Sometimes dead is better
As you will have no doubt picked up on I love horror, and one of my all-time favorite horror writers is Stephen King. He’s well known (understatement) for his creepy story’s and chilling tales, as well as his own little tropes and habits. Something else he’s well known for is that his books do not always transfer to film particularly well.
In my opinion a film will never hold up to a book but that’s not necessarily the film’s fault. You can do things with a book that you simply can’t do with a film. Books are more immersive, they employ the reader’s imagination, all their senses and they are a lot longer than films. There’s a reason the Lord of the Rings was three epic films long (and still had a load of stuff cut), the book was huge.
Today I’m going to look at one of my favorite books that were made into a film (which is also high on my favorites list) and talk about what was cut, what was added and which I think is superior.
The novel was released in 1983 and I will be comparing it to the 1989 film.
Dr. Louis Creed and his small family made up of wife Rachel, daughter Ellie, son Gage and their cat Churchill, move to Maine (why always Manie?) they have an elderly couple as neighbors, Jud & Vera. Jud warns the family that the road they live on is dangerous and the family settles into their normal lives of going to work, raising kids and drinking with friends.
Vera suffers a heart attack, but Louis saves her, and this prompts Jud to take Louis to the Semetery behind the pet Semetery, an ancient Indian burial ground when their cat Churchill is killed on the dangerous road.
Amazingly, Churchill comes back to the house the following day, but it quickly becomes apparent that he’s not the same as he was. His new-found habit of murdering everything in sight is very alarming and a change from his old personality.
Later Gage is killed on the road and Louis takes him to the Indian burial ground despite already seeing what it did to Churchill and hearing Jud’s story of the last person who was buried up there and came back evil and twisted. Like Churchill Gage comes back, but he comes back as an evil little shit and murders Jud and his mother Rachel. Louis kills Churchill and Gage after coming to terms with Jud’s advice that sometimes dead is better.
However, he then takes Rachel up to the Indian burial ground and buries her there. So, he didn’t really learn anything after all.
What did the Film Change?
To be honest, the book and the film are very similar, they both follow the same basic plot although the film did cut some parts.
Norma Crandell, Jud’s wife was completely cut from the film and this I found a bit sad as one of my favourite parts of the book was when she did pass away seeing Jud deal with her loss was both heart-breaking and an excellent contrast to how Louis deals with the loss of his cat, son, and wife. Jud accepts that people die, and that sometimes dead is better. Louis fails to do this and so ends up with terrifying murderous zombies. Sometimes we must accept life’s hardships, fighting against them only leads us down the path of more evil.
Instead of the touching and poignant death of Norma, the film gives us a tragic suicide of the babysitter, Missy Dandridge. Missy is only mentioned in the book, but they built her character up for the film. I’m sorry to say this still didn’t make her death anywhere near as sad as Norma’s.
Norma’s death was effective in the book because we got to see how it affected the people around her, Jud, Ellie and Rachel. Rachel is almost phobic of even the mention of death due to her own tragic past. Her phobia of even mentioning that people might one day die has left her daughter Ellie clueless as to the topic, so seeing them all come to terms with Norma’s passing in light of this was very interesting and emotional.
Norma’s loss in the film also removes Jud’s reason for showing Louis the Semetary. In the book Noma has two heart attacks, the first one she survives because of Louis and his quick thinking. It is this debt that causes Jud to tell Louis about the Semetary when Church dies.
The film increased the appearances of Victor Pascow, a young man who dies on Louis’ first day of work and then appears to Louis as a ghost. He only appears once or twice in the book, but the film increases this significantly, perhaps to try and up the ghoul factor. Victor’s ghost is also decidedly gross looking whereas those who are brought back to life in the Semetery are not. So the visual ‘ick’ factor was probably the reason for his increased role.
The film also sucks some of the ‘horror’ out of this horror story, by completely changing Gage’s dialogue after he dies. In the book Gage is a creepy little dead asshole, he says terrible things to Jud about his wife cheating on him, the fact that he’s two and is talking about adultery, something he should have no understanding of is creepy as hell. In the film, he asks people to play with him, like most children would, admittedly he plays with a knife, but you get the idea. The film turns Gage into a typical creepy kid whereas the book gave him the mind of an adult and made him sadistic, he mentally tortures people in the book and it is terrifying.
The film also changes the semetery a bit, in the book the sematery is a character all on it’s own rather than just a setting. Its hinted at that the semetery is either aware of what it is doing, or that something clever and awful is using the semetery to bring people back wrong. The film doesn’t touch on this concept at all, it’s just funny ground, in the film. The idea that this is a deliberate act of some malevolent being is far more effective.
The film does cut and change some important elements of the story, but that’s not to say it is terrible, it’s just not as good as the book. It does do somethings well, Jud was fantastic in both book and film, and the film’s version of Zelda was perfectly creepy. It’s just a pity the film lowered the tone compared to the book. The book explored the horror of not letting go of people, it made children scary not by having them do funny voices and wave knives around but by having them be properly evil in an intelligent and menacing way.
Overall, I preferred the book.
What do you think? Have you read the book? Watched the film? Which did you like best? If you’ve only experienced one will you go and find the other now?