Pet Sematary

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Sometimes the dead walk. Sometimes dead is better.

Pet Sematary is a 1983 horror novel by Stephen King. It was nominated for a World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1984. It was later made into a film popular enough to warrant a 1992 sequel which is arguably mediocre.

Louis Creed, a doctor from Chicago, moves to a house near the small town of Ludlow, Maine with his wife Rachel, their two young children, Ellie and Gage, and Ellie's cat, Winston Churchill ("Church"). Their neighbor, an elderly man named Jud Crandall, warns Louis and Rachel about the highway that runs past their house; it is used by trucks from a nearby chemical plant that often pass by at high speeds. A few weeks after the Creeds move in, Jud takes the family on a walk in the woods behind their home. A well-tended path leads to a pet cemetery (misspelled "sematary") where the children of the town bury their deceased animals.

Louis has a traumatic experience as director of the University of Maine's campus health service when Victor Pascow, a student who is fatally injured after being struck by an automobile, addresses his dying words to Louis even though they have never met. On the night following Pascow's death, Louis is visited by the student's walking, conscious corpse, which leads him to the "sematary" and refers specifically to the "deadfall", a dangerous pile of tree and bush limbs that form a barrier at the back. Pascow warns Louis not to "go beyond, no matter how much you feel you need to."

In the novel Louis is forced to confront death at Halloween, when Jud's wife, Norma, suffers a near-fatal heart attack. Thanks to Louis's immediate attention, Norma recovers. In the movie adaption Jud is single and the Creed's maid, Missy Dandridge, commits suicide in their basement and the Creeds help arrange her funeral. After Church is run over while the kids are visiting their grandparents with Rachel for Thanksgiving, Jud leads Louis beyond the deadfall to an ancient burial ground that was once used by the Micmacs, a Native American tribe. Following Jud's instructions, Louis buries the cat and constructs a cairn. The next afternoon, the cat returns home. However, while he used to be vibrant and lively, he now acts ornery and "a little dead," in Louis's words.

Several months later Gage, who had just learned to walk, is run over by a speeding truck. Overcome with despair, Louis has Rachel and Ellie visit her parents again, not telling them his intentions. Louis exhumes his son's body and buries Gage at the burial ground. Gage returns as a demonic shadow of his former self, able to talk like an adult. Ellie has terryfing visions about that, which eventually convince Rachel to go back to Ludlow, where she meets Gage... After learning that Gage killed Jud and Rachel, Louis kills him with a morphine injection. After that, his mind is pushed into its final stage of insanity. Louis, now completely insane and having prematurely aged, burns down Jud Crandall's house, then carries Rachel's body to the burial ground, saying that he "waited too long" with Gage but is confident that Rachel will come back the same as before...

King has said his goal was to write a novel too scary to be read all the way through, and many critics said he came uncomfortably close to accomplishing it. It's still regarded by many as the scariest thing he's ever written.

The 1989 film adaptation starred Dale Midkiff as Louis, Fred Gwynne as Jud, Denise Crosby as Rachel and Miko Hughes as Gage. The 1992 sequel starred Edward Furlong, Anthony Edwards and Clancy Brown.


