Just like The Shining and Salem’s Lot, my first exposure to Pet Sematary prior to reading the novel had been from a Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror episode. You know, the one where Bart reads this incantation from a book of black magic in hopes to raise their beloved cat Snowball I from the dead but instead unleashes a hoard of zombies upon Springfield? Good times. Man, those were some great episodes. You can’t go wrong with Treehouse of Horror.
Anyway, the parody isn’t exactly the same (it never is) but the meat and potatoes of it are present. There’s still a dead cat, although this one is named Church (short for Winston Churchill). Following its death, its owner Louis Creed, is approached by his neighbor who has a suggestion that may help alleviate his family’s impending grief – take the kitty up to an old Mic Mac burial ground behind Louis’ property and put the cat six feet under before his wife, daughter and toddler son return home from their Thanksgiving vacation in Chicago. And why not? Louis could just lie and say that Church ran away – no one needs to know the details. However, what Jud doesn’t tell Louis is that this spot will not be Church’s final resting place…
As much as I love my cat Gertie, ain’t no way I’m bringing her back from the dead if I’m to expect something like this. Church returns void of personality and lingers like a shell of his former self. When Lou’s family return, they can tell something is off about the family cat but aside from an ever present noxious odor, they can’t quite put their finger on it. While the novel is often considered King’s most terrifying work (he admits as much in the introduction), it’s more about how we deal with grief and what lengths we will go to help the ones we love, and I think that’s what struck me the hardest. As another tragedy strikes the family and as the story moves along and the characters make increasingly poor decisions, you want to grab their shoulders and shake them, tell them to take a second and look before you leap. It’s like when you watch the lead in a horror movie go down into a dark basement or cellar and you can’t help yelling at the screen. Then you remember that Louis is dealing with a level of guilt that you just cannot imagine and you’re not sure if you would do anything differently.
In my experience reading King, I often find he struggles with endings. He can write a hell of a journey but I’m not quite sure if he ends up in the right destination. Pet Sematary is one of those exceptions as I can’t think of a better ending. Remember that episode of Friends where Joey put The Shining in the freezer because it was too scary to have lying around? He’ll likely need to put Pet Sematary in liquid nitrogen.