Pet Sematary, the 80s horror that doesn’t play by the rules

Originally published on Liverpool Small Cinema

Cheap Thrills organiser Christopher Brown takes a look at Mary Lambert’s Pet Sematary, screening in July

1980s horror was filled with iconic monsters in masks who stalked  and slashed their way through a young-looking cast and into cinema-goers hearts.

It’s telling that Hellraiser, a film which is as focused on family melodrama, became famous with a very brief cameo from Pinhead.

Mary Lambert’s 1989 version of Stephen King’s book Pet Sematary doesn’t have a leather-clad monster to fall back on for its poster. Indeed the original poster cheats a little and cheekily  hints at a zombie story-line.

All that is part of a playfulness that fills the film. The Stephen King scripted horror does have zombies of a sort. It also has that most iconic of horror tropes – a black cat ready to attack all those that go near.

The film instead darts between all American homeliness and extreme grue. The first Stephen King film to be filmed in Maine, it opens with a view to a promise of an idyllic lifestyle. But Lambert is as keen as showing horrors in all their 80s excesses as she is the American Dream. Her camera focuses in on a bloody head injury early into the first act, even slowing the action down so the audience and get a really good look at the make-up effects.


When the story really gets going the film flip-flops between family grief (one of the most shocking moments of the film happens off camera) and providing OTT gore and gothic supernaturalism.

In her hands this is a family drama via Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead, Carpenter’s Halloween and sprinkled with the 50s morality tales that peppered EC’s Tales From The Crypt comic books.

The result of this is a roller-coaster of a film, one that refuses to keep with the conventions of the time and even confounds expectations now. By the time Lambert returned for the sequel she was determined to confound expectations even further, by injecting comedy into the mix and turning the tone on its head further to confuse and delight its viewers.

Like a lot of cult horror the film opened to mixed reviews, many critics took offence to its mix of family tragedy and blood. It was a success at the box office though and grew a fanbase on VHS.

It’s worth it alone for the performance from a two-year-old Miko Hughes. Who manages a menace that you wouldn’t expect from such a cute looking child.

Also in true Buzzfeed style, you’re not going to believe what he looks like now.

Getting back into that #fitlife

A photo posted by Miko Hughes (@woeismiko) on

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