I loved Stephen King books when I was growing up. I was devouring his books from about the age of 10, which looking back, may well have been a little young, but they were better than Nancy Drew so… Reflecting on it now, I realise it is because the stories were exciting but the writing was simplistic – easy for anyone to pick up and read. The story lines while gory and scary were easy to follow and allowed enough to let my imagination run riot. It has heavily contributed in my desensitisation of horror and left me in the eternal search of something which will make me feel the fear.
Hopefully anyone reading this will remember the original film from 1989 (unless you are horribly young, in which case I recommend you go and find the film and watch it) that had Fred Gwynne (yes Herman Munster) and Dale Midkiff in it. While the filming was very 80s and had the production value of a straight to TV film, there was something incredibly creepy about it and it tends to stick in people’s minds.
Sadly they have lost the magic formula in the remake, and it is really easy to see why.
The original story ticked all the right boxes to play on a lot of paranoia and fears, leaving enough open to the imagination to see audiences be impacted by the characters and storyline.
Briefly – the original saw a family move to a quieter town, as the father who was a doctor wanted to slow down and spend more time with his kids. In with their bargain house that has 50 acres of land (because bargain houses never have issues do they), they also inherit an odd neighbour. One day the family pet is run over. Not wanting to upset girl child, odd neighbour takes doctor father out to a burial ground which is waaaaaaay out on the 50 acres of land. Next day the cat is back but with an attitude change and looking a bit like it has been through a car wash filled with jam. Inevitably boy child gets run over during a lax moment of parenting (and the evident disregard for no fence being around the property despite the family living in the house for nearly a year). The father stricken by grief takes dea boy child to said burial ground and packs off wife and girl child to her parents so that they are out the way. Boy child comes back, but is on a murderous rampage, only to be put to sleep by lethal injection when the father realises what he has done.
The reason that this worked is that the boy child was a toddler… minimal language skills (although the best line in the original is when the boy is injected at the end and his comment is “No Fair”, as though there was some underhand sneaky move played against the dead). Nothing in this film could explain the change in temperment of the things buried in the burial ground when they came back, which left your imagination reeling. Also while the mother had some kind of back story, she was enough of a secondary character for you to ignore and not really miss in the relationship between a man and his son.
So this leads me on to the remake and why it really didn’t work for me. Firstly I have to say… the actors in it were great. Jason Clarke, John Lithgow and Jete Laurence all did a top notch job of the roles they had, but there are a massive catalogue of errors which broken the golden code for this film…
- The mother’s back story was extended – the first half of the film really now feels like it is more about the mother’s fear of death, rather than it being a child’s fear and misunderstanding. She is seemingly crippled by a fear of death due to her dead sister, whose storyline has also been elongated.
- The family relationship takes too long to build up. We get it, they are a typical 2.4 American family before the cat died…
- They switched the kid that died! This for me is the biggest mistake. So instead of the toddler dying, it is the pre teen girl that gets run over, playing on the daddies girl relationship, but to add insult to injury on this, the girl then explains why she is killing people as she does it. I didn’t realise as an audience we had been so dumbed down in 30 years, that I needed an 11 year old to tell me being dragged back from death after being dead a while would cause some emotional issues and mental scarring.
- All the family dies. Now not only did I not care about the mother enough to worry about if she was dead or not, the girl kills the mother, the father, the next door neighbour and it ends on them heading to kill the toddler, creating a family of zombies as they all (except the neighbour) get buried in creepy ground.
- Mention of the Wendigo. Now I love a mythical being, but don’t mention it and not explain it fully. This creature may well be fully understood in America, but for films you are planning to show internationally, don’t expect everyone to understand that the Wendigo is a man eating spirit which also has a psychological condition named after it. It felt that it was mentioned and forgotten, I would love to see a film that comes out that doesn’t appear to forget all the subplots it sets up.
This isn’t to say that this film is without merit as some things have been done well in it. some of the effects are bang on. There is more around the look of the dead, a droopy eye, staples in the back of the head and pallid skin which was seriously lacking in the original. The build up of family and neighbour relationship – this was done well although… there is an argument that could be had here that how many people these days get to know their neighbours or like having a burial ground that people bury their pets in on their land – very few I am guessing, so bringing this story in to modern day, just made me feel that in reality the extra land probably would have been sold off for real estate and some poor person would have ended up with a haunted house due to the build being on top of an indian burial ground.
I am really sad to say that this just didn’t work though. There was no fear, it was over explained and really probably should have stayed as a made for TV film.
On this occasion I am not saying don’t watch this, as if you just want to see some good sturdy acting, this film has it, just don’t waste your money in the cinema to see it.
Have you seen the remake of “Pet Sematary”? Why not tell me what you thought in the comments? Like this post? Why not share it?