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.
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.
Bolivian Army Ending: Book only. The last scene has the resurrected Rachel laying her hand on Louis' shoulder and saying, "Darling." What happens afterwards is left to the reader's imagination. The movie is less ambiguous - the final scene has Rachel swinging a knife toward Louis' throat before it cuts to black.
Came Back Wrong: The main conflict and the real reason why dead is better in this case.
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.
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.
From Bad to Worse: The entire second half of the novel, after Gage dies. 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."
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.
Good Parents: Rachel and Louis are genuinely good people who love their kids above all.
Harmful to Minors: It is revealed that Rachel was traumatized by the early death of her sister, Zelda, from spinal meningitis. And it wasn't simply that she died, but that she died while Rachel (eight years old at the time) was watching her while their parents were out; what happened was that Zelda swallowed her tongue and Rachel was unable to keep her from choking to death. What made this even worse for Rachel was that, deep down, she resented the fact that she had to help take care of Zelda, and part of her wanted Zelda to die, because due to her suffering, Zelda became deranged and malicious.
Haunted House Historian: Jud Crandall, who relates the history of the Pet Sematary and the Burying Ground to Louis.
Heroic BSOD: After killing the resurrected 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 a gold-medal Olympic swimmer... and then Louis awakens back into the reality where his son is dead.
Humanoid Abomination: Zelda is portrayed like this in the film. Also, anyone who was buried in the Micmac burying ground comes back as one.
Idiot Ball: Louis' poor thinking is understandable considering his deep trauma but Jud really has no excuse in the movie. He opens the door of a nefarious secret in the first place, even when he knows from experience that even if it's restricted to animals, it will go wrong. It may be justified somewhat in that the burying ground is able to influence people's decisions.
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).
Jerkass: Rachel's father, Irwin Goldman. Though, to be fair to him, he is genuinely upset about his grandson's death when it happens. He also calls Louis later to apologize for his behavior, so he's not all bad.
The main reason Louis considers Irwin a Jerkass is because he tried to bribe Louis into not marrying Rachel, by offering to pay his way through medical school if he agreed to break off the engagement. The massive verbal throwdown this ignites is why Louis and Irwin loathe each other.
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.
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.
"[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.
Older than They Look: When Louis first meets Jud, he thinks that Jud is around 70. He's actually 83.
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: The Burying Ground's resurrectees are Revenant Zombies. 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.").
He [Louis] could now feel his sanity beginning to give way. This was an actual sensation, a true thing. It was interesting. He imagined a tree overloaded with ice in a terrible storm would feel this way— if trees could feel anything—shortly before toppling. It was interesting... and it was sort of amusing.
Slut Shaming: If the Demon speaking through Gage at the end is to believed (and it likely is, since the previous time it appeared, what it said was true), Jud's wife Norma slept with all of his friends while they were married and she is in hell (perhaps) as a result of this.
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.
Norma Crandall, if the demon speaking through Gage at the end is to be believed. She slept with all her husband's friends. It's debatable whether this is true or not. One one hand, the demon said the truth about people's secrets before. On the other hand, what he said about Norma was pretty outlandish, and he said it to make Jud angry and lose control. It's possible that there was truth in it, but the demon exaggerated.
Jud Crandall visited prostitutes when he was younger and married to Norma, although her infidelity to him might have arguably been worse.
The sequel provides examples of:
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: When the Cemetery brings people back, it doesn't heal them of the wounds that killed them - both Gus and Zowie sport grotesque sores that continue to ooze and fester over the course of the film. Gus poorly hides his with Ace bandages.
Renee's mortician's wax melting by the fire in the end.
Ironic Echo: Several, though the most notable is when Gus catches Clyde about to mangle Jeff's face with a bicycle wheel. Clyde replies with the words "I was just fucking with him." and proceeds to taunt Gus by telling him that he can't touch him. Gus doesn't take it well.
Clyde:*is punched to the ground* What are you doing!
Gus:*picks up Clyde's motorbike and revs it up* I'm just fucking with you.
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.
Taking You with Me: A villainous example... Resurrected Renee sets fire to the attic while Jeff and Zombie!Clyde are fighting with this precise intention.