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Literature / Pet Sematary

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"Sometimes, dead is better."

A 1983 horror novel by Stephen King, Pet Sematary was nominated for a World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1984.

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.

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 Mi'kmaqs, 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.

Before long, the Creed family suffers an unfathomable tragedy, and Louis is forced to confront the enormity of his grief and ask himself just how far he's willing to go to make his family whole again. In that quest, Louis will discover the truth of Judd's chilling advice: "Sometimes, dead is better."

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 — including King himself — 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 and was popular enough to warrant the sequel, Pet Sematary Two, in 1992.

The book was adapted again as Pet Sematary (2019) with Jason Clarke as Louis, Amy Seimetz as Rachel and John Lithgow as Jud. A prequel to this film is in development for Paramount+.

This book/movie provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Comic Relief: Pascow, of all people. He's scary and serious in his initial and final appearances, but when he's helping Rachel get back to Ludlow it plays like a sitcom.
  • Adaptation Expansion: In the book, Victor Pascow (after dying) only appears to first warn Louis in a dream of what's to come, then does the same to Ellie towards the end of the book. In the movie, Victor joins Rachel through her journey back to Ludlow, and appears one last time to beg Louis not to bury her in the burying ground, too.
  • Adapted Out:
    • Norma Crandall; Jud is single in the movie. Missy Dandridge, the Creeds' housekeeper in the book, serves a similar role to Norma in the film. That is, she's the first character to die and sets the film's themes of how each character deals with death.
    • The Wendigo is nowhere to be found in the 1989 movie, just some vaguely defined, nebulous evil force that could be the devil or cthulhu for all we know. It gets its time in the sun in the 2019 version though.
  • Ailment-Induced Cruelty: Rachel's older sister developed spinal meningitis. She lived in constant agony as the disease twisted her body, and as her medicine became less and less effective, she began to take it out on Rachel and her parents. She would deliberately piss in her bed and frighten Rachel by touching her when she wasn't looking with her deformed hands. By the time she died, her drugs were completely ineffective and she spent all her time screaming because of the pain.
  • All Just a Dream: In one of the cruelest Bait-and-Switch moments of King's career, the narrative covers Gage's death and funeral, and the Creed family's all-consuming grief, in excruciating detail. Then a new chapter begins with "But none of those things happened," and explains that Louis actually saved Gage, who went on to be an Olympic gold medalist swimmer. And then that turns out to be a dream Louis is having, and Gage is still dead.
  • Animals Hate Him: Inverted with Church the Zombie Cat. Everyone instinctively hates him after his revival.
  • Artistic License – Biology:
    • The remarkable physical condition Gage is in after his death. Make no mistake: a semi-truck plowing into a toddler at full speed on an open highway would likely resemble lasagna that had exploded in a microwave. There would hardly be a single intact part of Gage's body. In other words, there wouldn't have been a body left to bury in the burial ground.
    • The horrible description of the spinal meningitis that Rachel's sister suffered from. While it is indeed a serious disease, it is usually treatable, and many of its symptoms are much lighter than described in the book.
  • Ascended Extra: Pascow has a much bigger role in the movie. He wasn't exactly an extra in the book, but he only actually appears on-page twice: immediately after the accident that kills him, and once in Louis's dream. He later appears to Ellie in the same way, but the reader only learns about it from Ellie telling Rachel after the fact.
  • Arc Words:
    • "The soil of a man's heart is stonier, Louis."
    • "Sometimes, dead is better."
    • "Hey ho, let's go."
    • "Oz the gweat and tewwible."
  • Ax-Crazy: Some of the animals (namely Hanratty the bull) resurrected by the burying ground become this, while resurrected humans are this trope times ten.
  • Baby's First Words: Gage says his first incontestable word on the family's first day at Ludlow: "Home."
  • Back from the Dead: The premise of the novel. Unfortunately, this is definitely not a good thing.
  • Biblical Motifs: Biblical excerpts about Lazarus of Bethany and the story of his resurrection by Jesus are quoted/paraphrased at the start of each section of the novel. For obvious reasons.
  • 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.
  • Black Comedy:
    • Louis, when Rachel tells him that her father bought Ellie six new dresses when they visited for Thanksgiving, thinks angrily to himself: "He bought her six dresses, and I brought her god-damned cat back from the dead, so who loves her more?!"
