This year alone, I’ve been taking on the pointless and often unfulfilling task of watching 80’s horror movie sequels. My consumption has included the surreal weirdness that is the Phantasm series which incarnations span decades and the Friday the 13th saga which is the same movie over and over again except the original work is objectively awful and the only halfway decent entries are the campy ones. All this is prelude to say watching Pet Sematary Two made for a more fascinating experience than any other sequel I’ve slogged through. While I can’t find proof that the follow up script to the wildly successful Stephen King adaptation was a repurposed one, Two deviates greatly in style and ambition. It’s more surreal, gory and exploitative surprising considering it’s Mary Lambert returning to direct.
This may be a case of making a sequel no longer beholden to a stringent source material, the filmmakers were allowed to run a little wild. The film begins at a Tim Burton-esque gothic castle where a red headed woman in a white slip cautiously walks down some narrow stairs, just as she begins to reach for something, skeleton arms pop up from the ground and the director yells “cut!” This opening prologue sets up the death of Renee (Darlanne Fluegel), actress/ mother of 13-year-old Jeff (Edward Furlong)/ ex-wife of veterinarian Chase (Anthony Edwards) which forces the boys to return to the small town of Ludlow, Maine for a fresh start. The structure of escalation is similar to the original film, first an animal death this time Jeff’s friend Drew has his dog shot by his abusive stepdad Gus (Clancy Brown). The boys bury the large K-9, Zowie, at the Indian burial ground and after it returns and eventually attacks Gus on Halloween when he is wailing on his stepson, the boys repeat the burial ritual and then they have an undead Frankenstein of a stepdad on their hands. Yes, this is level of crazy this movie is functioning on. Gone are the days of baby Gage cutting Achilles’ tendons of old man Fred Gwynne, now it’s a motorbike tire to the face.
What is most troubling to this film that it takes the road less traveled and opts for maximum amount of violence towards animals. As proven time and time again the sanctity of animals and our emotional response when cute furry beings are under threat is very strong. We all know the horror cliche of the villain killing the family pet and then intensifying. The animal body count of Pet Sematary 2 is three kittens, a dog and at least a dozen rabbits. Not to mention the egregious scene of Chase calling a fellow vet and that guy is operating on the skull of a dog. Not pleasant! Sure, pull on our heartstrings but no one wants to see that much animal cruelty.
While those horror attempts are a bit misguided the dreamlike instances are what make this a stand out sequel. The influence may have come from the mangled patient that haunts Louis Creed in the original work, the visions here manage to be more nightmarish as the hybrid dead mom-head of dog combo visits both father and son (for dad it’s in an unsettling sexual context). Most of the scenes are given some sort of unnatural lighting to dissociate from reality but it becomes muddled as we embark on the finale with the narrative going off the rails with Gus making his own undead army that includes Renee so he can “fuck her”. Her reincarnation seems more for Jeff’s benefit as Furlong’s performance becomes Oedipus meets The Omen that made me question if I’d missed the scene indicating this lascivious and malicious change in character. Of course, I didn’t, this movie is coo-coo bananas but it keeps winning me back with melting faces and heads exploding.
Pet Sematary Two is everything you want from an unnecessary sequel. It has just enough budget to make decent effects but 90’s enough to give it that straight to video quality. The quality of the actors is most impressive especially after all the Friday the 13th movies which is real no names amateur hour. Furlong was hot off of T:2 and Edwards and Brown are terrific character actors. My reason for seeking this movie out was on a recommendation by Andrea Subissati on The Faculty of Horror and while I thought it a weird choice, my tastes tend to align with her’s (except when it comes to Buffy). This doesn’t hold a candle to the original but you can’t expect it to. You have to view it through a lens of studio capitalism that demanded the churning out of a sequel to squeeze money from a profitable name. In that light, it’s way better than it has any right to be and a sufficient late night curiosity viewing with a friend. There are worse ways you could spend a Monday night.