AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 100 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Following the accidental death of his actress mother Renee, 13-year-old Jeff Matthews and his veterinarian father Chase move to Ludlow, Maine, his mother’s hometown. There, he’s bullied at school lby Clyde Parker but befriends Drew Gilbert who’s stepfather Sheriff Gus Gilbert rules his household with an iron hand. When Gus shoots and kills his beloved dog Zowie, Drew asks Jeff to help him bury it in the nearby Micmac burial ground to see if the rumors are true that it can resurrect the dead. Zowie does indeed return but is uncharacteristically fierce, even though his gunshot wound refuses to heal and he has no heartbeat…..
So as promised, though a little better later than I intended, here’s my review of Pet Sematary 2, a sequel that seems to have a pretty bad reputation, meaning that I was kind of expecting the worst from my first viewing of the film. In fact, I rather enjoyed as a more action packed, campier, more typically ‘80s [despite the year it was made] take on the premise that does refer back to the events of the original several times but comes across as a loose remake – and to me that’s fine because the approach and the tone are quite different. Yes, it’s still really about death and dealing with death but there’s far less emphasis on the misery, the morbidity that enveloped the first film and made it so compelling and in the end rather gut-wrenching despite some very poor elements in the script and bits of crass humour [that bloody ghost] that felt out of place. Instead we largely have a film which is at first in a reasonably sober vein but around half way through adopts a goofier tone where it’s often hard to know whether we’re supposed to laugh or be scared. However, that’s not entirely a bad thing [well if you think about it the two are really closely linked, didn’t Alfred Hitchcock, when told that an audience laughed at Strangers On A Train, reply that it was because they were actually frightened? – and he would know] if the result entertains. There are certainly some poorly done moments in the film and some really dumb things happen – if you think as I did that people behaved like idiots in the Pet Sematary remake than wait until you see what some folk do here – but I have a slight feeling that the viewer wasn’t really supposed to take much of it seriously which for me makes the idiocy far more acceptable.
Probably more than any other genre, the horror film has been one for sequels ever since the ‘30s, it’s certainly not a recent phenomenon. Paramount was understandably anxious to follow up on the success of Pet Sematary with a sequel and invited Mary Lambert to return to direct. Her original concept for the film had Ellie Creed [the sole surviving member of the Creed family from the events of 1988] as the central character, the only survivor from the first film, who tries to start a new life but just can’t not be tempted to revive the dead when more fatalities occur. However, Paramount was not confident in making the film’s lead a teenage girl, something which probably seems ridiculous today, but it was a different time then and sexism was still rife [though I personally think that things have gone too far the other way right now – though this is neither the time nor the place for a rant] in the film industry. The story was completely rewritten with new characters and a male protagonist by Richard Outten, with later uncredited revisions by David S. Goyer. Lambert was set to film in Maine as before, but production was switched to the similar looking Coweta County, Georgia because Maine was suffering from a bad winter. The budget was rather tighter than before though Paramount didn’t interfere this time – that instead was done by the MPAA who demanded 20 seconds worth of gory shots to be removed, though a workprint exists with them in. Stephen King didn’t like the film and had his name removed from the credits, while box office was lukewarm and the movie went straight to video in the UK.
There’s far less of a spooky atmosphere this time around, though the opening title track through silhouettes of leafless trees in a forest sets a good tone and then we’re in a Gothic castle as a woman walks down some stairs, candle in hand, to a coffin. It’s actually a scene from a film being shot, and the actress is supposed to be startled by a hand coming out of the coffin, but the man wielding the prop [which is – trivia fans – from the first version of IT] keeps missing because he can’t see anything in the darkness where he’s hiding. It’s rather a good reminder of how hard it often used to be to carry out the seemingly simplest of things in terms of special effects before digital took over. The lady is, of course Renee Matthews, but a terrible accident results in her being electrocuted to death. Now here is where you’ll immediately see what I was talking about earlier – what should be horrifying is kind of amusing the way she jerks rapidly back and forth, in one shot even in slow motion. You half expect Vincent Price to pop up. Did the filmmakers intend this effect? Who knows. We then get the first of several instances of deliberate foreshadowing much like before with husband Chase treating a sick dog before Chase is informed. Father and son move, and, yes, the new locale does look similar and they’ve tried fairly hard to make the pet cemetery and the Micmic burial ground look the same, though I couldn’t miss the fact that this burial ground seems situated much lower. This time the house has a pretty young female housekeeper Marjorite, though thankfully there’s no romance between her and Chase which is what I expected. First day at school and Jeff is bullied by Clyde, who grabs his new kitten [that’ll teach him from sneaking an animal into school] and rides off with it on his bike, though at least Jeff fights back, something that impresses Drew.
