Written by: Richard Outten
Directed by: Mary Lambert
Starring: Edward Furlong, Anthony Edwards, and Clancy Brown
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
"What are you doing, man?"
"I'm just fuckin' with ya!"
"I'm just fuckin' with ya!"
Mary Lambert’s Pet Sematary ends on a perfect note. With the film’s premise escalating from Louis Creed reviving a pet to resurrecting family members, it tips just on the edge of black-hearted absurdity before Lambert slam cuts to the credits, wisely keeping the film’s unsettling tone intact. Truly, there’s nowhere left to go at the end of Pet Sematary that doesn’t involve the whole thing degenerating into a farce. It’s no surprise, then, that Pet Sematary II is exactly that: a ridiculous, unhinged follow-up that really has no business existing in the first place, so it just goes all out. In doing so, it misses out on just about everything that made the original such a haunting, unnerving entry into the upper echelon of the King adaptation canon.
But here’s the thing: Pet Sematary II still totally rules anyway. This is a film that shouldn’t exist, much less work on any level, and yet it’s compulsively watchable and deliriously entertaining. You go to Pet Sematary if you’re in need of experiencing a legitimate nightmare; you got to Pet Sematary II if you’re in need of experiencing face-melting gore and Clancy Brown devouring the scenery.
Brown is Gus Gilbert, now the town sheriff of Ludlow a few years after the events of the previous film. Most of the kids in town dread his presence, but his stepson Drew (Jason McGuire) is particularly terrified of his borderline abusive approach to parenting. After Drew befriends Jeff Matthews (Edward Furlong), a new kid in town reeling from his celebrity mom’s recent death, the boys are drawn to the local lore of the now infamous pet cemetery, seeking to use its restorative powers when Gus shoots Drew’s dog. The pet’s resurrection kicks off a chain of insane events, each of them more deranged than the last as various people are killed off—including Gus himself—only to be resurrected for a wild, gory climax.
While Pet Sematary II ostensibly flips the dynamic here by dealing with the death of a parent instead of a child, it can hardly be said to be about any of that. Jeff’s mom exists mostly as a plot device, her death instigating the move back to Ludlow, where her body lays at rest until it needs to be resurrected explicitly for the ending, where she’s just yet another walking corpse added to the freakshow. There are no characters in Pet Sematary II, only possible cadavers, with specter of death imposing itself immediately. Where the original built a palpable sense of dread leading up to the devastating death of Gage Creed, this film roasts poor Renee Hollow (Darlanne Fluegel) to death within its opening minutes, practically announcing its intentions to wallow in over-the-top gore gags for the next 90 minutes.
Appropriately enough, the tail wags the dog in Pet Sematary II, as everything—plot developments, character decisions—are dictated by the gore showcases. A far cry from the original film—which organically weaves its grisliness through a potent, nightmarish cautionary tale—this follow-up goes out of its way to deliver nastiness at every turn. The result is a slightly bewildering piece of work where few of the character or story decisions really make much sense. Chief among them is the film’s other inciting incident following the death of Jeff’s mom: after Gus busts the boys for being out too late, an altercation ensues that ends with Drew’s resurrected demon dog tearing away his jugular vein, killing him almost instantly. Given that the man is a holy terror, my first impulse would not involve burying him in an Indian burial ground that’s known for bringing folks back from the dead, but that’s exactly what these kids do for whatever reason.
Without it, of course, there’s really nowhere for the movie to go—not that it had many places to go, anyway, of course. But that’s okay, especially since Lambert and company presume they can just paper over it all with various distractions, be it insane splatter or Clancy Brown doing Clancy Brown shit. Both are successful, especially the latter. There’s a reason that any mention of Pet Sematary II conjures up memories of Brown: he’s easily the most indelible aspect of the film, especially once he returns from the grave. Adopting the same accent and inflection as Fred Gwynne from the original film, he’s an odd presence who only grows even more deranged when he’s one of the undead. One stretch of the film might as well be titled My Stepdad is a Zombie, as it sees Gus suddenly turning into a benevolent goofball who needs to keep his gnarly throat wound in check at the dinner table.
The boys speculate that it must have something to do with the mysterious forces out at Micmac, though the film doesn’t do a whole lot to back that up since it can’t figure out what to do with Russ. One minute, he’s defending the boys by tearing a bully’s face off via a dirt bike; the next minute, he’s resurrecting said bully to terrorize the two boys again, so the only mandate here involves delivering as much gore without even worrying about the logistics. When there are faces to be melted and heads to be exploded, why bother with details, you know? You can get away with such an approach when it’s done with the sort of aplomb on display here, though. Pet Sematary II isn’t likely to ever truly unsettle like its predecessor, but it can entertain in a way that film never could. As terrific as the effects are in the original, it’s hard to really enjoy them they’re doused in so much nightmare fuel. That’s not an issue with the sequel, which is so far removed from any type of poignant reality that it basically invites you to gawk at all the rubber and latex as if it were a pyrotechnics show that also features bizarre sex dreams involving canines.
Pet Sematary II is a fine example of a film outrunning a weak script and justifying its existence through sheer carnage and terrific production design. Even if the world of Pet Sematary II makes little sense, returning to Ludlow is a delight, with this film’s Georgia locations adequately recreating that autumnal New England vibe from the original. Everything dies and returns in Pet Sematary II, so it follows that it unfolds in the shadow of Halloween and All Saint’s Day, where spirits can pass between the world of the living and the dead. Events from the original film have become lore for costumed children to whisper around the campfire on All Hallows Eve, with the details being pointedly exaggerated and more gruesome than reality.
Pet Sematary II takes its cue from that: the original film might be its launching point, but it retains very little of its solemnity, nor is it is nearly as unsettling. Both qualities are traded in for heaps of splatter, 90s rock riffs, and an unrelenting mean streak that looks to claim every living thing in its path. At times, it’s is so unrepentantly demented that you can’t believe a studio signed off on it. This is the type of film that introduces a box of adorable kittens just so it can eventually leave them in a bloodied, eviscerated heap, much to the horror of a couple of traumatized girls. That you can’t help but laugh at the whole thing just makes you feel complicit in its nonsense—eventually, Pet Sematary II just grabs you by the collar, sweeps you up in its madness, and doesn’t turn you loose until it’s thoroughly pummeled your brain. Yes, it completely misses the point of the original (so much so that King disowned it), but this is one of those cases where the end result rules anyway. Sometimes dead is better, but this unhinged hellraising is proof that sometimes it’s okay to dig something back up, no matter how ill-advised it may seem.
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