    • After Gage dies, Louis, near to losing his sanity from grief can't help but think of dark jokes. For instance, when he buys the coffin, in his mind "an announcer suddenly spoke up cheerfully: I got my kid's coffin free, for Raleigh coupons!"
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The last scene of the novel has the resurrected Rachel laying her hand on Louis's shoulder and saying, "Darling." What happens afterwards is left to the reader's imagination. The 1989 movie is less ambiguous — the final scene has Rachel swinging a knife toward Louis's throat before it cuts to black. The 2019 adaptation also features a Bolivian Army Ending, with the still-human Gage alone in the car, being approached by his now undead family (along with Church, just for good measure). The car door unlocks immediately before the credits roll.
  • Breather Episode: Chapter 15 of part 1.
  • Came Back Wrong: The main conflict and the real reason why dead is better in this case. Animals buried in the Micmac burying ground usually come back as dumb and slow, with people feeling innate disgust towards them. Some animals become uncontrollably aggressive. Humans buried there inevitably come back as hideous, demonic monsters.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Acknowledged tragically by Rachel when she notes that she would watch Gage better if she could have him back and adds that Gage wasn't even being disobedient when he ran into the road but thought that he and the adults were playing a game. The cruel Dramatic Irony lies in the reader's knowledge that Gage's death can probably best be blamed not on Rachel or Gage but on Louis's initial act of Upsetting the Balance, which took the form of burying a cat on his kindly neighbor's instructions.
  • Casting Gag: Jud warns Louis not to resurrect Gage by burying him in the pet sematary, explaining "dead is better." In the film, Jud is played by Fred Gwynne, whose most famous role was Herman Munster, a Frankenstein's Monster, on The Munsters.
  • Cats Are Mean: Louis didn't want to neuter Church, because 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. Even in the book, where at one point Louis wakes up to find Church sitting on his chest and staring at him.
  • Censored Child Death: Played with: the book cuts straight from normal life to Gage's funeral, but we gradually get more details of Gage's death through Louis's repeated recollection of the incident, the last and most jarring being that his flung baseball cap was full of blood.
  • Cheated Death, Died Anyway: Something of a recurring theme.
    • Norma has a heart attack on Halloween, and because Louis is taking a moment to chat with Jud on the premises before continuing to bring Ellie on her trick-or-treat route, he's able to save her life with few of the side effects that might have been caused by a delay of any serious length. In January she dies of an unrelated cerebral incident.
    • The night that Rachel and the kids return from their Thanksgiving visit to Chicago, Louis saves a sick Gage from choking on his own vomit, a close call that leaves Rachel shaken. The Life Will Kill You nature of Gage's eventual demise is further emphasized through references to other circumstances that came to nothing, from a swallowed marble that passed harmlessly through his system weeks before the accident to a health scare when he was only nine months old (when recalling his and Rachel's relief after Gage received a clean bill of health, Louis notes darkly that "God was saving him for Route 15").
      ...not knowing that marbles were really not the problem, 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.
    • Both Church and Gage are killed by Louis after being resurrected by him, a fate apparently not uncommon among those resurrected by the Micmac burying ground, from Hanratty the bull (shot two weeks after his resurrection by the same owner that buried him) to Timmy Baterman (similarly killed within a few weeks of his revival by the father who revived him).
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Jud mentions Cujo when discussing all the problems with animals in the area.
    • Rachel passes by 'Salem's Lot on her way back to Ludlow.
  • 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.
  • Creepy Child: Gage in the book and 1989 film adaptation, after he is brought back from the dead by whatever took up residence in the old graveyard. In the 2019 film adaptation, this role is filled by Ellie.
  • Creepy Good: Pascow in the novel and 1989 film, whoever or whatever he becomes. He's the closest thing to a Big Good, trying to warn Louis away from using the burial ground and warn Ellie... and he takes the form of a jogger with a destroyed head.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Pascow's undead appearance is unsettling, but in spite of it he's the closest thing there is to a Big Good, attempting to warn Louis and prevent the destruction of his family.
