Out of all the sequels I'm getting around to checking out this week, Pet Sematary Two is the one that has been on my 'to watch' list for the longest amount of time, and the one I've been most excited to finally see. This is precisely why I decided to tackle this theme week; because I knew it'd force me to sit down and watch shit I've always meant to watch. I'm a lazy fucker when it comes to pretty much everything, even watching movies, but if there's one thing I'm not lazy about it's blogging, so I knew if I made a promise to you folks to watch and review all these movies I'd live up to that promise. And in the case of this one, I'm quite glad I did. Which is thus far the first time this week I've felt that way!
Pet Sematary director Mary Lambert returns three years later behind the camera for this sequel, which stars Edward Furlong as a kid (Jeff) who at the start of the film loses his mother, a Hollywood starlet who dies in an on-set special effects mishap. After the death, Jeff and his father move out of California, to the small town of Ludlow, Maine. The idea is to get away from the tragedy and rebuild their lives, but of course Ludlow and its little hidden secret over in the Indian burial ground throw a bit of a wrench into that plan. And by wrench I mean dead things coming back to life to prey on the living.
Jeff makes quick friends with a heavyset boy by the name of Drew, who lives under the totalitarian rule of his asshole stepfather, who also happens to be the town sheriff. One night Drew's stepfather cold-bloodedly shoots Drew's dog dead, which kickstarts a mess of Pet Sematary induced re-animations for the two young boys and their families. Dead. Is. Better.
Pet Sematary Two starts off very much the same way the first one did; a move to a new town followed by the death of a beloved pet leading our cast of characters down a path of evil shit. Only difference between the two being that this one is more about how kids, rather than adults, deal with the deaths of loved ones in a town where it's possible for the dead to come back to life, which puts a bit of an interesting spin on the subject matter. If there's anything I love, it's horror movies with kids in the lead, so I quite welcomed this perspective on the tale. Aside from that change though, Pet Sematary Two is pretty much straightforward stuff for at least the first half of the film, Lambert kinda just telling a similar story with a different group of people and a different set of issues. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's the second half of the film that's the real treat here.
It's somewhere around the halfway mark that the whole serious family drama and kids dealing with loss thing is mostly thrown out the window and Pet Sematary Two starts to feel a bit like a runaway train, an unfocused all over the place ride that eventually completely derails in the most awesome of ways. Some of it works and some of it doesn't, but where this sequel excels is at distancing itself as much as possible from the dark and scary tone of the first one, while at the same time feeling very much like it takes place in the same world as that film. It's almost as if Mary Lambert said, 'alright, no more book to stick to, let's just go balls to the wall with this shit and have a blast'. And a blast is exactly what Pet Sematary Two provides, a far different take on King's novel that sets out to do one thing and one thing only; entertain. And boy does it ever.
The way I see it is that Pet Sematary Two is to Pet Sematary what Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is to Texas Chainsaw Massacre; a sequel made by the same director that is a complete and utter joy to watch because of the fact that it strays so far from its predecessor, going for campy gory laughs and entertainment rather than dark and scary horror (Zelda!!). Though such a vast 360 degree change of tone is undoubtedly going to be a major turn off for some when it comes to any sequel, I personally love when a horror movie is followed up by a sequel that really just lets it all hang out and goes for something totally different, while still being faithful to what the first one was. If you're asking me, Pet Sematary Two admirably pulls that feat off, much like Chainsaw 2 did.
Speaking of being faithful to the first one, I was very happy to see several references made to the Creed family and the events of that film. We see glimpses of their house, hear characters tell stories about what happened, which reveal the whereabouts of Ellie Creed, and we even meet Church's veterinarian, a nice if desperate little way of bringing a new character into the fold who was present but never seen during the events of the first one. It's the little things that make me smile, and I always love to see little references like these in sequels that remind me what I'm watching exists in the same universe as what came before it.
Sematary Two is just plain fun, a batshit crazy gore-fest that's jam packed with strange ill fitting music and all kinds of wild imagery, including ER's Anthony Edwards having sex with a dog, more animal cruelty than a Michael Vick/Ruggero Deodato block party, horror movie homages and references aplenty (everything from Phantasm to The Thing, Happy Birthday To Me to The Shining), and even a kickass Halloween night sequence which features Edward Furlong dressed up as Jason Voorhees from Friday Part 3 (worth the price of admission alone!). It's quite the nihilistic little gem where neither kids nor animals are safe from brutal deaths, and it almost even feels like a big middle finger from Lambert to Hollywood in many ways. I'm not even sure what the message there is, if there even is an underlying one, but I'm thinking the fact that Furlong's mom is a Hollywood actress is no coincidence. Hell, even the scene of her funeral seems to express some pretty angry sentiments about Hollywood and fame. Again, this is pure speculation and it's very possible that I'm reading way too far into the movie, but there's definitely a healthy dose of nihilism and anger present in the film, which really contributes to it being such a fun and oddball little movie. It's weird as all hell, but it totally works.
One last little thing I've gotta point out that I found a little weird was the fact that Drew's abusive dad, played by Clancy Brown, looks and even moreso sounds like Fred Gwynne, who of course played Jud in the first Pet Sematary. I can only imagine that's a big reason why he was brought onto the film, though I'm not exactly sure why Lambert wanted that. The characters couldn't be more different from one another but I guess that was her way of somewhat infusing that element of the first one into the sequel? Or maybe it was just an homage to Gwynne. Kinda weird but again, I doubt it's mere coincidence. In fact, Brown seems to be going out of his way to sound as much like Gwynne as he possibly can.
Pet Sematary Two, again much like Texas Chainsaw 2, is hard to call an inferior sequel, given it's so different from the film that came before it. Is it as good of a movie? No, it's not. But it's really its own movie altogether and to compare the two would kinda be missing the point. Pet Sematary Two stands tall as its own movie, a lighthearted and balls to the wall fun take on some pretty dark subject matter that replaces the drama and scares of the first one with laughs and gore. For that, I commend it greatly. It pretty much feels like the film Pet Sematary would be if Pet Sematary were buried in the Indian burial ground above the Pet Sematary; it's familiar and at first glance feels very much like its old self, but before long becomes a monstrous, gooey, blood soaked beast that couldn't possibly be more different from what it used to be. Gotta say, I kinda loved this one!
If you, like me, have made it this far without Pet Sematary Two in your life, I'd recommend you make the time to change that. Just don't go into it expecting Pet Sematary and have fun with it!