Monday, October 31, 2011

Ten Statements About....PET SEMATARY (1989)

Denise Crosby...scarier live or undead?  Discuss....
"I'll bite, Judd. What's the bottom of the truth?"
"Well, sometimes dead is better. The person you put up there ain't the person who comes back."

1) I don't care how nice she acts, Denise Crosby always looks sinister...which I guess is appropriate for this film, huh?

2) Boy, does Dale Midkiff's Louis come off as a douche, even when he's trying to be nice. I suspect that's not so much the character but the way Midkiff affects this very level, flat monotone when acting that makes it seem like that.

3) Thank goodness for Fred Gwynne's Judd. While he is as understated as both Crosby and Midkiff, Gwynne does give the film a certain texture and life when he is onscreen. And the thing I find the most fascinating is how you never know Judd's true motivations--whether he introduces Louis to the MicMac burial grounds out of genuine concern for his new friend...or something darker.

"You need to commit sui--no, wait...that was the other movie."
4) I wonder if King had intentionally created Brad Greenquist's Victor to reflect the role Griffin Dunne had in An American Werewolf In London...because I can see the parallels very clearly.

5) While I don't think Crosby sells the speech that accompanies it very well, Rachel's revelation about her sister's death is probably the most harrowing sequence of the film. Not only because it's one of the rare times we see emotion in both Crosby and Midkiff, but because the make-up effect used to depict Zelda literally makes her into something strange and alien and yes, nightmarish.

6) I find it interesting how, even with its R rating, director Mary Lambert uses great restraint when dealing with Gage's death. The way the brief glimpses of the aftermath of the acccident give way to a succession of snapshots from Gage's life and the tasteful way the funeral scene is handled (if I remember the book correctly, Gage's body actually falls out of the casket during the scuffle between Louis and his father) makes us feel for the life that was lost and not dwell on the horror of his death...for that's still to come.

7) The scene between Judd and Louis after Gage's death, where Judd reveals why 'Dead is Better,' and conveys his own fears that he might have put things in motion that led to Gage's death, illustrates more than anything how different Midkiff and Gwynne are as actors. There seems to be genuine feeling in Judd's voice as he tries to dissuade Louis that leads logically to his breaking down in the end, whereas Louis retains that same even keel, that same baseline that doesn't waver. Maybe Midkiff felt he was trying to convey how Louis was dead inside emotionally, but since he doesn't waver from that same note throughout the film, we get no sense of the change in the character's outlook.

8) I like how, during the sequence where Rachel decides she needs to come back to check on Louis, Lambert does several compositions where that creepy portrait of Zelda--with a black cat that resembles Church at her feet--towers over her, as if to remind us of how in this film's world, screwing with death and the dying has its consequences.

Apparently, Gage likes to play rough...terminally so...
9) That succession of scenes at the beginning of Act Three--Rachel's nightmare about Zelda, the optical effects trying to scare Louis into turning back, the fading and reappearing Victor--really seem weirdly out of place given how low key the film has been up until this point. It isn't even a sign of things ramping up, as we're back to more subtle scares sans special effects once Gage comes back.

10) The thing that makes Back-From-The-Dead Gage so truly terrifying is that yes, he's a malevolent entity, but still with the mindset of a young child who doesn't comprehend life and death yet, someone who probably truly believes that slicing up old men and former Star Trek: The Next Generation actresses consitutes playtime...which makes his admonishment of 'No fair,' when Louis gains the upper hand a degree of unease.

Overall...although it does suffer quite a bit from dating with time and a pair of central performances that needed a bit more life and nuance, this is still a more or less restrained adaptation of a King novel...and still may stand as one of the better ones.

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