Monday, August 14, 2017

Pet Sematary Two

(R, Paramount, 100 mins., theatrical release date: Aug. 28, 1992)

Campier yet chillier than its predecessor, Pet Sematary Two allows returning director Mary Lambert to replay what was once tragedy mostly for laffs. The Stephen King mill having exhausted itself by 1992, the original author/scriptwriter opted to debase himself with the screenplay for Sleepwalkers, leaving Lambert and new blood Richard Outten (with revisions from David S. Goyer) to fashion this mercenary sequel directly for teen boys, as Lambert herself was fascinated by the ridiculous motivations of the adolescent mind. That mythic patch of dirt which undid Louis Creed and his family now becomes populated with not just unfairly deceased family, but also a couple of accidental stiffs who were already reprehensible to begin with and are foolishly re-animated to deter homicidal suspicion. Lambert spins a nasty twist on the original thesis that "dead is better," even if at the expense of humanity and intelligence.

Lambert's not-so-unusual approach here is fitting with what horror had largely become in the early 1990s, especially in regards to sequels. Like the sixth Freddy venture and the third outings for both Pinhead and Chucky, the monsters are incorrigible wise-crackers who offer mocking bemusement as well as beheadings. When a zombiefied cop stalks after his prey, he reads the Miranda rights with a perverse addendum to each statement. Hellhounds die at inopportune moments ("I was building a doggie door!"), one victim's callous justification is parroted with demented relish and a ghoul takes a bullet only to wince and mutter "I hate it when that happens." The makers of those aforementioned rehashes, however, don't have Lambert's impressive c.v. in music videos, as it was she who made four of Madonna's earliest and most striking MTV touchstones, including "Like a Virgin" and "Like a Prayer."

What Lambert does with these credentials is to, so as to cater to teen boys, make overkill herself by amping up the sadism and the soundtrack to numbing degrees. It isn't enough now to rely on a single dead cat, a box of tabbies and a pen full of bunnies and one white wolfhound (twice}must all be sacrificed in provocatively gory tableux. The town bully threatens to gnaw a peer's nose off with a motorbike wheel, and will turn up later with a literal axe to grind. And alt-rock cult heroes such as The Jesus & Mary Chain ("I wanna die just like Jesus Christ") and L7 (the same song which later introduced us to Mickey & Mallory) blare over the carnage, with Dramarama, Traci Lords and Patti Smith disciple Jan King providing incidental support. The Ramones chose not to grace us with a "Pet Semetary" sequel of their own and instead donated "Poison Heart," the first single from the Mondo Bizarro LP which premiered the Tuesday following the movie's release.

Edward Furlong, fresh off his T2 fame, plays central character Geoff Matthews while Anthony Edwards, soon to transition from Northern Exposure to ER, is Jeff's veterinarian father, Dr. Chase Matthews. Estranged in the wake of a separation, the two reunite after the freak, fatal electrocution of Jeff's mother and Chase's wife Renee Hallow (Darlanne Fluegel), a B-list actress, on the set of her latest project. With Renee's funeral held in her hometown of Ludlow, Maine, Dr. Matthews decides to move there to help his grieving son and set up his own practice. At the dilapidated kennel, Geoff befriends Drew Gilbert (Jason McGuire), the obese stepson of surly sheriff Gus (Clancy Brown) and caretaker of a Siberian husky named Zowie. At school, Geoff is singled out for abuse by brawny Clyde Parker (Jared Rushton), who misses not a single chance to mock the recently deceased mom.

Clyde takes Geoff and Drew on a ride to the pet cemetery, which will come in handy when Gus, fed up with Zowie spooking his rabbits, fells Drew's beloved pooch with his rifle. Burying Zowie in the cursed soil over the hill, the canine returns to the Gilbert household with glowing eyes and his lethal wound still gaping. As Dr. Matthews comes to realize the truth about Zowie's condition while tending to him, a Halloween beer blast Clyde throws in the woods is broken up by Gus, who attacks Drew before getting his throat ripped out by Zowie. Naturally, Drew buries his stepdad in the Indian graveyard, which turns out to be a huge mistake. And all the while Geoff ponders what it would be like if mommy were still alive, even with the strange behavior of Zowie and Gus becoming ghastlier.

The original Pet Sematary was not one of the better Stephen King adaptations, even if King himself was responsible for its onscreen translation. The central performances were uninspiring, the story stripped down to the point of losing Gothic credibility and Mary Lambert's stylistic acumen was heavy-handed. Pet Sematary Two falls prey to the very same traps. The tragedy of the Matthews family is effectively overpowered by the gruesome shenanigans of the latter half of the movie. And some of these vignettes stop the film dead itself, particularly a blue-rinse erotic nightmare Chase has involving Renee as well as an aimless rape scene between the revived Gus Gilbert and his passive wife Amanda (Lisa Waltz). Edward Furlong and Anthony Edwards are directed to play their roles with more one-dimensional solemnity than repressed warmth. Unlike John Connor, there's very little bratty spark in Geoff Matthews for Furling to ignite. Edwards, now with thinning hair and full beard, loses the personable charms of his best roles from the past decade, from Gilbert to Goose to Harry Washello (from Miracle Mile).

While Jason McGuire is a fitting doppelganger for Stand by Me-era Jerry O'Connell, Pet Sematary Two's only actors of fascination are those playing  the figurative heavies. Jared Rushton, best remembered as Josh Baskin's best friend from Big, has the bleached hair and simmering malevolence of a junior Chris Penn, and is every bit as alluringly despicable as Kiefer Sutherland was in his early career. And then there's Clancy Brown, who is suitably unsettling whether in mundane domestic affairs (he likes rationalizing his brutish side within the verbal contexts of frustrated dad and macho officer) or murderous supernatural antagonism. He looks comparatively thinner and less hulking as Gus than when he played Viking in Bad Boys (his screen debut from 1983) or the Kurgan of Highlander, but the sadistic gleam in Brown's eyes is preserved by Lambert's camera. Lambert and Outten proceed to make black comic hash out of King's inaugural premise, but the anarchic glee Clancy Brown offers in return justifies the burlesque.

One three-minute chunk of the movie in particular drips with some of the finest ham any disposable '90s gorefest has to offer. It is the showdown between Dr. Matthews and Gus, who has dug up Renee's corpse for unspeakable reasons and offers it to Geoff so that he may realize his wildest wish of an impractical family reunion. The very power drill Gus has been using in his charnel workshed to build that doggie door for Zowie comes in handy to intimidate Dr. Matthews: "No brain, no pain! Think about it." That Gus himself dies again is inevitable, but that doesn't set you up for the hilarious way in which he drops to the floor. Save for a stretch before the final credits which can be interpreted either as a ridiculously sentimental farewell for the film's victims or a joke on Orson Welles, Clancy Brown's confidently twisted performance in Pet Sematary Two reminds me of that classic Bo Diddley line: "I got a tombstone hand and a graveyard mind." It's a shame Lambert, Outten and the rest of the cast fail to heed such inspiration.

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