  • Daydream Surprise: Within one, even: Chapter 40 starts by revealing the events of Gage's death and funeral as "a hellishly detailed moment of imagination" right before Louis pulled him to safety as he ran toward the road, then has Louis wake up into the miserable reality where Gage is still dead.
  • Dead Hat Shot: Not only in the 1989 film but in the book as well: Louis finds Gage's baseball cap, one of his sneakers, and his jumper turned fully inside-out before he finds the body.
  • Death of a Child: The entire plot hinges on it. Halfway through the story, Gage is hit and killed by a truck on the route. The rest of the story covers how the Creeds deal with his passing—and in Louis's case, how he doesn't.
  • Dem Bones: During Louis's maybe-not-a-Dream Sequence, the deadfall turns into a huge heap of tangled, writhing skeletons.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Louis rapidly starts approaching this after Gage's death. Jud and Rachel's deaths and being forced to kill Gage all over again finally send him shooting right over it, destroying him and shattering whatever remained of his already broken mind.
  • Don't Look Down: This is Jud's advice to Louis when they scale the deadfall for the first time, and the process of climbing it does seem to work on Wile E. Coyote principles — don't look down, don't slow down, don't think, just climb, and you'll be fine.
  • Downer Ending: One of the few totally straight and unambiguous ones King has ever written. Jud and Rachel are murdered by the resurrected Gage, while Louis has been driven completely insane after being forced to kill his son a second time. He places Rachel's body in the burying ground, and while his ultimate fate at the hands of his newly-resurrected wife is not shown, we can be reasonably certain it won't be pleasant. The death of everyone who knows about the burying ground means there's probably no one left to 'put down' Rachel, potentially leaving her free to wreak havoc. Ellie is the only member of the Creed family to survive; King has gone on record saying she was raised in a loving home and turned out okay, but she still has nightmares about the Pet Sematary.
  • The Dreaded: Rachel and her family are terrified of Zelda. Even when Rachel was an adult, she was still haunted by her.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: After putting Ellie to bed the night after Gage's funeral, when she tells Louis that she is going to pray to God as hard as she can for Gage to come back, Louis heads downstairs to the kitchen:
    Louis Albert Creed set methodically about getting drunk.
  • Dull Surprise: Dale Midkiff gives a notoriously flat, monotone performance for most of the movie, but he does improve somewhat when Louis starts going crazy.
  • Dying as Yourself: Gage returns to his former self just seconds before he dies a second time. "Daddy!" Makes it even worse.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Out of universe, King mentions in Danse Macabre (first published in 1981) that he was doing research for a novel about a father bringing his son back from the dead.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Wendigo that Louis almost sees when bringing Gage's body to the burying ground. Louis doesn't linger on it, but from what the reader gets, it's impossibly huge, with yellow eyes and a long, peeling tongue.
  • Eldritch Location: The Micmac burying ground beyond the Pet Sematary. Only accessible via a path through a deadfall, the burying ground has the power to bring back whatever dead creature is buried there, at the expense that they return either sluggish and mean or just plain monstrous. This in and of itself is unsettling, but it also has a strange power to it that makes people want to go to it without reason, and makes them want to tell others about its secret. On top of that, it seems the burying ground just radiates bad energy all over Ludlow, as the truck driver that kills Gage says he didn't know why he was speeding, just that he felt like he was supposed to.
  • Elmuh Fudd Syndwome: Zelda apparently talked like this, hence "Oz the Gweat and Tewwible"; Rachel recalls that "she sounded like Elmer Fudd."
  • Emotion Eater: It's suggested that the burying ground (or whatever's in it) feeds on grief and despair. It can go dormant for decades, but it's always hungry when it wakes up.
  • Empathy Doll Shot: The film uses Gage's kite and shoe. The novel has Louis focusing on Gage's cap (a child-sized Red Sox cap that Gage often refused to leave the house without) just after he comes out of the Hope Spot dream mentioned below.
  • Enfante Terrible: Gage is resurrected as a sadistic, homicidal maniac bent on killing Jud and the rest of his family.
  • Evil Tainted the Place: The burying ground wasn't always an unspeakably evil place, but the explanations provided on how it went bad are vague, ranging from the bones of those victimised by cannibalism from times of starvation buried there, to a Wendigo staking its claim on the land. Or both.
  • 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. The corpse has the same look.
