Pet Sematary II (1992)

SEPTEMBER 15, 2018


After I had my kid I vowed to never watch Pet Sematary again until he was too old to be getting hit by cars (if he gets hit by one as an adult it's not something I can blame myself for; it just means he's just a dumbass), but Pet Sematary II was fair game, at least as far as I could recall. I saw the film theatrically in 1992 (and vividly remember having trailers for Dr. Giggles, Candyman, Hellraiser III, and Innocent Blood - none of which I got to see until video, boo) and a couple times on cable after that, but it had been at least 20 years since my last viewing, and couldn't remember much beyond Clancy Brown using a dirt bike tire to splatter a bully's head. I also recalled that it was about a father and son coping with the loss of the mom, but couldn't remember which of them (if either) put her in the titular locale. Needless to say, I definitely couldn't remember if it was any good (seems if I loved it as a kid I would have watched it more than 3-4 total times), so after playing PS4 (Spider-Man, specifically - it's so good!) for a few hours and finding it while scrolling around Amazon Prime, I loaded it up, figuring I'd fall asleep and would finish it the next day on the off chance it seemed worth the revisit.

But it was pretty good! And, much more surprising, I didn't fall asleep! I eventually shut it off around the halfway point because I basically *had* to go to bed by then (it was like 2 am), finishing it the next day. A few things came back, like a bit where Anthony Edwards (as Ed Furlong's dad and the town veterinarian) tells some little girls where to find some free kittens to adopt, only for them to find the little furballs all torn to pieces by Zowie (a wolfdog that takes the Church the Cat role of "pet that comes back evil but teaches us no lesson whatsoever" this time around), but for the most part it was kind of like seeing a movie for the first time, which is always fun. It's kind of the only good thing about aging, really - if I wait long enough I can be re-surprised by a movie I already saw. I totally forgot about the Marjorie character, who is a sort of love interest for Edwards' character, and thus (spoiler for 26 year old movie ahead!) got to be pretty stunned when she got offed in the climax, figuring she'd get to do something motherly to save Furlong and maybe hint at being a stepmom down the road. Nope, she's dead! You can't ever be happy, Anthony Edwards!

Curiously, the plot is somewhat similar to Return to Salem's Lot, which is another sequel to a Stephen King movie based on a (non-sequelized) book. Both of them have a father and son moving to the town where the events of the first film occurred, with the son falling in with the town's deadly secrets and the dad trying to save him before it's too late. And once again there are no returning characters, though I guess that's not too surprising here since pretty much everyone died in the original. The only exception was Ellie, the daughter, and apparently the original idea for this film was to present her as a teenager, but the execs weren't sure anyone would be into a movie about a teenage girl, which is pretty funny if you think about the fact that the tradition of making Stephen King movies began with a movie about a teenage girl. So we get Furlong, because at that point execs were more convinced people would see a movie about him (after the box office failure of this and Brainscan, they realized that no, we would not).

However, they do work in a character that was left out of the first movie: Church's vet, Dr. Jolander. It's funny, because even though I haven't read the book (I tried, when I was like 10 or 11, after seeing the movie - but found it too hard to follow. I'll finish it someday, swear!) there was something about him, from the first second he appears, that made me feel he was a legit King character, unlike all of the others in the film who were created specifically for it. He's even introduced the way one might bring back a fan favorite character for a cameo, so even though it's a bit clunky I like how they at least made a good effort into tying it into the first film and King's world as a whole. The only other real reference to the first film is when the kids bike past the abandoned Creed house, and of course the "Sematary" itself, which looks about the same to my eyes even though the film was shot in Georgia instead of Maine.

Of course, the two films share a director in Mary Lambert, so it makes sense she'd go the extra mile to tie the two films together however she could. And she does a fine job again here; even Furlong is better than usual, and she gets a terrific performance from Clancy Brown, who starts off as a typical Brown character (authoritarian asshole) but after he is killed and revived, he's kind of like a goofy Frankenstein's monster of sorts. There's a great little scene where he's at the dinner table with his stepson and Furlong (the kid's bestie), shoveling food into his mouth and opening wide like a little kid would, making the boys laugh - it almost seems like he came back "good" since he was an asshole to begin with. But before long he starts killing people (he also rapes his wife, who is understandably not in the mood to fool around with an ice cold dude sporting a gaping neck wound), killing that theory, though it is kind of fun to see a human more or less making their way through life again, something the first film never had the chance to do since Gage was in killer mode almost instantly and the movie ended when the mom returned.

The one big blunder is that the "revive the mom" subplot kicks in so late, you wonder if they had a different ending or simply forgot to film some scenes along the way. You've practically forgotten about her by the time she's revived, and I don't know if it's just Furlong's subpar acting or bad writing, but I don't buy him teaming up with Zombie Clancy Brown (who is the one that exhumes the body and seemingly doesn't want to harm him for whatever reason) or seemingly choosing her over his normally living dad. Apparently there's a longer version out there with more gore (a bootleg, not an official release) but I'm curious if there are some character beats that got dropped along the way as well. Just seems like a lot of folks turn on a dime with regards to their actions, as if it WAS based on a book, a much longer one that had the time to pace these arcs more carefully.

Otherwise, the only other issue is that the Ramones song during the credits isn't as good, though there's a solid Dramarama track ("I've Got Spies") and L7's "Shitlist", beating Natural Born Killers by two years. I can only assume it was the general disinterest in horror during that period that kept the movie from being a hit (indeed, of all the films I listed above, it outgrossed all but Candyman), because in its low-key way it really does offer an ideal sequel, retaining the basic idea and keeping a consistent vibe, but offering new ideas and opening up the mythology a bit to plant the seeds for future installments should they come to pass. I don't know if it could have been a long-running franchise like the Children of the Corn films, but come on, even Mangler got two sequels - we shoulda gotten one more trip to Ludlow! Oh well. Maybe if the upcoming adaptation (coming next year, 30 years after the original) is a big hit they can try again. But if not, at least we have this one, which is better than it has any right to be.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. I just found the film too depressing. Too many people die!


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