“Pet Sematary”

Both the 2019 version, and the original 1989 movie!

Plot

Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, the Creed family, headed by patriarch and doctor Louis (Dale Midkiff 1989, Jason Clarke 2019), move to the country side in Maine to start a quieter non-city life.  What they don’t know is the wonderful large house they’ve purchased is next to a road that is frequented by large trucks that careen down said road at high speeds.  Nearby is an a rather ominous plot of land the local children use as a pet cemetery (labeled with the misspelling found in the title), the majority of whose occupants were sent there by the trucks.  The cemetery holds some dark secrets our family will discover over the course of the story, through various horrific means and the ever looming threat of the trucks towards the children and the family cat.

Cast / Acting

Part 1989 2019
Louis Creed Dale Midkiff Jason Clarke
Rachel Creed Denise Crosby Amy Seimetz
Ellie Creed Blaze Berdahl Jeté Laurence
Gage Creed Miko Hughes Hugo and Lucas Lavoie
Jud Crandall Fred Gwynne John Lithgow
Victor Pascow Brad Greenquist Obssa Ahmed

So which did the better job?  Well, that depends on the part and, to some extent, the script.

For example, for the part of Victor Pascow, I have to say the winner is Brad Greenquist.  His Victor was both ominous and caring as he attempts to steer the family to the right choices.  Obssa Ahmed might be equally as good…but the movie didn’t give him enough to do.  The part of Victor is simply present in the 2019 version, with some key plot points remaining to an extent, but barely explored compared to the 1989 film.

For the children, Ellie and Gage Creed, it is also hard to decide, because both versions swap some of the plot points around.  I will attempt to avoid spoilers, but suffice to say that things that happened to Ellie in the 2019 version happened to Gage in the 1989 version, and vice versa.  A role reversal.  [I assume the 1989 version is more accurate to the novel (which I have not read…yet) since King himself wrote that screenplay.  Why the changes were made in 2019 we can only speculate.]  Nevertheless, I will give extra special points here to Miko Hughes whose Gage you will likely remember long after seeing the 1989 film.

Louis Creed.  Jason Clarke wins, hands down.  Midkiff’s performance in the 1989 version is lacking.

Rachel Creed.  A hard one.  Amy Simetz’s Rachel is haunted and weary, her rough childhood still holding her back.  Denise Crosby’s Rachel is still tormented by her past, but also holds her own as a self-assured woman.  I think I prefer Crosby’s portrayal just a smidge more.

Jud Crandall.  A tie.  Fred Gwynne’s lay-it-on-thick take on a Maine accent may be a bit much (though I have met people who talk that way), but his beloved performance is often what brings people back to the 1989 version (“Sum tahms dead is bet-uh!”).  Of course, Academy Award nominated John Lithgow is no slouch.  While he doesn’t attempt to force an accent, his performance is nuanced and believable.  So, I’m not going to choose a winner here.

Special Mention: The credits list multiple cats for the part of family pet Church in the 2019 version.  Thus, I don’t know which cat was in which scenes, but props to the trainer — the Internet tells me it is Melissa Millett of London, Ontario, Canada — of those cats, because man they were appropriately creepy, and utilized multiple facial expressions to boot.

Special Effects

Well, not much of a contest, really.  I mean, techniques and technology get better with time, so, as expected, the 2019 movie’s effects are considerably better than the 1989 version.

Scares

For my taste, the story presented should be more of a slow burn, psychological horror experience more than a jump out and get you story.  The kind that makes you ask yourself the questions the characters are experiencing.  Would you react the same?  Would you make the same decisions?

The 2019 version, however, decided it needed more jump scares.  It interjected a few needless scares here and there that could have been omitted entirely without affecting the story.  It cheapened things for me a bit.

That isn’t to say the 1989 movie doesn’t have a jump scare or two, as it does.  But the jump scares in it were more seamlessly woven into the story, I felt.  The 1989 version also, I think, relayed the horrors or what the “sematary” is capable of much more effectively.  It evoked more of a sense of dread, whereas the 2019 version went more for the monstrous side of things.

And then there’s the endings.  Here again, I much prefer the 1989 version of events, rather than the 2019.  And to get into this discussion, I would most certainly need spoilers, so feel free to ask me about it sometime after you’ve seen both movies, or if you don’t care to have an ending spoiled.

Final Thoughts

Both movies certainly have their merits.

While the 1989 version directed by Mary Lambert for her horror feature debut has some janky acting by its leading man, and some dated special effects, it still remains a classic of the horror genre.  Some may disagree, but I really enjoy Fred Gwynne’s performance here as neighbor Jud, who knows all the local secrets.  As I already said, little Miko Hughes gives a performance that is creepy and lingers with you.  It’s well worth watching.

The 2019 version directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer is certainly entertaining enough.  But it seems to fall into the modern horror trope of having to escalate everything and throwing more and more at the audience in an attempt to elicit the scares.  It probably didn’t really need to do either.  The subject matter could be disturbing enough on its own.

I did enjoy the character of Victor in the original.  As I said above, there wasn’t enough of him in the 2019 version to really compare.  But in the 1989 version, he is definitely the conscience of the story, the one who wants things to turn out well, but can only do so much to steer things in the right direction.

Jud is more of an enabler in both films.  While he is certainly one of the primary reasons things go the way they do, in the new version a supernatural influence is hinted at that steers Jud’s decisions.  In the 1989 original, it’s all Jud.  He does what he does either out of a naivete or just disregard for some of the consequences.  This is more powerful to me than being steered to make a decision.  It leads to a much more concerned Jud trying to stop things from getting too much worse in the final act.  In the 2019 film, again, trying to avoid spoilers here as much as possible, Louis simply, and somewhat out of character, makes sure Jud cannot intervene.  Again, for me, it lessens the impact.

With all that said…

1989 Final Grade: B-

2019 Final Grade: C+

 

 

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