1989. Directed by Mary Lambert.
One of many films to ride the Stephen King box office tidal wave during the 80's. Pet Semetary is an unusually nasty slasher flick with elements of parental grief that contains some outright grim visuals and a predictably wicked summation that would go on to set up a less successful sequel.
The Creed family has recently moved from Chicago to Maine after the patriarch, Dr. Louis Creed, is offered a job at the local medical college. After the family cat is killed by a truck, a friendly neighbor shows Louis the secret of a Native American burial ground behind the family's house, which brings the feline back to a twisted form of life. Soon after, Louis's son Gage is killed (by yet another truck) and despite prophetic warnings from a guardian spirit, Louis uses the burial ground to resurrect Gage with gruesome consequences.
Lance Anderson's stellar make up work is easily the strongest element. The corpses are presented as broken shells of their living counterparts, with bloody prosthetics and skin crawling injuries holding the often too long focus of Peter Stein's cinematography. However, while the violence effects are solid, it is the makeup effects that transform Andrew Hubatsek's diseased Zelda into the fabric of nightmares that holds the center stage. To expound would spoil the scares, but rest assured whenever Zelda appears, Pet Semetary breaks free of its cliche ridden narrative to produce some genuine chills.
King wrote the screenplay himself and despite it hitting the highlights of the novel, its gravity is decayed by a lackluster group of performances. Dale Midkiff and Denise Crosby play the parents and their lack of chemistry is so apparent it robs the finale of any real emotional resonance. Fred Gwynne does a decent job as the concerned neighbor, but, much like in the novel, his motivations are suspect given he knows the eventual results. Miko Hughes does a good job once his Gage crosses over, but the undead realm is ruled by Brad Greenquist's omen dispensing spirit. The overall problem is that the novel's central theme of the price of guilt doesn't have a chance to percolate as the film is more concerned with getting to the next sequence of violence. The burial ground and its intriguing mythology is another underdeveloped area that could have given some form of meaning to the horrifying acts being carried out by the recently returned. Terror is tied to emotions and Pet Semetary forgets this by focusing on only what the viewer can see.
Available now for digital rental, Pet Semetary was wildly popular upon release, due to some amazing makeup effects and a terrifying performance by Andrew Hubatsek. If you're interested in an 80's nostalgia piece during the Halloween season and are alright with your horror being purely visual, then Pet Semetary will delight, if only for the scenes you remember from your childhood. If you're a first time viewer, come for the special effects and leave any semblance of depth at the door and you'll survive....mostly.