Pet Sematary vs. The Mist: Which Stephen King movie is harder on parents?

What’s news for horror writer Paul D. Dail?

Recently I passed 70,000 words on my WIP–the industry standard for minimum length of a novel.  And I’m still going.  Time to bring this baby to a close.

But I thought this merited a quick break to give some love back to my blog.

So without further ado…


Not long after my daughter was born, I discovered that Pet Sematary had made its way to the top of our Netflix queue.

Before it could be sent out, I moved it way down the line.  Since then (over three years), the Netflix instant movies have become more of the way my wife and I view movies (in those rare moments when we can actually watch a movie), so it has taken almost all of this time for Pet Sematary to make its way back up (and now it’s on instant too).

My son was born a little over a year ago.  I pushed the movie back again.

As I told my wife three years ago, as a father who absolutely adores his children, I’m just not ready for that scene with Gage.

This got me thinking about another Stephen King movie, The Mist (I know they’re not his “movies,” but you know what I mean.  I have read both of these stories).  I saw this one before I had any children of my own.  I went with my parents and my older brother (a father of three children), and at the end, they were absolutely incensed.  Personally, while I was stunned by the ending, I wasn’t necessarily mad.  I thought it was bold.

But thinking back on that event, I started to wonder.  From a parent’s perspective, which of these two movies is worse?


Pet Sematary

pet sematary– The little boy, Gage, is run down by a semi-truck.  That’s bad enough, but what caused a hitch in my chest even when I didn’t have children was the quick series of flashbacks to photos of Gage’s life starting as a baby up until the moment he dies while his father is collapsed on his knees, screaming in torment.

– The fight in the funeral where the casket is knocked over and you see his little arm.

– The emotionally agonizing scene where his father has to inject him at the end, and Gage starts crying.  Not crying like the monster he has become at this point in the movie, but like a small child would cry when you stick a needle in his arm.

The Mist

the mist– It’s really just the ending, an ending which wasn’t in the original short story written by King.  It was an ending that was written by Frank Darabont (who also did the screenplays for King’s movie adaptations of Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile), an ending that King was quoted as saying would’ve been the ending he would’ve come up with “if he had the balls” (or something along those lines).  In a situation that seems hopeless, the father shoots his own son, presumably to keep him from suffering a worse fate, just before the proverbial cavalry shows up.


Pet Sematary– The only reason I can see for Gage’s death is that his father has messed with the balance of the universe, and he has to pay for that trespass.  It starts with the cat.  When the family cat dies, he should’ve just let well enough alone, buried it, allowed proper time and then introduced a new pet into the family.  I believe that had he done this, there wouldn’t have been the universal payback.  However given the opportunity, what father wouldn’t at least consider resurrecting the family pet if it would make his little girl happy again?  But as the famous line goes, “Sometimes dead is better.”

The Mist– First off, this is about mercy.  I read Of Mice and Men with my classes, and while they generally hate the ending, I have to tell them that George’s act was one of mercy.  Second, as with Pet Sematary, the father gets punishment.  At an earlier point in the movie, he doesn’t help a young mother who leaves the safety of the grocery store to help her children.  As viewers, we assume that the character dies (shame on the father, but again, can we blame him?), but the movie makes a point of showing this woman (and her family) alive on one of the trucks that rolls by the grief-stricken father at the end.


I gotta say that, while I haven’t been able to muster the courage to watch either of these since having children, I believe that Pet Sematary is the harder of the two.  For one, the sense of why the child dies isn’t as strong by the time it happens in Pet Sematary.  Also, if that scene with all the snapshots choked me up before I had kids, I can only imagine today.  And then you have the whole rest of the movie to deal with, including killing said child after he turns evil.  With The Mist, this shocker to the parental sensibilities doesn’t happen until the end, and you can turn off the movie and walk away.

So that’s my vote.

What do I want from you?

What’s your vote?

Have there been any other books or movies that you struggled with along these lines, whether you’re a parent or not?

Finally, I know that my blog has been very quiet as of late, but please subscribe to receive posts via email or RSS feed (on the right hand column) so you won’t miss anything when I do get the opportunity to say something.  NO SPAM, I promise.

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21 thoughts on “Pet Sematary vs. The Mist: Which Stephen King movie is harder on parents?

