**Needless to say there are spoilers in this article so steer clear until you’ve watched the new film.**
As I mentioned in my last post, my book review of Pet Semetary by Stephen King, my friends and I decided to make a little Stephen King book club. Every month or so, we would read one of his books and watch the screen adaptations because, yes, we are massive nerds and yes, we love horror. So we started with this one because a brand new adaptation just hit the big screens and it felt like fate. So we read the book and every one of us loved it, read my previous post for the full review. So far so good. Now, we were going to watch the two adaptations. One from 1989 starring Dale Midkiff and Star Trek Next generation’s Denise Crosby, before venturing to the cinema to see the new release starring Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz and the beloved John Lithgow. They are both based on the same book so they won’t be that dissimilar, right? WRONG! The two films were worlds apart in both quality, performance and horror, so I thought I should write a review, comparing the two films to both the original book and each other. So here we have it, the ultimate showdown…who are you routing for?
Age before beauty, so let’s start with the 1989 adaptation. I had seen this once as a child, many, many moons ago (I won’t say how long because I don’t want to reveal just how old I am) but truthfully I barely remembered it. Not the best sign I suppose, but at least it meant I was going into it with no preconceptions. I can forgive 80s horror movies for their terrible special effects because they give me nostalgic vibes and sometimes, the way the directors and creators have got around issues with budget and technological constraints can sometimes produce what is often scarier and more tense than the all out CGI we have today. What I cannot forgive is terrible acting. Every single actor in this movie, with the exception of Brad Greenquist who played the ill fated Pascow, was beyond wooden. Honestly, it was like they weren’t even trying. The worst culprits were by far the main characters Louis Creed, played by Dale Midkiff and his wife Rachel, played by Denise Crosby. I’m not sure if they were just phoning it in for the pay cheque or they are honestly just terrible for the roles, but either way it was like watching shop mannequins fumble their way through.
Not a great start, right? But maybe, the script was good? Nope, not particularly. Look, I get that this is a big old book to squeeze into a ninety minute movie, so of course not everything will make it in there but what I have learned over the years is that you can practically throw the original book away as long as the movie captures the books vibe and atmosphere (see Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House for the perfect example of this) but unfortunately this adaptation captured neither. One of the biggest issues with this film may actually be that it stuck TOO CLOSELY to the original book, choosing to go down the same murderous, psycho toddler route. There are two major problems with this: 1) Anyone can overpower a toddler, even a supernatural one and 2) Toddler’s aren’t scary, they are in fact adorable and the one chosen to play Gage in this film, actor Miko Hughes, is particularly cute. No matter how much he attempts to scowl and growl, I find myself cooing and awing at every shot of his chubby cheeks and wide eyes. A scalpel has never been as sweet as when it is being held aloft by this child’s chubby hand. The lesson here is, what works in a book doesn’t necessarily translate well to screen. The movie’s exposition is also ridiculously rushed so it feels like a poor adaptation rather than a movie in its own right. Lesson number two, if you can’t fit it all in Lord of the Rings epic trilogy style, then learn to edit.
One of the other things that really bothered me was the set, specifically the forest beyond the deadfall. In the book, a dark, otherworldly, misty forest is described whereas this film gives us a very pleasant national park perfect for a Boy Scout’s nature trail. It just all felt rather half assed to be honest. But it did get a few things right. As mentioned, the actor playing Pascow, Brad Greenquist, puts on a great performance as the warning spirit and despite the bad guy being the cutest sweetie pie ever, the bit where he slices clean through Judd’s Achilles heel was painful to watch even with 1980s special effects. Overall though, this film fell flat and in my opinion is only really worth watching for nostalgia purposes.
So what of the new film? This film demonstrates in glorious HD how an adaptation should be done. First of all, the actors are great providing believable performances throughout. I’m a massive fan of Jason Clarke, particularly after his performance in the thoroughly recommended Winchester, and he does a great job of playing Louis perfectly depicting his grief. This movie was also smart enough to ditch the whole killer toddler thing instead having the Creed’s older child Ellie die and be brought back. Whilst toddlers are adorable and cannot possibly be considered scary (with the possible exception of my daughter when she is hangry) older children can make creepy little villains…think Samara in The Ring, Children of the Corn or The Omen. The actress playing Ellie, Jete Laurence makes a very convincing little psychopath and provides that much needed horror to the movie. Whilst it isn’t the scariest film I’ve ever seen, it’s pretty well done, with great sets, convincing special effects (without going overboard with CGI as so many modern films tend to do) and great actors.
I particularly loved this movie’s nods
to the previous adaptation, with the truck driver who kills Ellie being distracted by a text from Sheena (the original truck driver is singing along to Sheena is a punk rocker by The Ramones), with Gage running to the road just as he does in the book and the original adaption as a red herring for Ellie’s death and finally, with that Achilles heel moment mentioned above, except in this version Judd kicks the bed away with no psycho child to be found underneath only to be sliced and diced as he descends the stairs. This self referencing is something Stephen King does throughout his own books, with winks and nods to other stories and novels peppered throughout. This movie perfectly captured this on screen. In fact, at one point Ellie explains to Jud who Winston Churchill is and he exclaims he knows well who he is- the actor John Lithgow plays Churchill in Netflix’s The Crown. Again, that little wink to the audience is exactly the type of thing King himself would do.
This adaptation completely strays from the book in some ways, some good, others not so good. In this adaptation, Louis tries to offload the now psychotic family cat Church by driving him into the middle of nowhere and abandoning him. Of course, he finds his way home and when the very happy and relieved Ellie runs to him, being struck down in the process, it only goes to increase Louis’ feeling of guilt and fault at her death. If he hadn’t tried to get rid of Church, perhaps this wouldn’t have happened. I also love that, unlike the book, the cat is fully feral in the new adaptation. His issues as described in the book, his odd zombielike motions, his smell of earth and rot and the fact that he causes unease and general discomfort wherever he goes, is not necessarily easy to translate onto the big screen whereas a cat clawing and snarling works well. The ending is dramatically changed from the book and original movie and this is one I had a bit of a problem with. In this ending, Ellie kills Rachel and drags her to the semetary. She then returns and kills Louis, then proceeds to drag him to the semetary, before the entire now evil, regenerated family complete with psycho cat, now walk towards Gage after burning down Jud’s house. I assume Gage will be next on the hit list, or maybe they’ll wait until he is older, who knows. I wasn’t a fan of this ending. I much prefer the ending of the book, and subsequently the original adaption, with Louis killing his zombie child after he has killed Rachel, before taking Rachel to the semetary and bringing her back to life. It ends with her simply dragging her dirt covered feet inside and saying, “Darling” leaving it up to ourselves to decide what happens to Louis and his remaining child. I understand that the writer of this new adaptation wanted a new ending in order to surprise audiences who are well familiar with the original ones as well as satisfy those new to Stephen King’s work, but sadly it just didn’t pull it off for me. Personally, I would have had Louis kill Ellie, then flee with Gage only to have Rachel stumble out of the forest and stare after them, again leaving it up to the viewer to imagine what is coming next. But that’s just me.
Overall though, the new film is thoroughly entertaining and an enjoyable watch for any horror fan whether you like Stephen King or not. I would recommend it to any horror fan.
But these are just my opinions- what did you think of the old and new adaptations? How would you have ended the new film? Comment and let me know and don’t forget to subscribe so you can keep up to date with all my latest posts.