A HORROR INITIATION
The marketing campaign for Pet Sematary Two went for the jugular, and even the trailer, while hinting at a more rambunctious tone, erred more on the side of dead seriousness. Taken out of context, Gus’ parallel-universe-iconic line “No brain, no pain” delivers a chill akin to Judd’s (Fred Gwynne) “Sometimes dead is better.”
For me, one of the things that makes Pet Sematary Two endure is its status as an early R-rated VHS rental. I was twelve when it hit video, and my parents were somehow not averse to letting me watch it. (This was before I saw the original film proper, which made the contrasts between the two all the more stark.)
The viewing experience was akin to a horror initiation (that same year, I also watched Dawn of the Dead for the first time). Back then, my quality gauge for horror was different than it is now, and the sensory overload of Pet Sematary Two, which pushed boundaries in terms of simulated animal and teenager snuff, was probably more than I could handle. Despite its jokey asides, the film is unrepentant in its meanness.
I was as fascinated as I was repulsed. Not only had a major studio bankrolled this bonkers clusterfuck of a sequel, but people had actually paid to go see it.
Even at twelve, I knew Pet Sematary Two was problematic. It goes on too long, can’t settle on a consistent tone, and becomes heavy-handed by the end. On top of that, the insistence on showing acts of animal cruelty (skinned rabbits; the shot dog; mutilated kittens) leaves a bad taste – if you want to dwell on suffering, then the story had better justify it beyond mere shock value.
By the end, when a funeral-attired Jeff is having a reunion with the resurrected Renee, it is the summation of the film’s unmet potential: Lambert stages it (and the scenes leading up to it) like something out of the golden age of Universal Monsters, with dreamlike sets that bear no resemblance to anything in reality. In another film, this culmination could have been a cathartic, emotional gut-punch – but here, it’s just another helping of histrionic craziness for its own sake.
But maybe that’s what Pet Sematary Two ultimately has to offer: it’s a mess that periodically hits the grace notes of madness that Tobe Hooper fine-tuned throughout his career. The effects are still impressive a quarter-century later. As a time-capsule for the popularity of Furlong, transmuting his John Connor persona to a more intimate apocalypse, it works. The soundtrack, featuring a collection of punk and alternative cuts (L7; The Jesus and Mary Chain; Miranda Sex Garden), plays like an extension of the periodic teases of The Ramones in the original film.
Yet I keep returning to it: Pet Sematary Two captures the awkward beats of loss and grief, as processed through naïve adolescent minds. This aspect of the film is truthful and sincere because, by default, it cannot be wise. And it keeps things hovering not too far South of legitimacy and quality, even when the themes are abandoned later on.
So whether it’s for the cherry-breaking VHS nostalgia or the moments of inspiration threaded throughout, Paramount’s bare-bones DVD will only leave my collection once a studious boutique label announces a special-features-packed edition that goes into extensive detail of just what the hell the filmmakers were thinking. Whenever that day comes, I’ll be there, finger hovering over the “preorder” option.
(Still photo of Darlanne Fluegel in Pet Sematary Two via That Was A Bit Mental.)
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.