  • Failure-to-Save Murder: This is how Irwin conceives of Gage's death, accusing Louis of Parental Neglect and asking him where he was and what he was doing when Gage was run down. He has no idea what kind of nerve he's striking, as Louis was not only right there with Gage at the time but actually felt the tips of his fingers graze the back of his jumper as he tried to catch him before he could reach the road.
  • Fisticuff-Provoking Comment: Irwin's accusation that Louis let Gage play in traffic earns him a punch in the mouth. This leads to a squabble that knocks Gage's coffin off its trestle.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Louis almost hits a jogger on his way to work. Less than a page later, guess what's happened to Pascow?
  • Foregone Conclusion: An unusual horror novel in that it largely gets its scares not from keeping the reader off-balance, but from making it clear exactly how badly things are going to go and then forcing the reader to live through every excruciating minute of it anyway.
  • Free-Range Pets: You can't help but wonder how much could have been avoided if they'd just kept the cat inside. In Jud's words, the road "uses up a lot of animals," many of which Louis finds tributes to in the Pet Sematary.
  • 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. At the end of the book, Louis's colleague sees the (quite obviously) insane Louis carrying Rachel's corpse, and almost ends up following him to help with the burial. It's implied that the only reason he doesn't is because whatever powers the burying ground is sated on Louis's grief and suffering, and so doesn't bother to push the other man too hard.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The Wendigo, a supernatural primal demon and woodland being which terrorized Micmac tribes centuries earlier and cursed the Pet Semetary with its supernatural properties.
  • Good Parents: Rachel and Louis are genuinely good people who love their kids above all which just makes Gage’s death even more tragic.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Unusually for Stephen King, this is utilized when Gage kills Jud and Rachel. It is also used when Gage is hit by the truck, as no detail is given other than Gage was dragged a long distance after being struck, and this information is only given after the fact. Gage's death doesn't even really happen on-page, only in flashbacks. In fact, the book skips the infamous scene from the movie, going from the family flying a kite in the back 40 to Gage's funeral.
  • 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 (8 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.
  • Hell: The resurrected Gage tells Jud that he's been to Hell and saw Norma there. Whether this is true or not is for the reader to decide.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • The family starts going through one after Gage dies. Louis drifts off and keeps replaying those last few seconds before Gage is hit by the truck in his mind, Rachel can barely dress herself and breaks down in tears multiple times, and Ellie stops talking almost completely for a while and constantly carries a photo of her and Gage everywhere she goes.
    • Louis gets even worse later in the book. 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.
    • A brief one when Irwin calls Louis to apologize after the funeral. Louis considers abandoning his plan to resurrect Gage, and following Rachel & Ellie to Chicago exactly like he told them he would, until he thinks that this would be like killing Gage a second time.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Zelda is portrayed like this in the film. Also, anyone who was buried in the Micmac burying ground comes back as one.
  • Humans Are Flawed: The suggestion buried under all the horror of the story is that it's a good thing that there is no way to bring loved ones back from the dead in real life. Grieving parents especially simply would never be able to resist the temptation to try and resurrect their children, no matter how much you warned them it could go wrong or how much evidence you showed them.
  • Hypocrite: Irwin Goldman, Rachel's father. At Gage's funeral, he loudly and spitefully confronts Louis, blaming Louis's negligence for the death of his grandson. Back when Rachel was a child, however, it was Irwin's own negligence that was partly to blame for the death of her sister, Zelda, when he and his wife went out for the day, leaving young Rachel alone to care for her sister.
  • Idiot Ball: Louis's 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.
  • I'm a Humanitarian:
    • Jud tells Louis that the Micmacs believed that the Wendigo incites cannibalistic cravings, though that might have been just an excuse: in particularly bad winters when food was scarce they had to eat human flesh to survive and blamed it on the Wendigo ("saying the devil made them do it", says Louis).
    • It's implied that Gage ate from Rachel's flesh after killing her. It is shown on screen in the movie that Gage ate parts of Jud's neck and face.
  • Indian Burial Ground: The Micmac burying ground, naturally. Uncommonly for the trope, the land wasn't violated by settlers or construction; one day it simply went "sour". This was possibly caused by the burial of victims of cannibalism, which may have been incited by a Wendigo or may have just attracted one.
