MARRED BY INDECISION
There comes a point in digging up Pet Sematary Two where Outten, the producers, or Lambert (or all) steered the story in a direction that dropped the intriguing avenues it established, in favor of something more forthright in its outrageousness. And not in a good way.
I recall having similar feelings when the studio-compromised Sleepwalkers (a King-scripted project released that same year) shifted from an interesting coming-of-age story with horror elements to a string of transformation effects, one-liners, and stuff blowing up.
Rather ironically, asshole Gus is killed by the resurrected Zowie. Drew buries his abusive stepdad, and he returns as a rotting zombie. As rendered by reliable character actor Brown, Gus’ lobotomized “undead” routine is well-done (complete with physical mannerisms that recall classical incarnations of Frankenstein’s monster), but at odds with the tone established up to that point.
Pet Sematary spoke to how the secrecy of men can result in a downward spiral of misfortune, which made the damage that befell wife Rachael (Denise Crosby) and daughter Ellie (Blaze Berndahl) all the more resonant. These women were assertive characters, with the back-and-forths between Ellie and father Louis (Dale Midkiff) on the nature of God and the Afterlife providing some of the film’s most powerful moments.
The women of Pet Sematary Two are given no such agency. Reduced to apron-wearing doormats, dim-bulb housekeepers, and demonic matriarchs, the representation is not strong. Jeff and Drew aren’t even granted an obligatory female outsider to join their two-man Losers’ Club (if only this sequel had been made in the era of Stranger Things).
NOT UNLIKE ANOTHER SEQUEL…
If Pet Sematary Two most resembles Sleepwalkers within the King Cinematic Universe, its spirit animal – so to speak – in the greater Horror Galaxy is Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
That film was met with a mix of fanfare and derision by fans of the 1974 original, and acquired a cult following thanks to the proliferation of home video. It is unique in that the overall opinion toward it, despite the passage of three decades, has not necessarily become unanimous.
Both Pet Sematary Two and TCM 2 are diametrically opposed to their predecessors in approach and aesthetic: they subsist on a sideshow-gone-to-hell tone where any notion of “normality” quickly tumbles down a rabbit-hole of madness. Their themes, while identifiable, are drowned out by the buzz of chainsaws and the screams of unfortunate victims.
Upon my initial viewings of TCM 2, I took issue with the ribald comedic tone Hooper (and writer L.M. Kit Carson) employed. Over the years, I have come to view it as an amplification of the sneaky dark humor that struck like a coiled snake in the 1974 film (“Look what your brother did to the door” being a prime example which still cracks me up). While I don’t put it on a pedestal like some horror fans, my opinion has warmed somewhat.
The difference is this: TCM 2 establishes its bizarre new world almost immediately (the Yuppie Car Massacre setpiece), while the midpoint pivot Pet Sematary Two undergoes is jarring enough to knock the rest of the film out of whack.
In VideoHound’s Horror Show, Mike Mayo says this about Pet Sematary Two: “[it’s] so poorly made, it will never gain a large following.” And he’s not incorrect – unlike TCM 2, which has seen several reissues on DVD and Blu-ray, Two lives in a limbo worthy of Schrödinger: it exists (I own a DVD copy), even if it is seldom observed.
To Be Concluded…
The Plot Sickens: Here’s the part one analysis of Jonny Numb’s report on Pet Sematary Two!
(Still photo of Ed Furlong, Jason McGuire, and Zowie in Pet Sematary Two via Coming Soon.)
Crash Analysis Support Team
(Aka Jonathan Weidler) has experienced enough pet and human death to justify several volumes of Pet Sematary fan fiction. He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can be found on Twitter and Letterboxd @JonnyNumb. In addition to Crash Palace Productions, he also contributes to Loud Green Bird.