Why a Woman with Blood Covering Half Her Face Coming Back from the Dead Scared Me as a Child but Doesn’t Now

Was anyone else shown the 1989 movie Pet Sematary as a child and permanently scarred by a creepy undead cat, a threatening three-year-old, and a ghost with blood still dripping down half his head? Maybe it was the fact that the cemetery in the movie was originally for children to bury their pets that made it seem like it was alright to show to kids. Similar to how the cemetery travels much further beyond the small, sad graveyard, after recently rewatching the movie I’ve discovered that the meaning goes much further than I previously thought.



I first noticed that some images that struck me as scary as a child may no longer frighten most adults. Bloody imagery and the “undead” are things that catch children’s eyes and scare them. These images are much more than just a simple horror movie shock factor in this film, though.


Pet Sematary is about a family that moves to a rural town in Maine and is shown a cemetery where children would bury their pets. It is soon found out that there is a hidden part of the cemetery where, if you bury your loved one there, they’ll come back to life. The movie presents a question: what does it really mean to be alive?


The movie presents two ways people can experience death within its universe—leaving your body behind peacefully or forcibly coming back to the living realm ngry and evil. This is shown through animals at first, with the daughter’s cat dying and Louis (the father) bringing her back to life with the cemetery in hopes of making his daughter happy. Eventually his son, Gage, is killed by a truck on the busy highway that they live near. Louis is obviously grieving—and  desperate. Around the same time, Louis, who works as a doctor, is brought a patient that is nearly dead and must be let go of. He is shown throughout the movie exactly as he is in his dying state.  He is not being forced to come back to life, and despite his gruesome appearance, he becomes a “good” character that helps Louis throughout the movie. The cat, though, is evil since Louis forced him to come back into the living realm. This contrast presents the idea that you cannot choose what happens to someone or their body. No matter your emotions, you have to let them rest after passing away.


Throughout the film, Louis becomes increasingly desperate as he loses more and more people and has no concept that who he brings back with the cemetery will not be the same as they were in life. To me, it almost seems as though he is not truly seeing these people and is instead looking at their bodies and signs of life or death. This made me question whether people see others as who they actually are—or rather, what they want to see. Louis wanted to see his son alive again; it didn’t seem to matter in that moment who his son would actually be.


The most disturbing thing about Pet Sematary is that even after knowing that people forced to return to life in the cemetery come back evil, Louis still attempts to bring back his wife, Rachel. This goes beyond just not seeing people as who they are and leads into insanity.


Being older and watching the movie again made me realize that Louis is the true scary part of the movie. The fact that people could get to such a desperate point and not care about their own safety or safety of others is the chilling reality in this ghostly setting. When Louis first began bringing people back, all it did was create a cycle of getting others killed. Once he, Gage, and Rachel were gone, his daughter Ellie was essentially left isolated from her immediate family. By the end, he didn’t seem to care about her pain or anyone else that may be affected.


After all the suffering, I’d argue that Louis wanted to die when his wife came back. He was so desperate to see her breathing again that he didn’t care that she was covered in blood and was clearly not the same. He sat vulnerably on the floor while waiting for her, watching the clock for midnight. A large knife was left on the kitchen table where Rachel could easily reach it. He was clearly not prepared for a fight like when he went to kill Gage. He lost so much hope that he knew it was his end.


The undead wasn’t what was terrifying about Pet Sematary, but the concept of people going so far to get what they want that they are willing to lose themselves in the process.


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