  • Informed Judaism: Rachel is a non-practicing Jew, but this is only mentioned offhand and has little impact on the rest of the story.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Jud with the Creeds, especially Louis (and in the book, Norma also forms such relationships with the younger family).
  • Irrational Hatred: Rachel's father Irving never really articulates why he took such an immediate dislike to Louis, who seems like a smart, pleasant, good-natured guy who is also training to be a doctor when he starts dating Rachel. Irving has plenty to say long after they get married, of course, but the source of his distaste for Louis appears to be nothing more than anger at Louis for taking away his daughter.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Louis begins mentally referring to Church as "it" rather than "he" immediately after its resurrection. While he justifies this to himself as taking the cat's neutering into account, Louis always called Church "he" before he died. It's obvious that on some level Louis can't deny that it's not the same cat, if it even is a cat.
  • It's Quiet… Too Quiet: During Louis's second trip through Little God Swamp, the approach of the Wendigo is signaled not only by the vibrations of its footsteps and the sound of cracking underbrush, but the fact that the constant chorus of peepers and frogs suddenly goes silent.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Norma Crandall, apparently. After her death, Jud wistfully tells Louis, "You should've seen her when she was sixteen, coming back from church with her jacket unbuttoned...your eyes would have popped." In context, it's a sweet, sad reminiscence.
  • Jerkass: Rachel's father, Irwin Goldman, 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.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Only in the movie, Irwin may take it a little far when he cusses out and punches Louis at Gage's funeral, but his anger is understandable. Louis is standing mere feet from his toddler son and gazes off into La-La Land long enough to let Gage run hundreds of feet away and out into the road to be hit by a truck. Father of the year, for sure.
  • Kids Prefer Boxes: The narration notes of the Gage family's Christmas that "both kids had decided by midafternoon that the boxes were more fun than the toys."
  • Last Disrespects: Rather than quietly grieving, Irwin Goldman uses Gage's funeral as an excuse to blame and then start a fight with his hated son-in-law for Gage's death and out of long time spite.
  • Lies to Children: This trope is brought up when Louis is thinking about his cousin Ruthie, who died when Louis was very young. His mother lied to him about where babies come from, but she told the cold harsh truth when Ruthie died after being hit by a kid who had stolen the keys to a payloader and went joyriding. Louis resolves never to lie to his children in that way, and tells Ellie where do babies come from, and that her cat will die one day. But ironically he can't bring himself to tell the truth to Ellie when Church is killed in the road, and he soon finds that the burying ground ensures that he doesn't have to.
  • Life Will Kill You: Brought up in the narration, in the form of "Oz the Gweat and Tewwible":
    He was around all the time, he monitored all the checkpoints between the mortal and the eternal. Dirty needles, poison beetles, downed live wires, forest fires. Whirling roller skates that shot nerdy little kids into busy intersections. When you got into the bathtub to take a shower, Oz got right in there too- Shower With A Friend. When you got on an airplane, Oz took your boarding pass. He was in the water you drank, the food you ate. Who's out there? you howled in the dark when you were all frightened and all alone, and it was his answer that came back: Don't be afraid, it's just me.
  • Like Father, Like Son: When Louis convinces Rachel to take Ellie and go to Chicago to stay with her parents for a while (in order to get them out of the house so he can re-bury Gage in the Micmac burying ground), Irwin Goldman calls Louis and apologizes for fighting with him at Gage's funeral. Louis realizes that he's acting exactly like Rachel: whenever she complains about something and finally gets her way, she would come back and say, "I'm sorry I was such a bitch." Irwin's apology is genuine but he is also calling to say "I'm sorry I was such a bastard" after getting what he wanted, which was more time with his daughter and grandchild.
  • Locked into Strangeness: When Louis goes insane after killing Gage, his hair turns white.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Louis's decision to try and resurrect Gage despite the fact that Gage would almost assuredly come back wrong is a combination of this and More than Mind Control on the part of the burying ground itself. He would do anything to have his son back and the burying ground offers that opportunity, and encourages Louis to take it.
  • Love-Obstructing Parents: Irwin Goldman does not approve of his daughter's relationship with Louis and even tried to bribe the latter to leave Rachel alone. He strongly dislikes Louis because he believes the man is unfit to take care of his daughter Rachel.
