In Defense of PET SEMATARY TWO

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Film journo Alexandra West aims to prove why “Sometimes Dead is Better” the second time around…

I first saw PET SEMATARY TWO on television during the most important month for horror fans: October. Stations that normally paid little to no attention to horror filled their hours with spooky programming. I watched the film trepidatiously as the first PET SEMATARY (1989) still terrified me (mainly due to Zelda and the less said about her, the better). I was instantly intrigued by the sequel not only because it enhances the world of the film, has some pretty great performances and re-purposes the morals of the original but because PET SEMATARY TWO wraps it up in the weirdness that only the early 90s could yield. This is one of the few sequels that seeks to expand on the themes and premise of the first film while breaking new ground without relying on the formula of the first film. If the premise of an ancient Indian burial ground that is used to resurrect those that have passed wasn’t terrifying enough the first time around, PS2 lingers on the notions of grief and what it can drive a person to do.

I don’t hear PET SEMATARY TWO talked about all that much and I think it’s time to change that. The film is unique because it keeps the spirit and ambitions of the first film, but embraces the zany, devilish style of returning director Mary Lambert and the over the top reality of the sadistic burial ground.

Set three years after the events of the first film, PET SEMATARY TWO follows veterinarian Chase Matthews ( Anthony Edwards, REVENGE OF THE NERDS) and his son Jeff (Edward Furlong, TERMINATOR 2) as they move to the town of Ludlow after Jeff’s film actress mom dies on the set of her latest (and last) film. Chase hopes that a fresh start will help his son; unfortunately for them Ludlow contains good schools, affordable housing and a burial ground where each has to bury their own.

Jeff befriends his classmate Drew (Jason McGuire) who’s dealing with an abusive stepfather Gus (Clancy Brown, HIGHLANDER, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION) who also happens to be the town sheriff. Gus shoots and kills Drew’s dog rambunctious dog Zowie so the two friends naturally bury Zowie in the Indian burial ground, bringing the newly evil dog back to life. This binds the two friends together as more bodies begin stacking up and the boys repeatedly decide to return to the burial ground. Crazy? Yes. But the film offers moments of respite which the original never truly did, allowing two boys entering to talk honestly about death, the fear of losing someone and their own regrets adding an unexpected weight to the proceedings.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the film, it’s important to talk about the setting. We’re given a much larger feel for the town of Ludlow and the fact that it’s set around Halloween allows the films to celebrate the autumnal landscape alongside the cold darkness that slowly creeps in around this time of year. PET SEMATARY TWO feels like Fall. You know those scented candles you can by that smell like Pumpkin Marshmallows or an Autumn Day? This movie is those but in a, well, movie. This film embraces the approach of winter with the daytime scenes shot in an eerie half-light while the night scenes are punctuated by an eerie red glow. Each time I watch this movie I want to jump into a car and drive up to cottage to enjoy the changing leaves and maybe burn off a bully’s face with an electric bike.

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The cast is either strong or enjoyably bad. Edward Furlong manages one of his best performances oscillating between a heartbroken kid who just lost a parent and a menacingly unhinged terror. Speaking of unhinged, Clancy Brown’s Gus is a brutal force of masculinity at the beginning of the film and only becomes more unpredictable and frightening as the film carries on. PET SEMATARY TWO was made two years before ER so Anthony Edwards was still just a simple actor for hire. He’s pretty great in this film and classes it up a whole bunch. And to be honest, anyone who can get through a sexy dream sequence which features a wolf head with all the emotion that Edwards puts in is a genius (or was just happy to be getting union paycheck). Now this dream sequence rivals anything Polanski or Argento has ever imagined. With the film hurtling towards a climax, Anthony Edwards locks himself in his home and goes to sleep. He begins to dream of his dead wife returning and getting, ahem, intimate with her. But whilst boning PET SEMATARY TWO decides it wants to be the most messed up Meat Loaf video ever and goes for it, resulting in one of the most glorious yet head scratching dream sequence in American film.

The Creeds (the family from the original) are like a distant nightmare in this town, something that those who lived through it remember and the kids of the town treat like a local urban legend or ghost story. The Matthews, thankfully, don’t move into the Creed house which has been all but abandoned except for around Halloween when local kids tell ghost stories near the house. My favorite scene in the PET SEMATARY TWO would probably have to be when Anthony Edwards seeks out the former vet of Ludlow to get information about how an animal could reanimate which seems to be on the rise. The old vet only shares the information of the Creeds that we already know and that the wife was killed a “second time” but no more information. Did Louis somehow survive? What the hell did those police reports say? There’s just enough to go on that gets my imagination going but not so much so that stops it in its tracks. PET SEMATARY TWO does a great job of allowing the events of the first film to cast a long, macabre shadow over the new characters opening up new possibilities and terror.

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The film also does a pretty genius job of re-purposing one of the most quotable elements from the first film, “sometimes, dead is better.” Whereas the first film held this up as a warning to Louis Creed, the sequel treats it as a call to action with the reanimated bodies mounting and creating havoc all on their own. In the genuinely disturbing climax of the film, a character screams it repeatedly giving the line a whole new weight and intention.
PET SEMATARY TWO tells a very different story from the first film while still incorporating the elements that made the original great. It’s part bonkers, part creepy but always interesting. It’s also a bold movie, one that attempts to fully realize itself and its ideas around every turn. It doesn’t hide behind the first but embraces it and creates something new and genuinely disturbing. The story unfolds like autumn leaves falling off a tree, threatening to bury whatever is underneath.

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Weekend: Nov. 21, 2019, Nov. 24, 2019

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