Tropes used in Pet Sematary include:
  • Ascended Extra: Pascow has a much bigger role in the movie.
  • Arc Words: "A man's heart is stonier, Louis."
    • "Sometimes, dead is better."
  • Adult Fear: Losing a child.
  • Author Phobia: The Gage incident is based on King's own son having a close encounter with a truck.
  • Ax Crazy: Some of the animals (namely the bull) resurrected by the burial ground become this, while resurrected humans are this trope times ten.
  • Big No: Louis does this after Gage gets hit by the truck.
    • Also, Pascow does it in the movie at the end when Louis ignores his warning.
  • Blond Guys Are Evil: Or in this case, as in the case of many horror films, little blond boys are evil.
  • Came Back Wrong: The main conflict.
  • Cats Are Mean: Louis didn't want to neuter Church, becaue he liked him "lean and mean", and thought that cats are "gangsters of the animal world, living outside the law". After Church was resurrected, he became downright sadistic, often killing and mutilating animals for fun.
  • Cat Scare: All over the damn place after Church's resurrection.
  • Cool Old Guy: Jud Crandall. Louis starts to feel like Jud is the father he never had.
  • Creator Cameo: Stephen King makes a cameo appearance as a minister who officiates at the funeral of Missy Dandridge in the film.
  • Dead Kite and Shoe Shot
  • Downer Ending: Like you didn't see this coming.
  • Dying as Yourself: Gage. "Daddy!" Makes it even worse.
    • Averted in the film: "No fair!"
  • Eldritch Abomination: Very possible explanation for what the burial ground is.
  • Enfante Terrible: Gage when he comes back.
  • Eye Scream: It's implied Gage stabs Rachel in the eye with a cane, and later on in the movie Louis finds her with one of her eyes missing.
  • Filk Song: The Ramones provided one.
  • Foreshadowing: Almost to the point where everything is spelled out to the audience
    • It borders on spoiling its own plot, at times. See Oh, and X Dies below.
    • To the extent that it's obvious Gage's death is not meant to surprise the reader. From the moment the discrepancy between the two death dates of Jud's dog is revealed, it's clear that Gage is doomed.
  • Genius Loci: The Micmac Burying Ground, in the sense that it is 'addictive' (people who have buried pets there keep making up excuses or finding reasons to use it again) and can project its will on people (it essentially drives Louis insane, and it makes Jud fall asleep so that he is too late to prevent Louis from going up there again to bury Gage). It's also heavily implied that it influenced the truck driver to hit Gage.
  • Harmful to Minors: It is revealed that Rachel was traumatized by the early death of her sister, Zelda, from spinal meningitis.
  • Haunted House Historian
  • Heroic BSOD: After killing Gage, Louis crouches down in a corner, and sucks on his thumb for two hours. Unlike other examples of this trope, he doesn't get better, he's just insane now.
  • Hope Spot: Not long after Gage's funeral, the narrative abruptly shifts gears with "But none of those things happened", clarifies that Louis in fact did manage to save Gage from the oncoming truck, and spends a few pages powering through Gage's life until the point where he becomes an Olympic swimmer... and then Louis awakens back into the reality where his son is dead.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Zelda.
  • Ill Girl: Averted. The Goldmans knew exactly what was wrong with Zelda, and she doesn't endure her suffering gracefully, to say the least.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Jud with the Creeds, especially Louis (and in the book, Norma also forms such relationships with the younger family).
  • It Got Worse: The entire second half of the novel. Heck, it starts with this sentence: "It's probably wrong to believe there can be any limit to the horror which the human mind can experience."
  • Jerkass: Rachel's father, Irwin Goldman. Though, to be fair to him, he is genuinely upset about his grandson's death when it happens, so he's not all bad.
  • Just a Kid / Not Now, Kiddo: Ellie begins to have premonitions early on in the movie, but her parents shrug them off as simple nightmares.
    • Eventually, her mother believes her, but that just makes things worse: she goes back to Maine, and gets killed by Gage.
  • Locked Into Strangeness: When Louis goes insane after killing Gage, his hair turns white.
  • Mismatched Eyes: Victor, on the cover, has them.
  • Monster From Beyond the Veil: This is what happens to almost anything the burial ground resurrects.
  • More Than Mind Control: In the book, the influence of the whatever-it-is in the burial ground is implied to be responsible for Gage's death and Rachel not making it back in time to stop her husband, and Louis's Too Dumb to Live behavior is in fact a combination of its influence and the emotional wringer it's been putting him through.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Rachel's father disliked Louis from the beginning, and even tried to bribe him (offering to pay his tuition through med school) if he breaks up with Rachel. Louis told him to take his checkbook and plug up his ass with it. Not exactly a promising first step toward good relations with the future in-laws.
  • Oh, and X Dies: Two examples.
    • "[Norma Crandall] had recovered nicely from her heart attack, and on that evening less than ten weeks before a cerebral accident would kill her, [Louis] thought that she looked less haggard and actually younger." This is a fairly tame example, of course -- since even before she was introduced, the shroud of natural death has hung over Norma, and she and those around her are quite comfortable with it. We know as readers that she'll die in the course of the story, probably peacefully before the horror begins, so Foreshadowing her death this baldly isn't a huge deal. It's nothing like the Wham! Line toward the end of Part One, during the kite flying scene...
    • "And Gage, who now had less than two months to live, laughed shrilly and joyously." Later on in the very same page, King even explains that "marbles were really not the problem [i.e. the hazard that would soon take Gage's life], and chills were really not the problem, that a large Orinco truck was going to be the problem, that the road was going to be the problem..." A few pages and two months later, and Gage is dead.
  • Orphaned Punchline: A joke is mentioned about a Jewish tailor who bought a parrot whose only line was "Ariel Sharon jerks off."
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Type R. They look and act alive enough, but it's fairly easy to tell that they're functionally dead. At best, they're just not themselves (most animals turn out like this) and are occasionally a fair bit nastier. Humans, however, return as terrifyingly violent and sadistic abominations with few if any human characteristics, behaving less like an actual human and more like some sort of thing that happens to be taking a human guise.
  • Rant-Inducing Slight: When Missy Dandridge tries to console Louis (and probably herself as well) at Gage's receiving and says "Thank God he didn't suffer", Louis nearly explodes with rage, going through a long rant in his head, but he manages to control himself.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot - King mentions in On Writing that it is a parent's job to save your kid's life. His son bolted towards a road where semis blew by on a regular basis, and King caught him. What he couldn't stop thinking about was what would have happened if he hadn't. As he put it, he not only found himself thinking the unthinkable, but writing it down.
    • Also in On Writing (or possibly another book, I forget), King mentions his young daughter jumping on plastic wrap bubbles and ranting "Let God have his own cat!" after the death of her pet, Smucky. This rant appears in the book, as does Smucky's grave ("He was obediant.").
  • Rouge Angles of Satin: Yes, the "sematary" instead of "cemetery" is intentional.
  • Sanity Slippage: Rachel and (especially) Louis go through this.
  • Scare Chord
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Steve Masterton, literally seconds away from Louis when he's carrying Rachel's body to be buried, decides that whatever is going on in the Pet Sematary filled up his weirdness levels for the rest of his life and bolts away. By the time he gets to his apartment, he doesn't even remember going to the town in the first place.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog
  • Shout-Out: Louis is a fan of The Ramones.
  • Spirit Advisor: In a way, Pascow, as he tries to warn Louis and later Ellie from beyond the grave.
  • Swamps Are Evil: Especially when they are as lousy with spectral beings as Little God Swamp. On the first trip through, the swamp is generally creepy, but they don't witness anything too strange aside from a white opaque fog that covered the ground like "the world's lightest snowdrift." Jud tells Louis about some advice given him by the town drunk, Stanny Bouchard, who was the person who took Jud up to the Burying Ground for the first time. Stanny said you might see St. Elmo's Fire, what sailors called "foo-lights" and to just ignore it. You might hear voices, but "those are just the loons down south toward Prospect. The sound carries. It's funny." And most of all, do not speak to anything, should it speak to you. On Louis's second trip, though, Little God Swamp is wide awake and humming:

