because of my love for the novel. Also, the film has aged quite poorly over the past thirty years. The acting, outside of Fred Gwynne, is pretty cringe-worthy, Pascow is turned into comic relief, and the main antagonist of the book is left out. Sure, it’s better than most King adaptations during the 80’s, but for those holding it up like it’s some untouchable classic that is being tarnished by a remake/reinterpretation need to seek professional help. In my review for Jordan Peele’s Us, I explained where I stand with my generation and their judgment of current horror and their nostalgia-colored goggles when watching 80’s horror.

In what I’ve been calling the Stephen King Renaissance, the 2017 film adaptation of IT made Hollywood realize that his material is a gold mine when it actually follows the source for the most part. Any properties that weren’t bought already were quickly snatched up and Pet Sematary was the first to enter pre-production after Pennywise made horror box office records float. If you’ve seen the trailer, you already know the twist to the story in that they are character swapping a major part of the novel. As a Constant Reader, this infuriated me at first, but I treat all of the King adaptations like I do comics or fantasy/sci-fi adaptations; as a different Beam of The Tower (or Earth Two, for you non-Constant Readers). It’s always easy to forget that regardless of how an adaptation turns out, the book is still there and hasn’t changed.

Putting my inhibitions aside and going into the new Pet Sematary with an open mind, how did it go? Spoiler-free thoughts below.

I feel like this is going to need to be two different reviews. Because the huge fan of the novel in me absolutely hated what they did with the third act of this adaptation. But I think someone who has never read the book, or seen the 1989 version, could have a good time with this. Unlike a lot of horror today, the ending is dark as hell and gives zero cares if you leave the theater feeling bad. What I mentioned before about swapping the children’s roles in this isn’t what my problems with it are. The fact that the third act is not from anything that King wrote is what the problem is. It misses the point of the novel so much that it almost feels like a new director, screenwriter, and studio executive stepped in to finish the movie. The first two acts I was having a decent time, minor changes aside. But the final act is going to have Constant Readers ready to rage quit.

Just like my problems with Us, I feel like any movie that gets marketed these days as “terrifyingly scary” are anything but. Take out the gratuitous make up job on Pascow after his accident and this is a PG-13 horror flick all the way. Once again, all of the violence is cut out and happens off screen except for one moment at the end. Even Zelda, who was quite chilling in the 1989 movie, has very little to do here and feels completely forced. You can almost tell the screenwriters wanted to write her out of the story but know the expectations was there. Which is another problem; it’s almost to the point of being completely self aware of the 1989 movie that it almost references moments from it just to say “hey, look, we did it different!”

None of the characters earn an emotional attachment and this entire film misses the tragedy and heartbreak of the original story. Everyone, except Lithgow, seem to be going through the motions to get a paycheck here. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but the 1989 version is better.

I’m just completely deflated because I thought that we were at that point where we had gotten the King adaptations that “did their own thing” and flopped and now we were going to get some faithful takes. This isn’t a change or two; this is different that the last 40% of the book and not for the better. Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer (the directors) and Jeff Buhler (the screenwriter) are hardly better writers than Mr. King and it was foolish to try. Just follow the blueprint, for the love of Cujo.

The Verdict: 6.3/10

I rate all movies on a scale of See It In TheatersWait For Blu Ray/HD DigitalDownload It Illegally, or Burn The Master Copy.

Pet Sematary (2019) is a Wait For Blu Ray/HD Digital

The Good: John Lithgow proves once again that there isn’t a role he can’t nail. Sadly, he seems like he’s the only one who wants to be here.
The Bad: The entire third act. If you were going to do your own thing, at least make it something great. And no Norma! Again!
The Ugly: The achilles scene almost felt like Lithgow was going to look at the camera and say “remember this part in the original movie?”

Based on my review, it probably seemed I was going with Download It Illegally, or Burn The Master Copy, but like I said, if you haven’t read the book, I think you may enjoy the third act I just couldn’t accept. Also, I’m almost always going to encourage everyone to support the horror genre either in cinemas or on home video. My hope now rests on IT: Chapter Two giving this Constant Reader the King elation this movie missed on.