100 min., 1992
Directed by Mary Lambert
My rating: ★★★
“No brain, no pain. Think about it.”
* * *
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of my non-formal “reviews,” and I think Pet Sematary 2 is a good excuse to break it out. Ordinarily I don’t mention myself in reviews, and I’ll be doing that quite a bit for this one. Also, there will be spoilers. If you give enough of a shit, you’ll want to watch the movie before reading this.
A while ago one of my friends on Facebook posted a question: what are your favorite horror movie scenes? I posted something about the scene from Rawhead Rex when the monster pisses all over the priest, but then for some reason I couldn’t shake an image from Pet Sematary 2. In fact, I suspected I might have made it up in my head. I scoured the internet, looking for any reference to this scene, and I couldn’t find anything. I consulted a friend to see if he remembered it, and he said he vaguely recalled something like that.
But yes, I finally got confirmation that the scene existed, that I hadn’t imagined it. There really was a dream sequence in which Anthony Edwards is fucking his wife, and her head suddenly turns into a dog’s head. Tits and all.
But the real reason I’m writing this is because I found this while hunting down the scene. Go ahead and read it. It’s a bit lengthy, but it’s just about the deepest analysis of this movie anyone would ever care to do.
Pet Sematary 2 gets a bad rap, and I never understood why. Is it as good as the first? No. Dear Lord, no. But I remember it today for three reasons: the aforementioned tits/dog head scene, Clancy Brown’s over the top performance as Gus Gilbert and also for the movie’s exceptional cruelty. Is it remembered as a feminist film, though? No. I’ve never known anyone who viewed it as such.
I had to watch it again, just to see if everything in that essay was true. Much to my surprise, I did see a lot of these ideas on this viewing. Some of it is a bit of a stretch, but I’ll be gol-durned, I could see it.
It is the story of the Matthews family, or what is left of it. Chase (Edwards) is a veterinary doctor who moves as far from LA as possible when his celebrity wife dies on set in front of their son Jeff, played by Edward Furlong. Keep in mind, this was in Furlong’s T-2 glory days. He wasn’t the joke people eventually thought him to be. He was at the pinnacle of cool back then, and his performance is actually pretty good. He gets angst down perfectly, and when he starts to lose his mind, he does unhinged pretty well.
Edwards is great as the turtleneck-wearing wiener dad. Yet as the essay suggests, he is a much better and more masculine father than Gus Gilbert.
Ah, Gus. This was my introduction to the awesomeness that is Clancy Brown. He’s an asshole even before he’s killed and reanimated. He dedicates his life to fucking his wife and making sure he holds dominion over her son Drew. Oh yeah, and he also breeds rabbits. Loves watching them fuck. There’s kind of an ugly moment when Gus makes it a point to tell Jeff that he used to date his mom, like he’s trying to exert dominance over a kid who isn’t even his. Or maybe he’s trying to say that if things had been different, Jeff would be Gus’s son. Gus likes to do a bit of dick waving, as you can see, and Brown plays him to the hilt. He even makes the Maine twang sound tough, which is nearly impossible to do.
(As an aside, after watching this movie again, I felt the urge to start calling people “Drew-buddy.” I have so far resisted this urge. You’re all welcome.)
Anyway, since Jeff is the new kid, he’s ostracized immediately by the school bully, Clyde (Jared Rushton). Drew is another outsider because he’s a fat kid, so he and Jeff bond. One thing leads to another, and Jeff soon learns from him that his house used to be owned by the Creed family (from the first movie), and he learns about the pet “sematary.”
Here’s the thing that kind of bothers me about this movie, and I think it’s why it isn’t remembered very fondly. There is an insistence on connecting this movie to its predecessor, which forces a comparison to be made. There is no circumstance that #2 could have won against #1. However, as its own movie it does pretty good. Talking about how Ellie wound up in a mental institute, mad as a loon, is kind of silly and detracts from the story, I think. The biggest offender, though, is when Chase goes to visit the retired vet from whom he’d bought the practice. The vet rants and raves about the Creed family in an absolutely ridiculous way. It’s a big ol’ slab of ham, complete with an unnecessary jump scare. Chase thinks that a crow on a perch is a taxidermy job, but when the vet throws a book at it—THROWS A BOOK AT IT FOR NO REASON AT ALL—it jumps to life. Think for a second. You have a pet crow, and you have a visitor. You want to scare the visitor, for whatever reason, so what do you do? Do you throw a book at your beloved pet crow?
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Gus has warned Drew-buddy that he was going to shoot his dog Zowie if it didn’t leave his rabbits alone. He already has bells on the hutch to scare Zowie away. To make sure, he has electrified the fence around it—when he does so, you can see the cruel look of glee in his eyes, as if he already fantasizes about the dog getting shocked—but that’s not enough. Zowie goes for the rabbits, and Gus perfunctorily shoots it.
Poor Drew. He has an abusive step-father, who makes fat jokes to his face and shoots his dog, and his mom just sorta looks the other way because she likes getting railed by Gus. Zowie was Drew’s only compatriot in this horrible mess, and now he’s dead.
But . . . well, what about that old legend about the Micmac burial ground behind the pet sematary? Here’s the thing, though. Everyone loves telling stories about the people whose lives have been ruined by that burial ground, but no one ever remembers how it happened? Louis Creed burying his wife there at the end of the first movie makes sense because he’s not thinking. He’s very much insane by that point. But with legends like that, Drew doesn’t think it’s a bad idea to bury Zowie there? Doesn’t he know that anyone or thing buried there doesn’t come back as themselves?