  • Manly Tears: In the 1989 film, Irwin begins crying during Gage's funeral. His lines, therefore, become more grief-stricken demands for closure than the nasty accusations they are in the book and radio play. Louis also starts to cry after their brawl knocks over Gage's casket.
  • Misplaced Vegetation:
    • During his second trip through Little God Swamp, Louis muses that the plants there grow nowhere else in Maine.
    • In the film, the pet "sematary" tombstones are covered in Spanish Moss, a subtropical plant found along the Gulf Coast of the US and completely out of place in Maine.
  • Monster from Beyond the Veil:
    • Played with. Most creatures resurrected by the burying ground display unsettling new behaviour, such as Ellie's cat killing multiple birds and mice for no reason other than his own entertainment. However, according to Jud, the revived animals are largely harmless, with the only exceptions being his friend's bull, who was actively violent and attacked human beings on sight, and Gage, who is brought back as a homicidal maniac.
    • It's stated that the same demon who animated Timmy Baterman's body back in the 1940's is animating Gage's body, since it chastizes Judd for "fucking with [it] before." It's not content with just airing his dirty laundry anymore either
  • Mood Whiplash: The scary Smash to Black coda leads to end credits scored by the funny Ramones song.
    • In the novel, Pascow's death scene is followed by Rachel calling Louis and asking him to come home, whereupon she greets him at the door in sexy lingerie, which leads to an erotic encounter in the bathtub (with all the graphic detail King is known for), and this is followed by Louis's dream of Pascow's shade leading him up to the Pet Sematary and warning him not to cross the deadfall.
  • More than Mind Control: In the book, the influence of the whatever-it-is in the burying ground is implied to be responsible for Gage's death, Rachel not making it back in time to stop her husband, Jud's telling Louis about the burying ground in the first place, and Louis's behavior in the last part is in fact a combination of its influence and the emotional wringer it's been putting him through.
  • Mortality Phobia: Even after years of marriage Louis is startled by the extent of this trait in Rachel, the result of years of trauma occasioned by the circumstances of her sister Zelda's death when both were children. She did not attend Zelda's funeral and has not attended any funeral since—even faking illness to get out of them—and is incapable of discussing death, even the hypothetical death of an animal, with Ellie. Just when it looks like she's making some productive strides toward dealing with this problem, her own son dies...
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The driver of the truck that strikes Gage is utterly horrified by the accident and driven to utter despair by what he did. Apparently he keeps saying that, for reasons he couldn't understand, he just felt an overwhelming need to push the accelerator on that patch of road and go as fast as possible. The clear implication is that the evil influence of the local burying ground and/or the Windigo influenced his behavior.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: The cat, Winston Churchill, "Church" for short.
  • Never Trust a Title: The titular Pet Sematary is perfectly ordinary, if misspelled, and has no real plot significance. The real horror happens in the Micmac burying ground located just past it.
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • Used with the Wendigo in the book. Louis sees the glimmer of its eyes, and finds evidence of its passage, but never actually sees the creature itself.
    • In the book, all we get of the freshly resurrected (and likely murderous) Rachel is a hand on Louis's shoulder and one rasping word: "Darling."
  • Not So Above It All: Near the beginning of the book, Louis is alarmed by Rachel's Mortality Phobia induced by the death of her sister in childhood, which goes far enough to make her assert that death is not "natural." As a physician who has seen his share of deaths, Louis takes a much healthier and more mature We All Die Someday perspective...which shatters instantly upon contact with the first death close enough to the bone to truly affect him.
  • Number of the Beast: In the film, the chemical truck Rachel rides back to the house is numbered 666 (the bottom half of the number is out of frame).
  • 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 broke 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:
    • "[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.
  • Oh, Crap!: On Louis's second trip through Little God Swamp, he hears the sound of some creature approaching, something massive enough to cause the boggy ground to shake under his feet. He notices that the constant noise of frogs and insects has suddenly gone silent and he freezes in complete terror:
    (oh my God oh my dear God what is that what is coming through this fog?)
  • Older Than They Look: When Louis first meets Jud, he thinks that Jud is around 70. He's actually 83.
  • Orphaned Setup: A joke is mentioned about a Jewish tailor who bought a parrot whose only line was "Ariel Sharon jerks off."
