The original Pet Sematary from 1989 is often considered one of the best Stephen King adaptations ever made. While it’s not quite as universally beloved as Carrie and The Shining, it definitely has enough fans that it’s a borderline all-time great horror movie. But the 2019 remake is a different story. Although a lot of people were excited to see it when it came out, most left the theater sorely disappointed. The remake was panned by fans and critics alike, and the consensus is that the original Pet Sematary is by far the better version.
However, not everyone feels that way. The remake has its defenders, and I’d even say it’s better than the original. Don’t get me wrong, I do like the 1989 version. I just don’t think it’s quite as good as the remake. In particular, there are two main things the remake does better than the original. Let’s dive into these films and see why I think the 2019 Pet Sematary is the better version of this classic story.
The Acting in the Original Film
It’s not controversial to say that the original Pet Sematary doesn’t have the best acting. Even the film’s staunchest defenders usually admit that. Sure, Fred Gwynne is great as Jud, the old man who befriends the Creed family, but the rest of the cast is decent at best. They don’t do the movie any favors, but for the most part, they don’t detract from it either.
However, there is one exception. Dale Midkiff plays Louis Creed, and he’s pretty bad. He delivers many of his lines in an almost monotone voice with a nearly expressionless face. He just doesn’t feel like a real person going through real experiences. To take just one example, there’s a scene where the ghost of Victor Pascow leads Louis out to the pet cemetery one night. When he wakes up in bed the next morning, his feet are super dirty.
It lets both him and us know that his little nighttime trip wasn’t just a dream, so we expect him to react with surprise and horror. But he doesn’t. Instead, when the camera moves to his face so we can see his reaction, he shows no emotion whatsoever. He just looks at his feet like he’s zoning out and staring off into space, so we don’t know what he’s feeling. Is he shocked? Is he scared? Is he puzzled? His face is entirely expressionless, so we simply don’t know.
And that scene is by no means an anomaly. Louis is like that throughout the rest of Pet Sematary, and it really hurts the movie. As the main character, he’s our primary window into the pain the Creed family feels when they lose Gage. If he doesn’t convey that emotion effectively, then we’re going to have a tough time entering into the story and sympathizing with them.
And predictably, that’s exactly what happens. When Gage dies and the family grieves his loss, Louis becomes even more monotone and expressionless. Even when he does show a bit of emotion, it’s not nearly enough. This stiff performance makes it very difficult for us to sympathize with his character and his family, so it saps the story of much of its emotional force. It turns what could and should have been a heart-wrenching tale of loss and grief into little more than just another creepy horror movie. While it works really well on that level, it had the potential to be so much more.
The Acting in the Remake
In contrast, the acting in the 2019 version of Pet Sematary is fantastic. The entire cast is really good, and buying into these characters is no trouble at all. In particular, Jason Clarke is utterly captivating as Louis Creed; his performance is miles ahead of Dale Midkiff’s. For instance, there’s a scene early on where Louis’s daughter Ellie asks him why humans live longer than pets, and he explains that it’s because we have slower metabolisms.
His answer only consists of a few brief lines, but Jason Clarke’s delivery of those lines is amazing. Whenever I watch this scene, I hang on his every word, totally believing he knows exactly what he’s talking about. He just exudes a very calming and comforting sense of rationality and authority. I feel like I could watch him give a three-hour lecture on the topic.
And he’s just as good throughout the rest of Pet Sematary. In particular, after Ellie dies, you can see the pain on his face and can hear it in every word he says. He looks the way I felt when I lost my father several years ago. Unlike his counterpart in the 1989 original, he allows the remake to run on all cylinders. He helps make this version of the story the hauntingly beautiful and emotional gut punch it was always intended to be, rather than just another creepy horror film.
I know what a lot of you are probably thinking. If there’s one thing almost all fans agree on, it’s that the horror in the original Pet Sematary is much better than what we get in the remake. Hell, Zelda alone is enough to make the original film way scarier than the 2019 version, so how could I possibly think otherwise?
Well, it’s actually quite simple. The best horror in the original Pet Sematary is in the final act. For about the last 25 minutes or so, the film turns into an awesome supernatural slasher, making great use of some classic creepy kid tropes. But by and large, that’s all it is. Sure, it has a sprinkling of emotion added in here and there (like when Rachel sees Gage again), but those moments are few and far between. For the most part, this section of the film is so focused on being scary that it loses sight of the story’s emotional core. As a result, it ends up being just like a million other horror movies (even if it is significantly better in that regard than most).
But the remake is different. While the third act retains some of the supernatural slasher elements of the original, it’s so much more than just that. Like the rest of the film, this part of the 2019 Pet Sematary also emphasizes the disturbing emotional horror in a way the original never could.
For example, soon after Ellie returns to life, there’s a scene where she’s sitting down in a bathtub and her father is brushing her hair, and it’s absolutely harrowing. Granted, nothing particularly scary happens, but it really hammers home just how broken Louis truly is, as he treats his dead daughter as if she were perfectly okay. The contrast between the macabre reality of the situation and Louis’s forced attempt at normality is way more disturbing than a creepy slasher could ever be.
The whole thing is just wrong, and the film does a great job of conveying the cognitive dissonance that often accompanies tragic loss. I know what it’s like to grieve someone so hard that you feel like you’d do anything to get them back, no matter how evil or forbidden. This scene from the 2019 Pet Sematary captures those dark emotions just about perfectly.
With several other similarly impactful scenes, the third act of the film strikes an almost perfect balance between creepy slasher and disturbing emotional horror. It’s an excellent way to cap off a story that’s all about death and the way we deal with tragic loss. It’s a story that hits harder and delves deeper than any of the horror in the original Pet Sematary.
The Remake Is Better
To be fair, there are a few things the 1989 original does better than the remake. Most notably, it does a much better job of showing the friendship between Jud and the Creed family. As a result, Jud feels more like an integral part of the movie’s world than just a convenient plot device.
But, for me, the strengths of the remake still outweigh the strengths of the original. The 2019 version just hits the story’s emotional beats much more convincingly. The way I see it, that’s what Pet Sematary is really about. Behind all the creepy ghosts, the terrifying zombie children, and the spine-tingling flashbacks to Zelda, this is primarily a story of love, death, and the havoc that tragic loss can wreak in people’s lives. And this is where the original film doesn’t work nearly as well as the remake.
In particular, the weak acting (especially from Dale Midkiff) and the mainly surface-level horror in the third act really hinder the movie’s emotional impact, which is exactly where the remake excels. The entire cast of the remake is terrific, and its third-act horror really hammers home just how much the Creed family is hurting. As a result, the 2019 Pet Sematary captures the heart and soul of this story in a way the original Pet Sematary never could.
2 CommentsLeave a Reply
Excelente review !! Put’s well prospective and nicely we’ll
supporting high lights the main passages.
We’ll done JP Nunez
I agree with you about the acting. The acting in the remake was more cc insistent. Thankfully, selecting Fred Gwynne as a supporting actor in the original helped immensely. (I’ve always loved Fred Gwynne starting with the Munsters and Car 54. Predominantly a comedic actor, but he was versatile.
I disagree on the fear factor! I think the original Pet Sematary is more frightening than the remake. That little kid’s laugh in the original was enough to keep me up at night. Of course the special effects are better in the remake albeit comes as no surprise. Thirty plus years of technological improvements it’d be a surprise otherwise.