By John H. Foote
Stephen King is now 72 years old, has written a staggering 58 books, and is worth over 400 million dollars. So wealthy is he, that when film students have asked for permission to shoot one of his short stories, he agrees to a fee of one dollar. He lives with his wife Tabitha in Bangor, Maine, in a Gothic mansion everyone knows upon site. King is easily the most prolific writer of his generation, of the last 40 years, and his novels usually start at the top of the New York Times best seller list. Movie and TV sales are done when the book is in galley form, the studios often do not even wait for the work to be finished, they just buy it. King maintains his favourite movie adaptations remain Stand By Me (1986), The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Mist (2007), only the latter a horror film.
Everyone has their favourite King book, mine is Salem’s Lot, though his most frightening book is It. In Salem’s Lot, we learn a character named Mike Ryerson has died. A few pages later the words, “Mike Ryerson was lying on the bed” chilled my blood. That is the power he wields with images and words. Others think differently. They prefer The Shining, Cujo, Dr. Sleep, or Revival and there are more than enough books to go around. I have great emotion for Christine, as much about teenage friendship as it is a haunted Plymouth Fury. And the closing sentence of The Green Mile is perhaps the most haunting end to any book.
“We each owe a death, there are no exceptions, I know that, but God, oh God, sometime the green mile is so long.”
Parents were hit particularly hard by his 1983 book Pet Semetary, the themes including guilt and grief as a tiny child died on the pages, only to be brought back from the dead. The book was made into a weak film in 1989, and now here we go again with another version of the book. Straight up there are spoilers within, including a major change from the book that surprised me, though I understand why.
The Creed family has moved to Ludlow, Maine, escaping the big city to the country living of this small town. Louis (Jason Clarke), Rachel (Amy Seimetz), Ellie (Jete Lawrence), and Gage (Hugo Lavoie) look like the all-American family. Louis a doctor and they have money to afford the sprawling property the purchase. What they discover is that on their land is a very dark place known as the pet semetary, where people have been known to bury their cats and dogs, to have them return, different.
The moment we learn of the pet burial ground, we know their family cat is doomed, and sure enough a speeding vehicle kills the poor cat on the road right in front of their home. Jud (John Lithgow), their kindly neighbour, takes Louis with the cat to the place and, sure enough, the cat comes back, scruffy, mangy, hair matted, damp, ugly and with a nasty disposition.
Then an unspeakable tragedy befalls the family when their daughter is killed, a huge switch from the book but one I understand. The death of the toddler pulled many out of the film in 1989, and my brother, an actor, pointed out it would be near impossible for a true toddler to play the role. So they changed it to have the daughter die, which when they do what we know they will do, makes the return of the girl even more creepy than we think it might. At the heart of the book has always been a genuine portrait of heartbreak and grief, the sort of shattering, unbearable grief from which no one recovers. Refusing the natural order of things, they refuse to let go of what has been taken.
The filmmakers miss this entirely. ENTIRELY. So instead what we get is a slasher film that becomes a slasher film partway through, it does not start that way, and it never seems headed in that direction until we are there.
There were no moments that I found scary, in fact I snickered a few times when I should not have. Where the book explores parental dread, an exploration of a kind of pain no parent should ever go through, grief times a thousand. Not in the film, instead we get a silly slasher film and it is pretty easy to deduce who is swinging the knife.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.