Between It, Doctor Sleep, the upcoming Stand reboot, Mr. Mercedes, and The Outsider, we seem to be a new renaissance of Stephen King adaptations. In particular, rebooting old “campy” adaptations from decades past into modern, scarier versions.
While It got all of the attention over the last few years, there’s another iconic book of his, which got the same cinematic treatment, but not the same attention.
Diehard King fans were quick to dismiss the Pet Sematary remake as unnecessary and a soulless cash grab, while others argued that it improved upon some of the more cheesy aspects of the original film.
Either way, we thought it would be fun to re-watch them (both are currently streaming on Amazon Prime) and pit them against each other for a definitive winner!
Dale Midkiff’s Louis goes down the rabbit whole, and comes out the other side truly feeling like a madman. Thus, we believe everything he does as plausible, given his desperation.
Denise Crosby’s Rachel is a bit over the top, but that was more the acting style of the time.
It’s hard to critique Miko Hughes as Gage, given how young he is. Perhaps all we can say is, he’s adorable in the beginning, and somehow terrifying by the end. The only real weak link in the lineup is Ellie, who just comes off as annoying.
The 2019 remake certainly improves upon Rachel, making her more grounded and quiet, clearly traumatized by her past. And Ellie (who’s given a lot more to do) is brilliantly brought to life (and death) by Jeté Laurence, who has a much harder task than Hughes ever did.
Given that she’s older than a toddler, we have to connect with her before the tragic event, and after her resurrection, she needs to be seem more calculating.
And much to the young Laurence’s credit, she’s amazing at this, and is probably the best performance of the entire remake.
That said, it’s not quite enough to make up for the overall lack of emotion from Jason Clarke, and everyone else. Even Victor Pascow had more personality in the original.
And of course, even if it weren’t for all the aforementioned reasons, the 1989 version would have to win this round for another incredibly important reason: Fred Gwynne.
Jonathan Lithgow is an incredibly talented actor with an impressive resume, but no one can compare to the iconic performance of Gwynne, who feels like he’s ripped right from the pages of King’s novel.
Everything about him from his spot on Maine accent, to his friendly demeanor that hides terrible secrets, he just simply is Jud Crandall.
All these years later, and his performance is the most recognizable aspect of the movie, even turning into a meme, and being parodied by South Park.
Round I Winner – 1989
Round II – Story/Plot
So many remakes end up being shot-for-shot, carbon copies of the original movie, thus begging the question of why it was needed. And 2019’s Pet Semetary creatively subverts that by going in a different direction, but the subversions end up costing it as well (which we’ll get to).
However, credit must be given where it’s due, and changing up the killed/undead child to Ellie did make for a very different dynamic (which was unfortunately spoiled by the trailer).
The remake then teases us by making it seem that Gage is about to get hit, it does the same thing with Jud’s ankle being exposed, as we await the infamous Achilles tendon slice. Both of these examples however, prove to be a fatal flaw with the 2019 version.
It relies on our having seen the original to expect these things, and thus stands less on its own. The original on the other hand, weaves a contained story, that’s perfectly paced and still manages to include subplots like the Timmy Baterman story, Louis’ animosity with his in-laws, and developing the friendship between Louis and Jud.
It’s quite strange actually, both films are roughly similar runtimes, and while the remake contains far less plot, it feels more rushed throughout. King himself penned the 1989 screenplay, and it shows because no one understands his story quite like him!
Round 2 Winner – 1989
Round III – Tone/Atmosphere
Here is where the original movie really shows its age, by just how late 80’s it feels. As previously mentioned, some of the acting (particularly Rachel and Ellie) just seems really cheesy and campy by today’s standards.
King is not known for his subtlety when writing, and it works to the film’s detriment in some areas.
But it deserves a lot of credit for choosing to film right in Maine, where the story is set (as was King’s condition for selling the rights). There are over the top moments that worked to scare us as children, but we tend to laugh at now.
But this is where the 2019 version really gets it right. Not only is there a dark foreboding atmosphere with permeates throughout, but it accurately captures the spirit of King’s novel.
Upon finishing his manuscript, King felt that this book was so disturbing that no one would want to read it, and to date it’s the only work of his that actually scares him.
And as great as the original is, it’s more a fun horror movie to get scared of, rather than one that is dark, depressing, and disturbing.
Even its ending is far more negative as Gage is basically screwed, while in the original, at least Ellie was safe with her grandparents.
Round III Winner – 2019
Everything from the bloody makeup, to the use of a large mirror for the truck collision scene, the original Pet Semetary’s effects mostly hold up today, now 31 years later.
The 2019 version certainly has a lot going for it with the incredibly creepy set design of the woods. It was film indoors on a soundstage, but we’d never know it, as it looks like a Tim Burton-inspired trip to hell.
That said, there’s some noticeable CGI, and green screen effects (when the truck is coming) that looks worse than some YouTube videos. Practical effects will usually always trump digital/CGI ones, and the same holds true here.
Round IV Winner – 1989
Round V – Scares
For those keeping track, the winner has already been mathematically determined, but there’s one more category to explore, that is pivotal of the horror genre. Which film is more frightening overall?
The answer comes down to what kind of scares each one goes for. The 2019 iteration does have a creepy atmosphere, but it mostly relies on jump scares. Which there’s nothing wrong with using here and there, but there needs to be more than just that.
However, between Zelda’s unsettling appearance, the Timmy Baterman story, Rachel’s grotesque appearance at the end, and so much more, there are aspects of the 1989 that have been fueling nightmares for years!
Round V (and overall) Winner – 1989
Each film has its merits, and neither is downright bad. However, if there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s the same one that Syndey spouted off in Scream 4, “Don’t mess with the original.” Which one is your favorite and why? Let us know in the comments below!
Both versions are currently streaming on Amazon Prime!