Guess not. Jeff and Drew haul Zowie out there and put him in the ground. On the way home, Drew gets caught by Gus, who chides him for not contacting home. He tells Gus that he was busy burying his dog, and what is Gus’s response? “Life’s full of lessons, Drew-buddy. No one’s above ‘em. Not you, not me.” Interesting that he includes himself in that. It’s one of the few moments he has where he shows any weakness.
It doesn’t last long. That very night Zowie comes home, which angers Gus to no end. He grounds Drew, which is unfortunate because Halloween is coming up. Now he can’t go trick or treating.
Well, his mom shows mercy, and while Gus isn’t home, she lets Drew dress up as Dracula and go out with Jeff, who is dressed as Jason, hockey mask and all. This leads to an illicit hangout in the pet sematary, which gets busted up by, guess who, Gus. He’s so pissed off that his law has been broken that he pulls up a grave marker and attacks Drew with it. Zowie pounces and tears out Gus’s throat in a rather gruesome way.
Drew, in a moment of sheer stupidity, thinks that because Zowie’s been so good upon his return from the dead, maybe Gus will be a good guy when he comes back from the dead. So they drag Gus’s carcass up to the burial ground and go to work. In the meantime, Jeff, who constantly watches movies with his mom in them, starts to think about what this place could do for him. He starts thinking about bringing his mom up here . . .
Sure enough, Gus comes back. He acts like an utter creep, though, peering through Jeff’s window in the pouring rain while emitting this horribly chilling chuckle. Yet when Drew sees him, he gets a couple of laughs out of Gus. He seems like he’s going to be all right.
At least until he rapes Drew’s mom.
With Gus’s resurrection, Clancy Brown really cuts loose. He comes off as a Northeastern Freddy Krueger with his dick in an electrical socket. He gets to really play with the role, like when he eats mashed potatoes and then does the ol’ see-food trick on Jeff. During that very same meal, his bandage slips, and Drew sees the food Gus has just chewed oozing out of his throat wound.
And then there’s the scene where he breaks the neck of every one of his beloved rabbits so he can skin them. For said dinner. He’s got this intent look on his face, yet he’s grinning like an idiot.
Later on, Clyde corners Jeff and makes like he’s going to shove Jeff’s face into the spinning spokes of his bike. When Gus intercedes, Clyde says, “I was just fucking with him.” Gus chases Jeff off, and then he picks up Clyde’s dirt bike, making like he’s going to sand Clyde’s face off with the rear wheel. Clyde screams and wants to know what Gus is doing. Gus’s response: “I’m just fucking with you!” And then he sands Clyde’s face off.
But Gus’s greatest moment is probably his confrontation with Chase. Chase, who now knows how bad things are really going (with a little help from that scene I mentioned earlier, the one with the tits and the dog face), is attacked by Zowie. He’s forced to kill the dog (again), and afterward, when he asks Gus what he’s doing (a lot of that going around), Gus says, “Well, I was building a doggie door.” And that’s when they start fighting. At one point Gus has Chase pinned to a wall, and he’s aiming an electric drill at Chase’s head. “No brain, no pain. Think about it.” Brown really does have all the best lines in this movie, just as I remembered it.
While all of this is going on, Jeff has dug up his mother’s corpse and has reburied her at the Micmac burial ground. And yep, it works. In the process, she winds up killing an innocent bystander, the housekeeper Chase has hired. Jeff finds pleasure in that, by the way. He viewed her as an interloper on his family. He saw her as a potential replacement for his mother, and he just could not have that.
You see? That’s what I’m talking about when I mention this film’s exceptional cruelty. There’s an earlier scene in which Zowie slaughters a cardboard box full of kittens, and who discovers this? A ten-year-old girl and her mother, who wanted to adopt one of the kittens. And let’s not forget the ultimate cruelty of all: when Gus murders both his wife and Drew by forcing them into the path of an oncoming potato truck. (What is his deal with potatoes?)
So now Chase has to talk sense into his son and get him away from his reanimated wife before she kills all of them. Oh yeah, and Jeff has to face off against a reanimated Clyde. This is one of the things that aggravates me most about this movie. Why the fuck did Gus bury Clyde at the Micmac burial ground? Plus, you’re supposed to bury your own. Were they somehow related? Or does that also refer to those you have killed? And in case you didn’t know what Gus was doing, he mutters some unnecessary exposition to Clyde’s corpse. Thanks for that. Ugh. The filmmakers did this only because Jeff never had closure with Clyde. Gus was the one who killed him, not Jeff. For some kind of viewer satisfaction, they brought Clyde back just so Jeff could be the one to end his (un)life.
All right, there’s another thing that grinds my gears: the soundtrack. It’s pretty bad, and even worse, it detracts from the story. Moments that should be powerful, like Zowie’s (first) death and when Chase dreams about fucking his wife, are ruined by really cheesy songs. The only time the soundtrack worked for me was when Gus was skinning his rabbits. It’s set to the tune of L7’s “Shitlist.” But with that exception, it blows.
Okay, I think I’ve rambled on long enough about Pet Sematary 2. Before this gets longer than the essay I recommended to you, I think I should cut this off. Was my mission successful? I think it was. I always enjoyed this film, but seeing it again after reading that essay opened up a whole new way of looking at this one. Pet Sematary 2 is not a masterpiece, but I think it’s a valid use of celluloid.
Say, what is Edward Furlong up to these days? I liked him in Pecker, and his Crow movie wasn’t half bad. He should do more work.Have You Read...?