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Saturday, 23 April 2011

Limp movie, great book - Pet Sematary

"We're really going to get old, he thought. No one's going to make an exception for us."

The movie, directed by Mary Lambert jettisons a lot of King's novel, and this results in the characters not being fully developed, and what is genuinely terrifying, not to mention disturbing in the novel, just doesn't have the same effect on the big screen. The novel's preoccupation with mortality is also lost on the screen.

"Sometimes dead is better..."

The novel takes its time in building the situations which are ultimately going to send protagonist Louis Creed, over the edge and death is used almost as a character itself, but kept on the sidelines, the reader always aware of its presence. One early plot device, the death of neighbour Judd Crandell's wife, Norma is jettisoned completely from the movie and another important plot detail, the death of Rachel Creed's sister, is heart wrenching in the book but comes across as standard horror movie fodder on the screen. On the screen the poor girl suffering from spinal meningitis looks like a zombie from a Romero movie.

The basics of the plot are - The Creeds move to a new home, befriend an elderly man named Judd Crandall who shows them to an ancient pet cemetery (misspelled) sematary where generations of children have buried their pets. Shortly afterwards the Creed's pet cat is run over and killed and Jud takes Louis Creed to an old Micmac Indian burial ground beyond the pet cemetery. The cat returns from the grave. The cat is different now - not exactly nasty but more unpleasant and there is always an earthy aroma when he's around.Some time later the Creed's little boy Gage is run over and killed and the heartbroken father takes the little boy's body to the Micmac burial ground...

Gage's death in the book is absolutely horrific and touches the reader on an almost primal level. King's greatest strength is his ability to create characters that are so real, the reader feels a bond with them, and when the little boy is mowed down by the speeding truck, its headlights bearing down on him like the eyes of a monster, it actually hurts, the reader feels the grief of the characters. But on the screen the same events come across as simply horrible and of questionable taste. King himself did the screenplay and as is the case with his directorial debut, Maximum Overdrive, he displays that his astounding talents as a novelist do not stretch to filmmaking.

I think the main problem with the movie is that it is very much a horror film and suffers from the excesses of the genre, whilst the novel, marketed as horror, is really a character study - that those characters are thrown into unimaginable situations is a given but it is the study of these very well realised characters that drives the piece. By the time the unspeakable events occur in the narrative we have fallen in love with the characters and know them so intimately that they become like family members, and we suffer their loss with them. Horror in literature has a much broader definition than it does on the screen, and doesn't have to  be (though often can be) quite as silly. A perfect example of the different way plot elements are handled by book and film, is the earlier mentioned death of Rachel's sister,  Zelda, the poor little girl suffering from spinal meningitis. The scenes in both are presented as flashbacks, both come from Rachel's point of view, but they couldn't be more different.

The book, to my mind King's best, stays with you long after reading but the movie is quickly forgotten.

King's decision to make a cameo appearance in the movie, as a preacher at a funeral, is also a mistake and, playing spot the author is detrimental to the scene, and what should have been a key moment becomes slightly humorous. All in all this is an astounding novel that should be read by everyone, but the movie...well, take it or leave it.

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

The book was definitely much better. It had something beyond the horror, though there was definitely horror in it.