Dead pets and depravity 

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF PARAMOUNT PICTURES - big bite Jeté Laurence stars as Ellie in Pet Sematary.
  • photo courtesy of paramount pictures
  • big bite Jeté Laurence stars as Ellie in Pet Sematary.

The main difference between a parasite and a symbiote is that there's no such word as symbiote, unless you read comic books.

In that universe, Venom is an example of a "symbiote" because he's an alien organism biologically interacting with a dude—to the benefit of both. A parasite, on the other hand, just leaches from its host without giving anything back—think tapeworms, sea lice, or stoned-out snowboarders with no jobs who live off their girlfriends' deluded hearts and waitressing tips. (Skiers do this too, don't @ me.)

The actual word is symbiont, from the Greek symbosis which means "living together," and the reason I even bring it up is because the new Pet Sematary remake opens this week and, while plenty of animals from tarantulas to key-hole limpets have established symbiotic relationships with other creatures (in this case microhylid frogs and scale worms, respectively), humans seem to be the only species that keep other creatures for emotional companionship, as pets.

Much has been written about the evolutionary transition of certain animals from being our food to our friends, but one thing is certain: pets teach children about death. Whether it's flushing the goldfish, shoveling Fluffy off the highway asphalt or burying Spot out on the back 40, losing a pet at a young age helps prepare us for the great inevitable.

But that doesn't mean you should take your kids to see Pet Sematary, because even though it's an essentially unnecessary remake, this version has bite. Staying true to the Stephen King novel (and first film, scripted by King), this one sees a young family move to a cute new home wedged between a they-drive-too-fast piece of rural highway, a graveyard for animals killed on said highway, and an old native burial site.

The first thing to die is the cat, which comes back thanks to some mysterious magic of the land and a wise old neighbour named Jud (John Lithgow, ruling it!). But when the young daughter is hit and killed by a tanker truck, the grieving father can't help but try for similar results, burying her in the hallowed ground out back. And it goes downhill from there.

Unproven directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer craft good creepy atmosphere and intense jump scares but aside from gorier gore and some slightly derivative editing/costuming, this new Pet Sematary doesn't really improve on the original.

King's magic has always lived with his characters and screenwriter Jeff Buhler can't channel the master. Still a solid night out for horror fans, though, especially if you've never seen the first one.

Sticking with King, there is no more prolific cinematic source material. His novels and stories have been adapted for the screen 70 times! The Shining is probably the best of his horror adaptations (although King himself reportedly hated Stanley Kubrick's version), but it's hard to top classics like Stand By Me or The Shawshank Redemption. The Download of the Week, however, is one of the less celebrated ones: The Running Man.

Working under the penname Richard Bachman in the early '80s, King apparently cranked out the first draft of The Running Man in just three days. The film adaptation came out in 1987 with Arnold Schwarzenegger starring as an unjustly accused prisoner forced to compete in a to-the-death game show in an oppressive dystopian future world of 2019.

Full of loud, repetitive violence (the plot is basically run, kill, run, kill, save the girl, run) and now-painful Schwarzenegger wisecracks, the real fun here is in appreciating King's prescient view of a future where degrading or dangerous reality TV game shows are the only way for the lower class to get ahead. (Win as much money as you can carry! But you have to carry it while climbing a rope with three pissed-off Dobermans snapping below.)

The Running Man is no Predator (despite having Jesse Ventura), but it's a solid '80s actioner that asks: are we really that far off from a Survivor meets Hunger Games scenario? And, if the prize were high enough, would you compete?


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