DK Canada’s Monster in the Movies continues to guide me through their chapter on zombies, and Paramount’s first adaptation of Stephen King’s classic horror novel arguably falls well within the realm of the undead.
It became a cult classic, and the film has aged fairly well, it is, however, populated with television actors, which at the time was not a necessarily nice phrase. It features Dale Midkiff, who feels out of his depth here, Denise Crosby, who seems quite comfy in a feature film and Fred Gwynne, who made the performance iconic and memorable.
Midkiff and Crosby play the Creeds, Louis and Rachel, who have just moved to Ludlow with their family, Ellie (Blaze Berdahl) and Gage (Miko Hughes). Here they meet Jud Crandall (Gwynne – perfect casting if there ever was one) and meet tragedy on the road that separates their two homes.
First, they lose their cat, Church, and Jud guides Louis to the burial ground beyond the sematary, and, just like in the book, and the remake, the cat comes back… and then tragedy strikes again.
The main plot points stick a little closer to King’s novel than some featured in the remake, but it also doesn’t feel as well-paced and plotted out, and Victor Pascow (Brad Greenquist) is played for spooky and comedic intent through the course of the film.
It still works, and makes a nice companion piece to the remake, and the novel, and it’s easy to see why it attained cult status and spawned a sequel.
Director Lambert works with what she has however, and tells a solid tale, and from the opening alone, you know you are in for something unique as the camera takes us through the sematary. There are lines of dialogue that are direct lifts from the novel, grounding it more in the world King created, which makes sense of course, because King wrote the screenplay, adapting his own book and makes a fun cameo.
The effects are pretty reliable, even for the time, though the film definitely suffers from its budget, and looks smaller than it should. Still there are some nice sets, specifically the sematary and the actual burial ground, and the deadfall between them.
Having recently watched the new version, I think there’s probably a perfect version somewhere between the two, or even a mini-series that adapts all the sub-plots and flashbacks.
Still, this monkey’s paw version of the zombie tale fits nicely in DK Books’ Monsters in the Movies. But don’t take my word for it, pick up a copy of this bloody, and enjoyable coffee table book and find something macabre to watch tonight that just might make you check under the bed, and close your closet door.