Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Mary Lambert
Writer: Richard Outten
Producer: Ralph S. Singleton
Stars: Edward Furlong, Anthony Edwards, Clancy Brown, Jared Rushton, Darlanne Fluegel, Jason McGuire, Sarah Trigger, Lisa Waltz
Two boys face frightening consequences when they exploit the power of a cursed burial ground to resurrect dead parents.
I avoided ¡°Pet Sematary II¡± for nearly 30 years. I didn¡¯t just stay away from the film. I abstained from reading anything about it too. Wouldn¡¯t even pick up the box in my neighborhood video store either. In my mind, the movie simply did not exist.
I refused to acknowledge ¡°Pet Sematary Two¡± because Stephen King told me not to see it. Not directly. In an interview published in Fangoria #113 (June 1992, page 30), King said this about the sequel: ¡°I read the script ¨C or as much of it as I could stand ¨C and I read enough to realize it was exactly like the first Pet Sematary with different characters. I don¡¯t approve of the movie and I didn¡¯t want it made. I hope that the people who read FANGORIA, the people who read my books and anyone who likes my stuff will stay away from the picture. And this is one that I will not see myself.¡±
Stephen King may as well have been speaking inside my ear. To a teenager who worshipped at his altar, King¡¯s wish was my command. Invoking my Fangoria fandom to boot practically made it my solemn duty as a horror fan to shun ¡°Pet Sematary 2¡± like it had been MeToo¡¯ed before MeToo was even a movement.
Time changes everything of course. I can¡¯t imagine King ever came around to become curious about the sequel he successfully lobbied to have his name removed from. More recent rumblings from fright film fans were reevaluating the movie in more favorable lights however. I figured the decade changing three times meant I¡¯d honored my 1992 vow long enough and I could finally give ¡°Pet Sematary II¡± a go. Stephen King would forgive me, I¡¯m sure.
Now that I¡¯ve been left unimpressed by my belated first viewing all these years later, it would be easy to say something glib like, ¡°I should have stayed stubborn and kept my commitment to King¡¯s casual cancellation.¡± ¡°Pet Sematary Two¡± isn¡¯t necessarily bad to the point of wishing I¡¯d never seen it. At the very least though, the film¡¯s humdrum nature means it¡¯s likely I¡¯ll forget almost everything about it in due time, returning me to square one with a mental vacancy where the movie still may as well not exist.
From the positive words I¡¯ve read from contemporary critics, it appears that what works for ¡°Pet Sematary II¡¯s¡± cult following is precisely what turns me off. 1989¡¯s ¡°Pet Sematary¡± impressively holds up as a consistently tense thriller built on depressingly dark dread and unsettling moods. ¡°Pet Sematary Two¡± goes, intentionally I assume, in an opposite direction atmospherically. It feels barely related to Stephen King¡¯s works and worlds. If it added any more gruesomely grim comedy, it would be about as tonally different from the first film as Adam West¡¯s Batman is different from Christian Bale¡¯s.
The film¡¯s fans regularly point to Clancy Brown¡¯s portrayal of small town sheriff and all around a-hole Gus Gilbert as a big plus. We¡¯re accustomed to seeing Brown playing big screen baddies in imposing roles. So watching him ham it up as a zombie entertaining two teenagers by chewing mashed potatoes with his mouth open is supposed to slap palms to knees. Maybe I¡¯d find more humor in Brown turning into a comic caricature if that same zombie didn¡¯t rape his wife just eight minutes earlier. The line between humor and horror isn¡¯t toed deftly here at all.
I get what the movie means to do with scenarios like a sex fantasy where a nude women has the head of a rabid dog that looks like a prop from a state fair funhouse, or a retired veterinarian turned taxidermist popping glass eyeballs out of a stuffed pug. But this design to apply a lighter hand does more than differentiate ¡°Pet Sematary II¡± from its predecessor¡¯s texture. It puts the movie on a plane where the drastic swing in style from one film to the next separates the sequel too far from what made the original successful. Mary Lambert probably didn¡¯t want to dwell on another 90 minutes of intense dourness. But the two movies are so magnetically opposed in content and context that I don¡¯t believe I could tell the same person directed both films if the credits didn¡¯t confirm it.
Things really go haywire with downgraded production values. ¡°Pet Sematary Two¡± looks shockingly cheap for a multimillion-dollar studio movie, a lot like an episode of ¡°Friday the 13th: The Series¡± or a similar show. Between the sudden camera zooms, equally sudden bouts of slo-mo, and weirdly heavy reliance on needle drops, there¡¯s an odd hodge-podge of styles in play that were already dated in 1992. Never mind how far away the music score studded with electric guitar riffs is from the children¡¯s la-la-la¡¯s that were so creepy in the first film.
We¡¯re presumably meant to be mourning the pet cemetery¡¯s victims when they appear as smiling portraits in fuzzy-edged side circles superimposed over the final tracking shot. Instead, I¡¯m thinking of how ¡°The Love Boat¡± introduced celebrity guest stars the same way, wondering why a horror movie would want to look like a syndicated TV rerun.
A teenager struggling with the tragic loss of a parent should be an easy enough emotion to communicate thematically. Yet nearly none of the story¡¯s drama connects as closely as it could, certainly nowhere near as close as Gage Creed¡¯s death did. Because we spend overtime on side arcs involving another boy and his abusive stepfather, a bully popping up with pranks more often than is essential, and a housekeeper who only serves as another body to drop, we aren¡¯t afforded enough opportunities to link with Edward Furlong and Anthony Edwards as a family. ¡°Pet Sematary II¡± is just cold to the touch in all the wrong places.
I don¡¯t expect much from a script that includes three dream sequences to jam in stale scares. But with a mythology as rich as the one Stephen King wrote, I do expect more imagination than a 75% retread of concepts we¡¯ve already seen explored. Playing some of them for laughs this time around doesn¡¯t cut it. The more it sits in my mind, the more I think I should have stayed stubborn and kept my commitment to King¡¯s casual cancellation after all.
Review Score: 45