  • Outliving One's Offspring: The main theme of the book is how people deal with the deaths of loved ones and all the attendant fallout that comes with it; Louis Creed being unable to cope with Gage's death leads to the destruction of everyone close to him. Other parental fears are brought up as well, such as worrying about a child's first day at school, or having to explain the concept of mortality to them.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: Louis dreams that Pascow's ghost shows up in his bedroom and takes him to the eponymous cemetery in order to give him a warning. When he wakes up, his feet are covered in mud and pine needles. He nearly has a mental breakdown over this, but eventually finds an explanation that satisfies him: it was a dream but he had been sleepwalking.
  • Parental Favoritism: Downplayed; Louis does genuinely and deeply love Ellie, and is a perfectly good father to her, but he seems to enjoys spending time with Gage just a tiny bit more than he does with her. After the accident, however, all he can think about is how he failed to save Gage and how he might be able to bring him back. In his Heroic BSoD state he starts to neglect both Ellie and Rachel, despite Steve and Jud telling him that they need his support now more than they ever have.
  • Parental Neglect: Only in the movie, Louis somehow manages to let Gage run across a giant open field and into the highway in front of a semi truck. Louis was standing only feet away from Gage and had no conceivable good excuse for allowing this to happen.
  • Parental Substitute: Jud is a father figure for Louis who lost his own father at a young age. When Louis was a boy the most prominent male presence in his life was his uncle Carl, who was an undertaker and father of his beloved cousin Ruthie.
  • Parents as People: Louis loves both of his children as dearly as a father could, but as a human being, he doesn't really have infinite patience for their temper tantrums and crying spells. In the horrific drive to their new home in the first chapter, having Gage, Ellie, and Rachel all complaining and crying at once makes him wish he could just leave them all, if only for a moment. This applies to Rachel, too, who also loves both her children dearly but can sometimes project her problems onto them. This is especially clear when she rages at Louis for explaining death to Ellie, and it doesn't take him very long at all to figure out she's thinking about her deceased sister more than her daughter.
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone: The shade of Pascow appears to various people, usually as they sleep, to warn them against using the power of the burying ground.
  • Raising the Steaks: Any animals interred in the tainted burying ground come back as an undead monster with Ax-Crazy tendencies and Glowing Eyes of Doom.
  • Real-Place Background: All the towns mentioned in the book actually exist although Ludlow is a little over 100 miles north of Bangor, whereas in the book it's described as a short drive away. The Howard Johnson's where Louis stays before digging up Gage from Pleasant View Cemetery, and the cemetery itself also exist (though the real Pleasant View is a fair bit smaller than the fictional one), and in close proximity to Bangor International Airport as mentioned in the book. The Howard Johnson's restaurant that Louis eats at also existed at the time the book was published, but is now closed.
  • Repeat After Me: Gage, still learning to talk, does this (his response to Ellie's encouragement to "Say 'shit,' Gage" is "Shit-Gage").
  • Revenant Zombie: The burying ground's resurrectees. 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 sadistic, homicidal (and most likely cannibalistic) monsters with a fondness for Hannibal Lectures that contain knowledge that the resurrected could not have possibly had, making it obvious that it's not them but rather something using their body as a vessel. They can be killed by fairly mundane methods however. Louis re-kills Gage with an overdose of morphine.
  • Rouge Angles of Satin: The "sematary" instead of "cemetery" is intentional, as the sign leading up to it was originally written by a child.
  • Sanity Slippage: Rachel and (especially) Louis go through this.
    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.
  • The Scapegoat: Louis, for his father-in-law Irwin Goldman. He blames him for "stealing" his daughter, as well as Gage's death. However when Louis decides to send Rachel and Ellie to stay with Irwin and Dory after the funeral (so he can dig up Gage without their knowledge and place him in the burying ground), it makes Irwin realize that he's been an utter asshole and he takes it all back. His tearful apology almost convinces Louis to abandon his plan to resurrect Gage, but not quite, to the detriment of everyone involved.
  • Scare Chord: Used a few times in the movie, usually when a reanimated Gage appears.
