Sometimes, the original is better…
Stephen King’s 2019 remake of his cult classic Pet Sematary might just test the theory that the originals are always better…
First, I just wanna emphasize, it is in no way shape or form fair to say that I’m a Stephen King fan. Although, his plots are absolutely fantastic. What really gets to me is probably the fact that he puts too much fluff in his narrative. If it wasn’t going to take me 3 hours to get through one chapter of Duma Key, I would have finished it already. It came out 11 years ago. I put it down after 3 weeks. But, I’ll give him credit for his film adaptations. Visually, they are spectacular, they’re undeniably disturbing, and in some cases, just dumb sad.
Being the horror fan that I am though, naturally I was pretty psyched about the Pet Sematary remake. King had already revamped IT in 2017, which gave us more of a storyline with “The Losers Club”. I liked it. It was good. It wasn’t as good as the original, but how many remakes are?
The original Pet Sematary came out in 1989. It was pretty somber. I mean, you had Gage, a bright-eyed little kid who had to be no older than 2 years-old, get hit by a damn truck on the highway, at full speed. We sort of saw that coming. They drove past like bats out of hell.
King has 3 children of his own, two sons and a daughter. He’s never lost them, but he sure captured what it was like to lose them. I don’t have any kinds of my own, but I could feel the pain of losing a kid like Gage. He was a baby more appropriately. His little “uh-oh,” and “I love you daddy,” moments were so precious. For a character that said so few words, he punched you in the heart pretty hard.
So the remake still has Gage and all, but now you have Ellie and she’s more of a driving force in the film. It’s not to say that Ellie wasn’t a person in the original Pet Sematary, but it was pretty obvious that King wanted us to focus on Gage. She is a predictable, mature for her age, a unique child. But, the directors didn’t go about this in a unique way. Of course she is outgoing and bonds with Jud. Maybe I’m speaking from a deep seeded experience, but I see highly intellectual kid characters always befriending adults. She’s smart, everyone loves her, and she’s so peculiar to her parents. Her loss would have to be a tragedy right (spoiler alert)? It’s built up to make it sad, a loss to the world. Sorry Ellie, but you’re a pretty common archetype. Her innocence was stripped long before death took it.
Stephen King has always been good for going where he shouldn’t go. He killed Gage, Georgie, that kid from Stand by Me, and let’s not forget Salem’s Lot with poor old Danny Glick and his kid brother Ralphie. You just can’t mess with Kurt Bartlow. Anyway, King doesn’t care if you’re a cute little pumpkin patch kid. This movie sure cared though, and quite honestly, don’t bother showing us Ellie’s corpse if you’re gonna imprecisely portray what someone looks like after getting hit by a truck at full speed. They didn’t show Gage. We saw him after he came back as a little demon monster. But at that point, the mortician fixed him up for sure. No, I didn’t want to see that. But don’t paint an unreal picture and glamorize death. You know damn well she probably wouldn’t even have a recognizable face. Her death came off as super theatrical, not really giving us enough time to say “wow that’s just horrible. My goodness that poor girl…guess it’ll be a closed casket funeral.”
It’s harder when you have a more grown up character. Gage didn’t have to work hard to win the hearts of viewers. Ellie was already approaching adolescents. The original Ellie was way younger in more than one way. Her mentality screamed childhood, even while dealing with night terrors from the death of her brother. I suppose the idea of killing a young child doesn’t fit the bill in 2019 like it did in 1989. Ellie was at best, a young adult in a child’s body.
Jud Crandall served his original purpose. He showed Louis Creed (played by Jason Clarke) the Indian burial ground that’s far beyond the Pet Sematary. Fred Gwynne played the original Jud who offered a father voice to the film, even to Dr. Creed. Though his insights into burying things in the sour ground was a bad judgement call, he cared for this family,and he did so selflessly.
But something irked me intensely this time. Jud just didn’t seem very… mysterious, and for the love of God, he was missing his prolific North Eastern accent. We knew very little of the original Jud. He only told us that he buried a long lost pup in the burial grounds, only for it to come back and attack his mother. Other than that, he was an old timer that lived in the house he was born. But he wasn’t dry. He was awesome. You knew this man to be wise, tough, but he seemed almost too caring to me. Usually, anyone who comes off wise and, fatherly, yet somewhat distant deserves a papa in front of their name. Not this Jud.
Crandall is played by John Lithgow (you might remember him from the 90’s sitcom 3rd Rock From the Sun) in the remake. And no offense to Lithgow, but there was no cool accent. “Sometimes, dead is BETTUH.” But it’ll suffice. To what little we know, Jud had a wife who died of an unnamed illness. She eventually comes back as an apparition that’s really Gage, and kills him. She blames Jud for her death which is left unexplained. The approach at extending Jud’s story was very shallow, and they should have just stuck to the basics. Don’t write a story if it’s going to be half-assed. Keep it mysterious or make it known.
Even with that unintentionally minute detail to the character, we still knew more than we needed to ,and because of that, Jud became vulnerable far too soon in the film, even falling victim to a sedative slipped to him by Dr. Creed. With death as an underlying (though very strongly represented) theme in the film, Jud’s death is supposed to show that even he, a strong wise old man, is not safe from death.
The original Crandstall knew who was in his house, not possessing a visible amount of fear on his face. He walked through his wooden house calling out Gage’s name, while branding a weapon. New Jud showed less resilience, giving into his ghost wife’s (or Gage’s rather) gimmicks.
I figured the directors, producers, and whoever were trying to win everyone over with a spin on an original. But the attempts to stab at it’s viewers emotions fell flat. It’s always sad when a young child dies in a movie, but why should we care? Her character too felt incredibly underdeveloped.
That was the major plot change, to kill Ellie instead of Gage, and it was incredibly ineffective. The rest of the movie attempted to stay true to the original film with more twists and turns. Even the song at the end was a cover of the Ramones Pet Sematary played at the end of the 1989 film.
Gage was actually the last to survive and whether his dead wendigo family ever put him in their ranks will forever be left untold, unless they make a sequel. Instead of a broken and defeated Dr. Creed at the end, it was a happy dead family, including Church who was euthanized in the first film, slowly approaching poor Gage who was locked in the family sedan.
I’m expecting more Stephen King remakes, but hopefully, they’ll take better care if they’re going to remake the best of his collection. It’s a shame that this one fell flat. They took an already disturbing, morbid, sad story, and turned it into a skeleton. I needed more from the characters, the ambiance, everything. 5/10. Prove me wrong. Most of the time, the original is better.