  1. I think Pet Sematary definitely is harder on you as a parent. The Mist really just pissed me off. I liked the old ending. I liked the sense of despair with tiny spark of hope. It left the possibilities open. The movie ending just seemed to cut and paste to me. Let’s wrap it up in a tight little bow for those with no imagination. You know?

    Any horror movie featuring a child (dead or alive) is tough on parents. But one that got to me recently was Dark Skies. You can’t fight aliens. You can’t keep your child safe from something so totally unknown.

    Great blog, Paul. Good to see you back at it!


    1. Hey Stacey,

      Thanks for the comment. Some good points. From a plot point of view, I think I agree with you on the original ending of The Mist. While the movie ending was pretty bleak for the main character, the overall ending was pretty tidy. Everything would work out just fine for humanity as a whole, even if not so great for the main character.

      Dark Skies, eh? I would say I’ll have to put that one on my list, but seeing as this is a list that I won’t look at until my children are… well, 18 and having to fend for themselves?… it might be awhile 🙂

      Thanks again. Hope you have a good weekend.

  2. penelopecrowe 08/17/2013 — 12:14 pm

    I have a think with kids crying, or lonely, or sad or hurt. SO it totally bothered me when Gage seemed like he was REALLY crying. I did not see The Mist movie, but did read the book so I can’t tell which is worse.
    I don’t like movies with kids to begin with unless there is NO stress…reality is enough for me 🙂
    Cool post Paul.

    1. A movie with kids that doesn’t involve any stress? What kind of fantasy world is that? 🙂

      We are fans of Breaking Bad, and that has been our one criticism. It’s like their baby girl was just a plot device. I swear I don’t think she has ever cried. And early on, it shows them all sitting around the table eating a meal. Seriously? Besides how it affected Walt’s outlook on things, I didn’t see that having a child changed things for them at all.

      Anyway, thanks for your comments. Yeah, that was what really got me about the end of Pet Sematary too. How did they get that kid to sound like that? They must’ve pinched him or something.

  3. penelopecrowe 08/17/2013 — 3:23 pm

    Sitting and eating with a BABY??! Sitting at ALL? What kind of cruel fantasy are they presenting!?
    I could go on and on…
    I swear babies are cute so we don’t throw them out the window…

  4. Pet Sematary falls in the “bad things happening to small children and animals” subcategory of movies, which falls into the category “movies I don’t want to see.” Hence I haven’t seen it. Not that I haven’t seen movies where bad things happen to kids. I just avoid the ones where that’s a major aspect of the plot. I have no desire to become desensitized in that respect.

    I had enough trouble with that one scene in I Am Legend. You know the one I mean.

    As for Mist, I tried watching it multiple times and couldn’t get through it. I was just plain bored. So I tried reading the novella. I couldn’t get through that either, in part because I get impatient if it takes too long for the monster to show up, and in part because it didn’t seem to have a sense of direction besides everybody dies. I’m glad I didn’t stick with it. I’m guessing I wouldn’t have liked the ending. Thanks for the spoiler :).

    1. Yeah, they can be tough, Marie. And now that you mention it, I’m going to have to remember the scene from I Am Legend. It was awhile ago that I saw it, and it must not have made as much of an impact on me. Now I’ll have to see it again.

      Interesting that you couldn’t get through The Mist. As to the short story, it’s been years, but I remember enjoying it. If you couldn’t make it through the movie, yes indeed, you are glad you didn’t 🙂

      Thanks for the comment.

  5. I’d lean toward Mist. In this one, the horror for the character is doubled 10-fold in the end, knowing that if he’d waited a moment longer, his actions would have been unnecessary. After all of that effort to save his kid, he did what he did, then found he’d jumped the gun.

    As where in Cemetery, his child had already been killed through no direct fault of his own. The guilt factor there doesn’t jump out the way that twist at the end of Mist did, totally took me by surprise.

    I wouldn’t say no to a sequal for The Mist, either.

    1. Thanks for the comments. I agree that the guilt factor is much higher in The Mist. I think the father just doesn’t realize what he’s doing in Pet Sematary. The ending of The Mist was definitely a surprise for me as well. I have to agree with Stacey’s comments on which is overall a better film, but as far as shock effect and “the horror of it all,” I think The Mist wins out.

      A sequel to The Mist? I hadn’t heard of such a thing. Now I’m going to have to look it up.

      Thanks again.

