When I was 11 years old, Stephen King knocked me for a triple whammy: he got me interested in horror books, movies and just plain old horror itself in one fell swoop.
I was a pretty big scaredy cat as a small child. I’d watched Nightmare on Elm Street 2 at about 7 and subsequently had Freddy Krueger nightmares for weeks. I was so terrified at my elementary school haunted house at the Halloween Carnival that I ran for my life, actually losing a shoe in the process, which I gladly left behind; I was in danger, damn it. Being scared did not equal having fun, but Pet Sematary changed all of that.
I can’t for the life of me recall why I picked up that book, but I am so glad I did, because it changed the entire trajectory of my life. I became obsessed with horror, moving quickly to reading It, Carrie, The Stand and Gerald’s Game in rapid succession, basically falling down a rabbit hole that I have just now, at 44, hit the bottom of; I’ve just finished reading everything he’s written. I’ve always been a fast, voracious reader, but there was an enjoyment in reading King at that age and knowing I was “too young” that was a thrill. A literary crime I was getting away with and looking deep into the darkness of the human soul that King laid bare for readers. I loved him then and I love him now.
Pet Sematary was the first horror VHS I owned and I watched that puppy with the passion that only a teenage girl can bring. It was constant viewing for me and looking back, I’m surprised my parents didn’t say anything. It was that often. Any time a friend came over, horror fan or not, you bet that movie was getting put on. I loved watching their faces as they watched the screen, seeing the film through fresh eyes.
I was astounded by the performances, the terror, the effects and darkness of the subject matter (is it too meta to be obsessed with a movie about obsession?) and, of course, the “Stephen King Feeling” of it. I knew even then what an incredible film it is and it taught me the basis of what makes a good horror film. Because I watched it so many times, each viewing I could focus on a different aspect of the film. I studied the camerawork, the lighting, the sound design, the jump scares and the tension; how all of these small details added up to create one terrifying film.
How obsessed was I?
At 12, I went to a junior high Halloween party at a girlfriend’s house. Now, remember, we’re in middle school — prime time for princesses and cheerleaders — and I showed up as Post-Micmac-Burial-Ground Gage, complete with blue velvet jumper and top hat. Safe to say, none of my friends had a clue as to what I was (unless I had forced a viewing upon them). During the “talent” portion of the party, I recited, from memory, the phone call dead Gage has with Louis near the end of the film with pitch perfect mimicry. It may sound like a cool costume now, but those girls thought I was Weird with a capital W. Which I am, but now I can be proud of it. After all, King taught me early on that the Losers were the real heroes, so I always felt comfortable with that.
If you haven’t seen the original 1989 version of Pet Sematary yet, please give it a watch. I promise you won’t be disappointed. And if you’ve watched it, give it another look this October. I stand by my opinion that Zelda is one of the most terrifying characters in cinema. Every King adaptation (mine included) tries to capture the “Stephen King Feeling” and it’s elusive; not every film gets it right. I think it begins with a love for the material, filming in Maine for the specific look and atmosphere of the stories, and not being afraid to go hard. After all, the books sure do.
I hold both the book and the film so dear to my heart, because it was the beginning of my lifelong horror hound journey. Thank you, Stephen King.