That was not St. Elmo's Fire.

  • Technology Marches On: In the book, a terabyte (and even 64 kilobytes!) is spoken of as an obscene and unthinkable amount of memory for a computer to have.
  • Wendigo: The book implies that one may be responsible for the burial ground's power.
    • The Wendigo is actually glimpsed in the book, but glossed over in the film. This leads to the above accusations of Too Dumb to Live, because the film shows what the characters are led to do, but doesn't indicate that their actions are not entirely their own.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Rachel's phobia about death (she doesn't deal well with even hearing the concept mentioned) leads into discussion of Zelda and has an effect on how some other plot events play out.

The sequel provides examples of:[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Abusive Parents: Sheriff Gus Gilbert, who was going to go as far as beating his son with a big stick for sneaking out of the house until Drew's dog, who he shot and killed, shows up and tears his throat out.
  • Asshole Victim: Both Gus the cop and Clyde the bully. In fact, The former kills the latter when he becomes a zombie.
  • Body Horror: Renee's mortician's wax melting by the fire in the end.
  • Continuity Nod: They left tons of nods in this movie, from the protagonist passing by the Creed house, to the bully retelling how Louis dug up Gage to revive him, to a reference to Church when the vet compares the dog's blood to Church's. even though the Creed family took Church to the vet once, and he was alive at that time.
  • Dog Scare
  • Evil Sounds Deep
  • Eye Scream: Majorie is killed by Renee with her left eye being stabbed by scissors.
  • For the Evulz: The bully starts picking on the protagonist simply because his mom died. To the point in which he was going to shred his face to a bicycle wheel, knowing that it might even kill him.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: When Gus kills Clyde by grinding half his head away with a motorbike wheel, the camera (thankfully) cuts away to his face being splattered with a fine shower of blood. Lovely.
  • Make Sure He's Dead: After Chase kills Gus by shooting him in the head, he pauses in the doorway on the way out of the house before turning around and heading back inside and shooting him three more times, just to be sure.
  • Sanity Slippage: Not as bad as Louis's, but Jeff really gets obsessed with reviving his mom as the movie goes on.
  • Your Head Asplode: Cylde's head explodes after Jeff shoves a cut wire in his mouth.

"I brought you something, Mommy!"