On the seventh, eighth, and ninth days of Halloween: PET SEMATARY(1989), PET SEMATARY TWO (1992) and PET SEMATARY: BLOODLINES (2023)
In honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day earlier this week, let’s talk colonization, cultural appropriation, and white devilry.
Mary Lambert’s original Stephen King adaptation of Pet Sematary is mainly about grief. But it is also about the cultural appropriation of Indigenous lands by colonizer forces and the evil that these settlers awaken that can’t do easily be put back to sleep. I wrote a full review on the film’s 30th birthday.
By Lambert’s follow-up Pet Sematary Two (1992) this discussion of grief and cultural appropriation quickly extends to white devilry and a scathing critique of police impunity. In Part Two, Drew (Jason McGuire) and Jeff (Edward Furlong) accidentally kill Drew’s bully stepfather Gus (Clancy Brown), and to cover up their mistake they bury him in the sour land past the deadfall. Gus isn’t just a dick. He’s also Ludlow’s police chief. When he comes back even worse than he began, his collection of crimes are shielded by his police uniform in increasingly disturbing ways. White devilry manifests on several levels as Gus gets away with extreme violence and murder, nobody being able to say or do anything because he’s the law.
Pet Sematary Two features a grisly sexual assault as a recently Semataried Gus attacks his wife Amanda (Lisa Waltz). For the remainder of the film, we see huge dark bruises over her body, a powerful reminder that these acts of violence have long-reaching repercussions. And a clever way that director Mary Lambert shows the audience how even when those bruises fade to our eyes, they will never leave Amanda. The haunted look around her face might end up permanent. The female gaze directing horror is always a win.
The 2023 prequel film, Pet Sematary: Bloodlines extends the critique of state-sanctioned violence even further, bringing in a highly decorated soldier returned from the Vietnam War. Like Part Two, Bloodlines is also about what happens you turn a trained killer into an actual monster. And the men who came back from Vietnam with lots of medals often did unimaginable things to other humans, including women and children. After Bill Baterman (David Duchovny) revives his son Timmy (Jack Mulhern) in the antiburial ground, it sets off a chain reaction that calls back to the 1674 settler violence in creating the town we now know as Ludlow.
Although this series is about an Indigenous people’s land and history, Bloodlines is the first film to actually feature Native characters actually played by Indigenous actors. While the characterization of Manny (Forrest Goodluck) and his sister Donna (Isabella LaBlanc) are rooted in shades of caricature — issues that could have had an easy fix with a cultural sensitivity consultant — their presence is still an important moment in this franchise’s history, as well as King adaptations as a whole.
It’s difficult to watch, but Bloodlines importantly highlights the brutality of Anglo soldier violence against Indigenous women, both in the past and now. In Hawaii for example, US military soldiers are responsible for much of the trafficking, abuse, and murder of Indigenous women, to name one real-life example. Just Google MMIW for more information on this horrific epidemic of violence against Indigenous women in particular.
At its heart, the Pet Sematary films are about various kinds of generational and inherited trauma, stemming from settler colonialism and resulting violence. It’s also about the lengths some will go in order to avoid processing grief. That dangerous psychological space where the inability to say goodbye becomes toxic. An inability that also goes back to the white devilry of colonization. Some people never learn to let go of things that don’t belong to them.
Since this week celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day, I’ll end these microreviews with a hearty: Fuck Christopher Columbus. And fuck settler colonizers. Throughout history and now.
✨Part One: Spiral/5 stars. Part Two: 4/5 stars. Bloodlines: 3/5 stars. Highly recommend giving ancestral and treaty lands back to Indigenous peoples.✨
PS: For a background on white devilry, check this out.