“Pet Sematary” ranks among Stephen King’s most terrifying books, which hasn’t been reflected particularly well in movie versions of it. Yet the novel proved fertile enough that a small portion of it yields a decent little Paramount+ movie in “Pet Sematary: Bloodlines,” a crisp and efficient reminder of King’s line “Sometimes, dead is better,” and that occasionally, sometimes prequels are too.
In a shrewd maneuver, director/co-writer Lindsey Anderson Beer goes back to the story Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne in the original 1989 movie, John Lithgow in the remake three decades later) tells about Timmy Bateman, the one time he knew of a human getting buried in the “sour earth” of that strange cemetery and being brought back to murderous life.
As constructed, it’s 1969, and the young Jud (Jackson White) is getting ready to take off for the Peace Corps, while his friend Timmy (Jack Mulhern) has returned from Vietnam. The film begins with Timmy’s dad (David Duchovny) digging a grave, having hidden his boy’s death from the town, even if the figure lumbering around his house is “different,” as the young Jud puts it, exhibiting a gift for understatement.
Perhaps foremost, “Bloodlines,” gory though it might be, doesn’t try wringing too much blood out of the slim conceit, briskly running 87 minutes. Still, the movie not only builds toward the mayhem unleashed by Timmy’s presence but delves into the history of Ludlow, that small Maine hamlet, and the “ancient evil” that resides there.
Beyond the inherent horror of the concept, the producers have filled supporting roles with familiar faces that own nifty genre credentials, including Duchovny, Henry Thomas (“E.T.”) as Jud’s dad and Pam Grier as the local sheriff.
Admittedly, it’s hard to get excited about this sort of line extension, and Paramount probably made the right decision sending this small-scale effort straight to streaming (although worse horror movies have earned a theatrical release); still, expanding upon King’s creepy concept represents a reasonably solid October-timed diversion amid the latest gluttonous wave of movies and TV derived from his writing.
In a week that also brings another addition to “The Exorcist” filmography, “Pet Sematary” tackles a similar issue of how to add another layer to what’s gone before. And while Jud’s dad advises him to get out of Ludlow, this prequel endorses the idea that King’s little town can be worth a visit – or rather, revisit – by adhering to the notion that the past really is prologue.
“Pet Sematary: Bloodlines” premieres October 6 on Paramount+. It’s rated R.