This time we have a dog dying, courtesy of the gun of Drew’s dad Sheriff Gus Gilbert who’s pretty mean to his wife and son, and who even taunts Chase when he reminds him that he once dated Renne with the words: “Prom homecoming, whole nine yards”. He’s played by Clancy Brown, so you know that you’re in for lots of scenery chewing. Now one might ask why Drew only knows the pet cemetery as an old ghost story, yet later knows that where the burial ground is and how the ritual is supposed to be carried out, and one might also ask why Jeff and Drew seem able to easily dig a grave in a few minutes whereas before it took the best part of all evening to dig a grave for Gage. In fact one might ask even more questions later, like how two kids can drag an adult body all the way from another graveyard to the Micmac burial ground. It’s easy to get carried away in this way, but then the film does go off the rails – but not in an unenjoyable fashion – after the zombie Zowie, sporting red pupils which are certainly an improvement on those big yellow eyes that Gage sported, saves Drew from being beaten up by his dog by ripping part of his neck out. For some reason Drew decides to bring his nasty father back to life, and this is one of the problems with this film. In the original, you really felt why characters would want to resurrect the dead, but here it’s glossed over. Gus does indeed return, giving Brown an excuse to chew the scenery even more, but for a while Gus seems rather nice. Okay, he gets off to a terrible start by raping Ned, a scene perhaps thankfully drastically reduced from its original form, but then plays happy families even though he smells bad and lurches about all over the place. Surely the intended reaction was laughter, which makes the fact that almost all of the subsequent plot developments rely on zombie Gus doing totally incomprehensible things just because he’s a zombie seem a little less lazy – though one scene involving a visit to a taxidermist’s feels especially random and just plonked in there. And then there’s that sex dream where Renne turns into – Zowie.
By the time we get to the climax, one kind of accepts things like somebody melting like they’re made of wax and somebody electrocuting somebody else by sticking a live power line in his mouth while not getting electrocuted himself. As as for why somebody pointlessly decides to start a fire – because it’s cliche, that’s why! While it’s interesting to have the teenage boy seem to go totally off the rails, the really serious side of things is mostly reduced to the nicely lit loft which Jeff has designed as a tribute to his mother, and this exchange: “I’ve never had anyone die before, but I guess you get used to it”, “No, you never get over it”. Epitomising the movie far more is the immortal: “Why did you dig up my wife”? “Cos I wanted to f*** her”. Some may find shots of ripped apart kittens, skinned rabbits, wounded dogs and an eye being sown into a stuffed cat to be unnecessary, and they were no doubt designed purely to provoke the viewer, but then there’s quite a bit of gore in this movie, even if you can tell where shots could be missing like a head smashing by a rotating bicycle. I was involved enough to flinch when a drill was placed on a bullet wound even if you don’t see really see it. The grisly makeup effects are good [though why the hell does one zombie look like she stepped out of a friggin salon?] and Lambert certainly keeps things moving in deliberate contrast to the first film which was intentionally slow and moody. It’s really the acting of Edward Furlong and Jason McGuire whICH seriously let the side down. Furlong in particular seems drunk or worse throughout, registering little more than drowsiness despite the extreme emotional states that his character ought to be in and the sight of various dead people coming back from the grave, not all of them expected. The movie world certainly didn’t suffer from his leaving the acting profession after two more films. At least a bearded Anthony Edwards is very good as Chase.
Mark Governor’s synthesiser score is rather low-rent but backs the mayhem okay, and the thing looks reasonably good throughout though there’s less creepy exploiting of the locations – but then again, right from when one jump scare involving a cat seems to be deliberately thrown away in the editing, you know that this one isn’t really trying to startle or terrify despite all the sights it shows you. I guess that you could call it a stupid movie – after all, it’s a movie that thinks it’s being so clever by having the character played by Darlanne Fluegel watch a scene from Once Upon A Time In America that she’s in that it has Chase watch the very same scene much later. But from what I’ve just watched, most of the evidence points to the filmmakers being aware of the silliness on offer and even deliberately going for it in the first place, just setting out to offer a bloody good time while still just about maintaining an appropriate undercurrent of sadness and fear. As with the Pet Sematary remake, much of the heart and soul of the original is lost with this sequel, and I can’t really rate it any higher than I have done because it’s far from an artistic success – but I reckon that this will become a Guilty Pleasure of mine that I’ll watch far more often than the 2019 effort – or even dare I say it the original.