With Terminator 2 back in theaters let’s not forget the 25 year anniversary of another Edward Furlong classic. Pet Sematary II was his follow-up movie. I guess it didn’t have quite the buildup of his other part two, but it was highly anticipated for young Franchise Fred.
You see, Pet Sematary was notorious for me because it’s the only movie I chickened out of before it started. By 1989 I’d seen some horror movies in theaters (Nightmare on Elm Street 4 was my first.) I was in the theater for Pet Sematary but something made me feel like It would be too scary so I left before the trailers ended. It was a trailer for Star Trek V. Even when I tried Poltergeist II three years earlier, I made it to Reverend Kane before I made my mom take me home (she was happy to. I’d pressured her to let me see it but she was right, it was too scary for eight-year-old Fred). I eventually saw Pet Sematary on video and it was still scary but my friends and I watched it over and over until we could face little Gage.
I’m so glad I revisited both Pet Sematary’s for this because I was impressed how well the first one held up for me. I didn’t have to chicken out this time, but I was captivated how the whole movie carries on with a sense of inevitability. As soon as Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) asks Jud (Fred Gwynne) if anyone tried burying a human in the Micmac burial ground, you know somebody’s going to try. Spoilers for both movies follow.
It’s foreshadowed at the very beginning. Once Jud pulls Gage (Miko Hughes) from the road, there’s no way that kid’s not getting hit by a truck. I don’t think any supernatural creation Stephen King could imagine could scare a parent as much as the thought of losing a child. Pet Sematary deals with a lot of fears, the least of which is animals coming back as killers. Ellie Creed (Blaze and Beau Berdahl) is faced with mortality for the first time. Rachel Creed (Denise Crosby) still has trauma from caring for her older sister with spinal meningitis. Louis is afraid to face his in-laws. None of them are scared enough of living on a death highway though. Maybe don’t move your family next to speeding trucks. At least don’t let them play outside.
As a metaphor for the terrible decisions people make and never learn, Pet Sematary maintains a building sense of dread. Once you show Louis there’s a Micmac burial ground that can bring his cat back to life (and let him avoid the talk he’ll eventually have to have with Ellie a little longer), then there’s nothing you could do to convince Louis not to try it with Gage. No amount of dead bodies as collateral damage would deter a grieving father. You mean I can have my son back but everyone else dies? Fuck it, we’re doing this.
The moral feels timelessly poignant to me. The bloody vision of Victor Pascow (Brad Greenquist) warning him didn’t convince him. Louis already saw the cat came back wrong, but that’s a cat and this is a person. He even thinks he has the perfect plan. He’ll try it in private and if it doesn’t work he’ll just put Gage back to sleep. His family will never know. Even when Gage murders Rachel, Louis tries again, thinking, “This time it’ll work. I’ll bury her while the body’s still fresh. Now it HAS to work.”
People always think they can control their environment. It’s rare anyone realizes the environment itself is the problem and they’ve got to escape the toxic cycle entirely. Most people make bad decisions for far less potential reward than reanimating the dead. Look at Las Vegas. Everybody thinks they’re going to be the winners. King uses an extreme example to tell a fable.
Jud bears a little responsibility here. He’s the enabler. He too thought, “Well, I’ll just help Louis with the cat and I won’t let it go any further.” You can’t control people’s desires though. I also want to see a drama about the truck driver who’s traumatized for life after running over a kid.
In the book, King suggests the Wendingo is making both Jud and Louis return to the burial ground. That actually absolves Louis of responsibility for his actions if he’s just a victim under supernatural influence. It should absolutely be the protagonist’s own doing and he pays the price for it. Perhaps King agreed since he wrote the screenplay and eliminated the Wendingo from it. The movie also leaves it implied that Pet Sematary is misspelled because kids didn’t know how to spell cemetery. I like that too. You don’t need to spell out why the words are misspelled.
