I’ll just get to it – Zelda from the original Pet Sematary is likely the single most fucked up thing I ever saw in a movie. Her gaunt, diseased visage remains indelibly etched on my inner eyelids and 3 decades later, I have no misguided optimism it’s ever going away. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen plenty of things more disgusting, more graphic, but nothing so incomprehensibly gruesome, yet so horribly real – so shocking and unthinkable, yet so tragically and heartbreakingly…possible. As a boy who cut his teeth on slasher films and poltergeists, I was not prepared and I simply couldn’t make her go away when I closed my eyes. The taut skin mask of sunken features, the freakishly thin lips stretched over the ghoulishly large cave of a mouth. In the dark, sleepless hours, she might as well have been curled up next to me, rattling and wheezing my name.
And – of course – therein lies the challenge. It would be pointless to pretend I might bring some raw, untainted perspective on the 2019 Pet Sematary do-over, so I won’t even bother. I would like to think I’m capable of setting my preloaded opinions aside and letting this and other such updated versions of “classic” movies stand on their own, but even that approach creates its own issues. My point is – the biggest jaw-drop in the new version of PS means nothing if you aren’t already expecting the toddler to eat truck. If you don’t know the old neighbor is supposed to get a career-ending Achilles injury, does an extended tongue-in-cheek shot of his bare ankle on the stairs, teasing what’s to come even make sense? If I give this film its due, shed my prejudice, and forget what I already know about what’s out past the puppy graves, then substantial chunks of it are meaningless and maybe even confusing. Callbacks to the original become orphaned winks and nods intended to…what exactly?
For that reason, I can only say I saw this movie. I was not assaulted by it like I was the original. It’s lame by its own self-comparison – just another misunderstanding what made the original so effective.
I suppose that’s nobody’s fault and admittedly, the update does use some of its major departures from the original to interesting effect. I can’t deny an undead 9 year old girl with fully developed speech and demonic resentment issues is a bit more unnerving than a stumbling toddler. 1989’s Gage was a doll with a scalpel and a cute sneer. 2019’s Ellie seems genuinely menacing and barely able to contain her wrath, at least a few times.
1989 Louis-the-dad had me wondering if perhaps I, grief-stricken and guilt-ridden beyond comprehension, might also make the same decision if the same options were available. 2019 dad had me wondering what the hell happened in his life to allow him to think, even for a second, that driving the zombie cat a few miles up the road was somehow going to solve that problem? Or, how any reasonable man could possibly even begin to disregard the warnings of a corporeal ghost imploring in no uncertain terms, “this is exactly what I was talking about – don’t do it!”, although both dads suffered that particular character flaw. Original dad seemed driven to madness by the consequences of his own tortured decisions. New dad seems to go crazy before anything bad even happens and then just collapses inward from there once the real shit hits the fan.
In any case, it’s not about psychosis-dads or disaffected moms or who would win a fight between John Lithgow and Herman Munster. It’s not even about Gage, who lives a little longer this time and looked so similar I just assumed it was the same kid. Nope, forget them. This is about Zelda, the living corpse in the room down the hall – stuck to the sheets, writhing in pain, dragging herself into my brain and cutting every wrinkle along the way with her greasy, decaying, jagged, fried-chicken bones. That’s old Zelda. New Zelda is bullshit. She’s painfully un-painful and totally forgettable, which just makes her whole sub-plot annoying. Kinda gross? I guess. Skinny? Sure, but really only a couple cheeseburgers away from being Insta-famous for her thigh-gap. Her menace feels contrived and what is this crap about her being “in the walls”? She simply doesn’t live up to the pedigree and ultimately, that’s where this film truly lost me. Is it too much to ask for a totally ancillary rebooted character to permanently scar my psyche? Evidently so. Or maybe that’s just the kind of thing that only happens once in a boy’s life.
Either way, PS2019 was acceptable. I watched it. But again, it did not attack me, which is why I ventured out past the kitten carcasses to begin with. So, in the end, not so much disappointing as disappointless. Heh.
Speaking of dead pets – the robot cat looked ridiculous. But I won’t get into all that. Gotta go feed my sister.