Mary Lambert’s 1989 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “Pet Sematary” is equally as bizarre as it is unintentionally corny. Yet, since its general unfavorable feelings original reception, the film has found a dedicated group of fans that praise the film for its memorable horror images and exploration of grief in the face of a family tragedy. The original film found its place among the numerous film adaptation of King’s novels, and, especially with the current culture of nostalgia rampant throughout Hollywood filmmaking, it is no surprise that “Pet Sematary” was next on the list of remakes. However, in the remake of the film, Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer’s directorial decisions to deviate from the book and the original adaptation isolate both the cult fans of the original and those looking for originality within Hollywood horror films.
Anyone who saw a film at a multiplex within the last three or four months would have no doubt seen the trailer for the remake of “Pet Sematary.” However, in this marketing campaign, crucial details of plot deviations were revealed, leaving audiences confused and hesitant for this remake. The decision to change a major aspect of the film was not inherently bad and, at times, actually supports the difficult nature of the themes of grief in the film. Yet, since this detail was baseline information of the film for the audience going into the film, it is frustrating that this point was the focal point of the film.
Film adaptations of Stephen King novels are famous for changing parts of his novels, yet the deviations alone don’t make up for the other lousy parts of the film. Kolsch and Widmyer are simply going through the necessary motions of plot and quickly force the film to its climax. Kolsch and Widmyer clearly spent much of their efforts on the climax of this film, and their marketing team ruined their hard work. So, it is not necessarily their fault that the film fails to engage its audience throughout the runtime, but their fault lies in their lack of dedication to the rest of the film.
One of the most infuriating aspects of the film was Kolsch and Widmyer’s over-reliance on jump-scares during the tense moments of the film. This trope is one of the most overused tropes within modern horror and one of the, if not the main, reasons that audiences are struggling to connect with many modern Hollywood horror films. While “Pet Sematary” certainly struggles to separate itself, other than the obvious plot deviation, the jump-scare horror mechanism in the film separates it in a bad way.
Although the film struggles in many aspects, the darker tone of the remake is better suited to the source material’s dark themes of death, guilt, and grief. Coping with death is a major facet of the human condition, and filmmakers that deal with this issue within the context of genre film usually don’t capture the raw emotional involved throughout the grieving process. However, the one positive deviation from the original film adaptation is Kolsch and Widmyer’s decision to deviate from the goofy, yet certainly incidental, tone of the original.
Overall, the film is a rather lackluster attempt at an adaptation of King’s novel, but the film ultimately suffers from its marketing campaign. Hollywood continues to try and draw audiences into the theatre, but ultimately succeeds in driving them away by disclosing too much of the plot to the audiences before the release. As spot on as the film’s tone is, Kolsch and Widmyer’s poor directorial choices inhibit the film’s positive impact.