I was not too scared to see Pet Sematary II in theaters three years later. Those three years were the difference between 11-14 which is pretty big when it comes to movie bravery. Even though King never wrote a sequel, I felt there was a lot more to say about the Micmac burial ground behind the Pet Sematary.
Given the universal theme of repeating deadly mistakes and hoping this time will fix it all, you’d think a sequel could find new ways to explore it. A kid who lost his mother is something. Unfortunately it’s mostly lip service until the inevitable. Jeff (Furlong) isn’t that conflicted about it. He’s sort of just waiting until act three allows him to do it.
But before that he’s gotta bring back sheriff Gus (Clancy Brown), his friend Drew (Jason McGuire)‘s abusive stepfather, so they don’t get in trouble for Gus’s death. That makes sense too. Kids think they’ll be in trouble so they do worse things to avoid telling their parents. Thank god most kids don’t have access to the Micmac burial ground.
Pet Sematary II starts out with some good new fears to explore, but it mainly settles for more gore, the “bigger badder sequel” trope. A kid terrorized by his stepfather is real. A kid tormented by bullies is real too. I wonder about using children’s fears in an R-rated sequel to a Stephen King movie though. I mean, It does it too in a way that reminds adults of their childhood fears, but I’m guessing they assumed the audience for Pet Sematary II was under 17 and would get in anyway. In 1992, I didn’t even have to sneak in. They were far more permissive about selling tickets until about 1994/95. I mean Furlong’s claim to fame was the R-rated Terminator 2 and that was my number one obsession for 1991.
Along with more gore, there is a lot more animal cruelty in the sequel. I know it’s called Pet Sematary but the original story relied on accidental animal death and it was enough. Here, the school bullies pick on a kitten. Gus shoots Drew’s dog Zowie. I know Gus is bad, but that’s a lazy way to make him evil. There’s a gratuitous veterinary autopsy just to show some dog brains. Jeff’s father (Anthony Edwards) is a vet himself, introduced putting an old dog to sleep. The re-animated Zowie gets into the kittens up for adoption just so we can see some little girls scream. Gus slaughters bunnies, which I guess are what they’re for on his farm but it’s graphic.
There’s more vile human unpleasantries too. The undead Gus is DTF, and it’s rape. It’s even rapier when Gus helps Jeff dig up his mom and announces his own plans. Perhaps my beloved Pet Sematary also spawned a lack of human restraint in its storytellers. Richard Outten wrote this original screenplay but Mary Lambert returned to direct. There may be something to say about the danger in allowing violent men to come back from the dead, but it’s not explored, rendering the sexual violence exploitive shocks. At one point Gus chops through a door in what must be an homage to another Stephen King classic, but it doesn’t add anything to Pet Sematary II. Fortunately doesn’t say, “Here’s Johnny.”
Since sequels are shot by entirely different productions than the originals, it’s pretty common to have continuity issues between films. The Creed house is not remotely the same. The best house they could find in Georgia couldn’t be dressed to match the original in Maine. The path to the burial ground is a lot easier for kids to climb to. I suppose I can buy spry teenagers having an easier go of it than middle aged Louis Creed, but it would have been fun if they’d made a point about it. The burial ground looks smaller and with fewer markings in the sequel.
We do learn the fate of Ellie Creed if bully Clyde Parker (Jared Rushton) is to be trusted. I don’t know. His story sounds like bullshit to me. He is trying to scare the others around a Halloween campfire. The story that Rachel Creed died twice sounds more believable. The cemetery caretaker commenting that this is the second time a local resident dug up a grave after Louis dug up Gage’s suggests to me they should have better security at this cemetery. Pet Sematary III might have been an elaborate heist movie if the cemetery implmented safeguards after the repeated grave robbing incidents.
Pet Sematary II serves its purpose as a gore delivery system, but it’s disappointing that the poignant themes of people tempted by a devilish bargain are glossed over. It could have equalled the original, and maybe if it had there would have been a Pet Sematary III. Maybe someone can also make Pet Seminary where all the animals find Jesus.