Ok, I’ve got a confession to make.

I’m not quite sure how this happened, considering my love of horror movies, but until recently I’d never actually seen Pet Sematary.

Even more mystifying is that the tale is one of the few Stephen King novels I’ve actually read (and enjoyed), so quite why I didn’t go and immediately track down the film on DVD is anyone’s guess.

But finally I can tick it off the list and, if truth be told, it wasn’t really worth the wait.

Yes it is entertaining at times, and there are some truly memorable moments of horror suspense, but as a package it falls short of the mark.

The film centres on the Creed family – doctor dad Louis, wife Rachel, daughter Ellie and toddler son Gage, who move to a quiet part of Maine for a better standard of living.

Quiet that is, apart from the part that the road near their property seems to be a magnet for delivery trucks tearing along at breakneck speed.

Anyways, the Creeds are welcomed to the neighbourhood by Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne), a kindly old man who has plenty of tales to tell.

One of those tales contains a path that runs from the Creed’s garden – a path that leads to the sinister-looking Pet Sematary, where locals buried their pets when they bit the dust.

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Even stranger, Crandall takes Louis on a trek past the cemetery and up through the mountains to an old Indian burial ground, said to have magical powers to return the dead back to life.

Louis gets the perfect opportunity to test out this theory when, while the rest of his family are away, the family cat gets run over.

Up he pops to the burial ground and, hey presto, hours later Church (the cat) turns up on their doorstep, albeit looking slightly worse for wear.

Even more worryingly, Church’s previously calm, friendly demeanour seems to have turned into an aggressive one – could the cat have returned minus its soul?

Things take an even darker turn when tragedy strikes the family as toddler Gage wanders in to the path of an oncoming truck.

Despite his son being buried, Louis naturally thinks he has the answer – pop him up to the burial ground of course.

Within hours a muddied Gage is back, but this time as a scalpel-wielding creepy kid with bloodshed on his mind.

Things build to a ferocious climax after that with few, if any, left unscathed.

The film was actually scripted by King himself, who even pops up in a cameo as a funeral-presiding priest.

Which is why the occasional jars in tone come as a bit of a surprise – every time you feel the film is really settling into a groove, King throws in a scenes that takes things a step too far – a mass punch-up at a family funeral being a classic example.

But the central strand of the film remains a tantalising one, with King and director Mary Lambert practically begging you to put yourself in the position of Louis.

This is very much a ‘would you’ film and, as the father of a one-year-old daughter, I was constantly asking myself how I would react if something so tragic had happened to her.

Performances wise this is a real mixed bag, headlined by a bizarre turn from Dale Midkiff as Louis.

At times spectacularly wooden, at times hysterically over-the-top, Midkiff’s display does a lot to ruin any credibility the film may have mustered.

Denise Crosby as wife Rachel and Blaze Berdahl as daughter Ellie do solid work, but the real stars of the show here are Gwynne and Miko Hughes as Gage.

In many ways Gwynne’s performance anchors the film, adding some much-needed gravitas to the project.

And as for Hughes, well he is simply phenomenal, especially when he returns in psycho mood – he was less than three years old when filming this of course.

Lambert does solid work behind the camera, albeit unspectacular, and it would have been interesting to see how original choice George A Romero would have faired – considering I seem to be one of the few people to genuinely have enjoyed The Dark Half.

Pet Sematary does work, and there are some genuinely unsettling moments throughout, but you always get the nagging feeling that it should all be that little bit better.

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.