When I was 10, my older sister and her friends went to see Pet Semetary at the movies, and let me tag along. I have clear memories of them explaining to the teenage member of staff working the cinema door that “she’s mature for her age”. And so they let me in and I saw the film.
Well, as it turns out, I was not old enough to see Pet Semetary: it scarred me. In particular, the flashbacks of Zelda with her twisted spine and the image of Victor in the window stayed with me for months afterward. Certain parts of our house now became traps: I had to avoid looking out the window next to the laundry sink where I washed my hands after using the toilet at night time, lest Victor was there looking back at me, and not glance inside the hallway closet as I necessarily walked past where I new Zelda was there, writhing.
I avoided horror movies after that. Sometimes I had no choice to watch them when we rented videos during sleepovers as a young teen, so I did sit through Child’s Play and probably others. I also made exceptions for my beloved Twin Peaks. But generally I held the line that horror just wasn’t for me.
Many years later, I developed nascent interest in those horror movies that transcended the genre and were deemed classics. The Australian Cinémathèque in Brisbane were screening The Shining and I was, well, curious, as I hadn’t yet seen it. A friend was too scared to go see it, but her partner wanted to go, so he and I went. And it was good! It was a realisation that horror gets less frightening as you get older.
(The perfect example of this is Child’s Play, which I re-watched recently. It was so scary as a teen, but it actually defuses every jump scare in advance. It’s not scary at all, plus it’s really not very good).
Over the following years I watched more and more horror. As many before me have, I discovered that supposedly trivial genre cinema can take on topics that other movies can’t, and therefore can reveal different things about us humans. My growing interest culminated in Hooptober, an annual event from the Letterboxd movie fan website which challenges participants to watch 31 horror movies over October. I did the full 31 and found it surprisingly revelatory on a personal level – I just really enjoyed it.
Since then, I have made the effort to go see most horror films when they come out at the cinema, except the more sadistic ones (think Hostel and its ilk) that just aren’t my bag. My timing has been excellent, as this time of my life has coincided with a real purple patch for the genre, best exemplified by the many great Blumhouse and A24 productions that have come out.
The scariest of those recent films, to me, has undoubtedly been A24’s Hereditary. Watching Hereditary in the cinema I desperately wanted to reach over and hold onto my husband, but he was leaning away from me and I knew I would scare the absolute crap out of him if I did, so I left him alone and white-knuckled it myself. I loved it.
But perhaps it was what came over me during the trailers, before Hereditary started, that made me so jumpy. They screened a trailer of the re-made Pet Semetary, which took me completely unawares, and the imagery brought back everything I felt when I saw it back when I was 10. Oh no, I thought. Oh no. It’s back and I’m going to have to go see it, aren’t I.
It was another several months before it did come out. We, my husband and I, went along. I was bizarrely nervous about it.
As the film went on, it slowly dawned on me that the things that still scared me – Zelda and Victor – weren’t scary at all. Zelda was just a sick child, and Victor was a force for good in the story. I felt a lightness, a lifting of a 30-year-old weight from my shoulders as the film progressed and I realised the film no longer had any power over me. As the credits rolled, I was grinning. I felt amazing. I turned to my husband, still smiling, and saw a look of absolute trauma on his face. “I think that is the most bleak, horrible thing I have ever seen in my entire life.”
We debriefed over a couple of pots straight afterwards, me still feeling electric and walking on air, he still recovering from the nihilistic awfulness he’d witnessed. It’s true that Stephen King only submitted the manuscript for Pet Semetary in order to get out of a bad contract with his publisher. Otherwise he thought it was too awful, too bleak and too dark, to publish. This new film version, well it certainly lived up to that promise.
Now, reborn and immune from Pet Semetary’s power, I continue on with my horror-watching ways. There isn’t a neat ending to this story. I love the good stuff that continues to come out, and just as much I love the B-est of the B-grade, the movies where nothing could explain or justify their existence. I’m not sure if I’ll see Pet Semetary again. I kind of don’t need to. I beat it.