  6. I don’t watch many of Stephen King’s books on film. The ones I’ve seen have been both cheesy and not able to catch the essences of the book properly – which is understandable. It’s impossible to capture on film the way that man weaves the written word.

    But based on the books: Both my girls are grown and out on their own, and I’m trying to reach back to when they were babies to see how I might have felt, but that was soooo long ago!

    So, I’d have to say that neither would bother me, given that in my latest novel the protagonist is a 5-year-old girl being tormented by her dead mother.

    Am I sick and twisted, do ya’ think?

    1. Hey Pam! Great to hear from you. I’d be curious to know which King movies you have seen. I agree that many are poorly done, but I enjoyed Pet Sematary (or at least I used to 🙂 ). Even though it was a stretch from the book, I also enjoyed the original Shining. The problem is that they take his longer works and make them for television. You just can’t do that.

      Anyway, maybe given some distance, these types of things won’t bother me anymore, either.

      Actually, I have written some stories where bad things happen with children. Maybe so long as I’m in control, it’s not so bad? I dunno’. So no, I won’t say you’re sick and twisted… unless you want me to 🙂

      1. Hello, Paul. I was compelled to post in relation to your response to Pam. I, too, am currently working on a YA series in which teens come into harm’s way. It can, indeed be difficult to write such plot scenes. You can’t help but feel sympathy for the characters, especially when they’re portrayed as children. My wife thinks I’m bats at times where a particularly hard scene will actually bring me to tears.

        I take some consolation in knowing that as the writer, we can help the character squeeze through when the flow of the story allows it.

        1. Thanks for stopping back by and commenting again. And interesting comments at that. I guess we write the reality of the world (even if it takes place in unreal situations). Unfortunately bad things happen. Maybe we are just conduits for telling those stories. Doesn’t mean we like to tell them (or that they don’t affect us emotionally as you have pointed out). And yes, I agree, where it is merited, we can help the characters find the proverbial light.

          Thanks again.

      2. The movies I did like were The Shining, Shawshank, The Green Mile, Secret Window and Carrie, but to be perfectly honest, I didn’t read the books before seeing those movies.

        In my opinion the rest I’ve seen: Salem’s Lot, Maximum Overdrive, and Thinner were cheesy, cheesy, cheesy 😉

        1. Good ones, Pam. I forgot about Shawshank and Green Mile (I’ve read both of those). I’d have to go back to Secret Window, but I remember enjoying Carrie also (although I didn’t read that one either). Cujo was good but they softened the ending. Another spoiler alert: the kid dies in the book.

          And I have to admit. I liked Maximum Overdrive for the pure campy (or maybe cheesy 🙂 ) factor. I thought I liked Salem’s Lot more until I saw it again recently after many years. Not as good as I remember.

  7. It’s funny what happens when we become parents, isn’t it? Gage. That’s one of the all-time great boys’ names, if you ask me. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this. I just recently stumbled upon The Mist on television and managed to catch that shocking ending. I think I’d vote right with you, however.
    It’s good to hear from you, man. Have a great week!


    1. Hey Jimmy, thanks for the comments from another father. I know your kids are a little older, so maybe it gets a little easier? I’ve found myself such a wimp about these things recently. Thankfully as one of the other comments here pointed out, I’m still able to write the horrific stuff; I just can’t seem to watch it anymore. Maybe it’s a control thing.

      Anyway, thanks again.

  8. I just spent 2 weeks in the town where The Mist was set. Been going there all my life and shop in that market all the time. The end of that movie is gut wrenching. Pretty sure I’d find a way to off myself quickly if that happened to me. That kid in Pet Sematary became a monster, so it’s an easier death to reconcile.

    1. That’s crazy that you go there all the time. Guess I would’ve assumed it was a real town, but the fact that they used the actual market and didn’t just build a set is cool.

      Yeah, I think I would agree with you on the whole “off myself” part. That could have been an even more shocking ending to the movie if they really wanted to go nuts with it.

      Thanks for commenting. Hope all is going well. Just saw a headline for your blog that piqued my interest. Well, most of your titles pique my interest, but this one especially.

  9. Good to see you back!! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Joe. I’m not sure how “back” I am yet (school just started back, adding a whole new level of complications), but I had fun putting this out. And especially enjoyed hearing from all of you. Hope things are going well for you.

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