  • Schmuck Bait: Conversed. Everyone who has used the Micmac Burying Ground knows that no good can ever come from using it, but they always rationalize it away and keep finding reasons to, because the power there influences their minds. Louis has an internal debate with himself about what would happen if he used it to resurrect Gage, bringing up what any rational person would about the ramifications of such a thing, but in the end he goes through with it anyway:
    What happens the first time Missy Dandridge pulls into the driveway and sees Gage riding his trike in the yard? Can't you hear her screams, Louis?
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: In the early days, while they are dating, Irwin Goldman tries to bribe Louis to leave his daughter alone. He offers to pay his medical school. Louis doesn't accept.
  • 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.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Downplayed; it's noted that a former poker buddy of Louis's assumed that as a doctor he must either be totally asexual or constantly having to hide his attraction to every female patient he examined. The simple answer is that it's all about context: "[i]n the office, a tit was a case," while "your wife's tit was different." It seems this doesn't necessarily apply to women who are outside the office and the home.
  • Smash to Black: The movie ends this way, just as it appears undead Rachel will stab her husband. His scream is even heard as it all darkens.
  • Spirit Advisor: In a way, Pascow, as he tries to warn Louis and later Ellie from beyond the grave. He formed a connection with Louis because Louis was with him when he died.
  • Straw Hypocrite: Rachel's father gives poor Louis a lot of shit at his infant son's funeral for not being there for Gage, when he was himself very negligent with Zelda in her last living moments.
  • 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.
  • Textual Celebrity Resemblance: Irwin Goldman is described as looking "almost absurdly like" Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Jud, for telling Louis about the Indian burial ground when he knows from first-hand experience just how bad messing around with it can get. Somewhat justified by the influence the burying ground has on people.
    Jud: You do it because it gets hold of you. You do it because that burial place is a secret place, and you want to share the secret, and when you find a reason that seems good enough, why...
  • Town with a Dark Secret: The town being Ludlow, Maine, and the secret being the fact that if you bury a dead body in the Micmac burying ground beyond the pet cemetery, it will be resurrected, but it won't be quite the same as before. According to Jud though only a few people in the town actually know the secret.
  • Tragedy: Perhaps the single most unambiguous one King has ever written.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Gage's death would have been horrible enough on its own, but it ends up triggering further disasters, both supernatural and completely mundane. Louis at one points thinks of the events that led up to his fistfight with his father in law at Gage's funeral as a Rube Goldberg-like "exaggeration" of horror.
  • Uncanny Valley:
    • People and animals brought back by the burying ground usually have this effect on the living. Even for those that aren't in the know, there's something just not right about them. Louis describes a time when Church jumped into a visitor's lap, and they almost immediately pushed the cat away, somehow sensing that there is something inherently wrong about the cat. Jud's story about Timmy Baterman being brought back shows that it's even stronger with other humans.
    • This was exploited by the filmmakers when they cast a man as Zelda, as they knew it would made her even more weird-looking and unsettling.
  • Unholy Ground: It did not produce overtly undead resurrectees, but there definitely was something wrong and horrible to those who rose from it.
  • Wendigo:
    • The book implies that one may be responsible for the burying ground's power. Louis nearly meets one when he carries Gage's body to the burying ground, but it's a foggy night so he's spared from seeing it.
    • The Wendigo is glossed over in the film, although it's briefly hinted at when Pascow tells Rachel "It's trying to stop you!" 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.
    • In contrast to the first film adaptation, the 2019 Pet Sematary mentions the Wendigo more explicitly on a few occasions, along with making it more clear that the malevolent force behind the old grave yard is capable of manipulating living humans.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: No mention is made in either the book or the film of what happens to Ellie in Chicago when the rest of her immediate family ends up insane or dead. Irwin and Dory, however, are still alive and it's established that they are very loving grandparents. Word of God via Twitter confirms that Ellie is alive and well but still has nightmares about the Pet Sematary.
  • 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.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: At one point, Louis is stated to be thirty-five. Later, he recalls that he last flew a kite at the age of twelve, nineteen years ago, which would make him thirty-one.

"I brought you something, Mommy!"


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Alternative Title(s): Pet Sematary 1989


Funeral Derangements

Ice Nine Kills have risen in popularity with their songs based on pop culture such as literature and horror films. This particular one is based on Stephen King's Pet Sematary.

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