That Thing About Hindsight: Mary Lambert’s PET SEMATARY 2

There is something so fucking unhinged about Pet Sematary 2.

I was ten when it was released in theatres, and I remember seeing it with my mother. I had been a huge fan of the original, and as a kid, the sequel seemed pretty amazing. When I got older, it seemed like a real piece of shit. But, as a 35-year-old man – it’s sort of a work of batshit genius. It was as if the filmmakers said to themselves, “There’s no novel to follow on this one, so all bets are off. Think of the wackiest, bloodiest, most horrific shit you can, and let’s roll with it!” And this was not during a time when female directors directed any kind of horror film, let alone two. But Mary Lambert was sort of given the keys to the kingdom here, and what she did is pretty wonderful.

The first Pet Sematary was simpler – a morality tale with a common sense lesson: “Dead things should stay dead.” The sequel is almost Shakespearean in its scale. A famous actress died. Her veterinarian husband (Anthony Edwards) and son (Edward Furlong) move to Maine to start over. They learn all about the characters and events of the first film, and end up duplicating those mistakes almost to the letter. We have a secondary family here – an abusive cop (Clancy Brown), his wife, and stepson. And then there’s Clyde, the school bully, who is the poster-child for how unafraid filmmakers in the ’80s/early-’90s were to dispatch kids in films. Now, that seems like such a taboo thing to do. Back then, they didn’t give a shit. In fact, kids are killed, mutilated, and tortured in Pet Sematary 2 like it’s something that happens all the time.

As a kid, two things terrified me: (1) Clancy Brown, and (2) Zombie Clancy Brown. He plays Gus, the abusive cop, who kills the dog and sets all the craziness in motion. He is just as awful as a regular old human being as he is when he’s back from the dead and killing bitches. In fact, he might be worse as a living person (Does anyone play asshole as well as Clancy Brown?). And this was during that Shawshank period when that was pretty much all he was doing – playing insufferable monsters. And they basically let him inflict maximum damage here. I mean, he kills his his wife and stepson by running them off the road. And, at that point in the film, we really like those characters and are rooting for their escape. Nope. Dead. Killed by a zombie cop with a grisly, horrific neck that once haunted my nightmares.

The third act of Pet Sematary 2 is when some high level, bombastic shit starts happening. Jeff (Furlong) buries his deceased mother in the cemetery, and she comes back. It’s gothic and eerie, and something no child aged ten should see (even though I did). Act Three is spooky as hell, and we really don’t know if anyone is going to make it out alive. I have to think Lambert received all sorts of studio notes on this ending, probably begging and pleading with her to tone it down. Or, maybe they really did give her carte blanche to make whatever she wanted to make, based on the success of the first film. It’s a shame Lambert’s career didn’t take off after this film, because I think she had plenty more mainstream horror left in her bones. Instead, she was relegated to direct-to-video flicks of very little cinematic consequence.

I look at Pet Sematary 2 and Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 in similar ways: both were sequels to popular films that really upped the ante in terms of drama and scope. And, both were sequels that under-performed, never quite finding their audiences. I would love to see both films start getting appreciation for the over-the-top, fucked up balls of lunacy they are. Pet Sematary is straight-up disturbing. Remember when you were a kid and the child abuse in Radio Flyer was shocking, and made you cover your eyes? Pet Sematary 2 is just that, but on crack. And Radio Flyer was a family flick. Pet Sematary 2 will kill your family while you watch, and then burn the whole goddamn town down. It doesn’t give a fuck. Regardless of how her career ends, Mary Lambert produced two of the coolest, craziest horror films of the ’80s and early-’90s, and I don’t think she gets near enough credit. One day, hopefully soon, maybe she finally will.

Billy Ray Brewton

Billy Ray Brewton

Billy Ray Brewton is a writer/director of stage and screen from Alabama, California, and anywhere else that will take him. Until late-2013, he called Birmingham home, where he founded Theatre Downtown, a community theatre specializing in original and contemporary works. His original musical comedy, “Skanks in a One Horse Town”, was the subject of the documentary, “Skanks”, which premiered at the 2014 Slamdance Film Festival. His debut feature horror film, “Show Yourself”, world premiered at Bruce Campbell’s Horror Film Festival and is currently on the festival circuit. He is in pre-production for his second feature, “Midnights at the Sad Captain”, filming in 2017.
Billy Ray Brewton
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