Of all the nightmares Stephen King has put to paper, Pet Sematary is easily his most gruesome work. The book - a look at how a family falls apart after the loss of a child - is nothing less than chilling, and many passages are full of the kind of phrasing only King can deliver.
The story follows Louis Creed, a doctor from the big city who moves to Ludlow, ME, which happens to sit directly next to an ancient Native burial ground that's "gone bad." Characters butcher animals, children die, and there are lengthy descriptions of violent acts - it's not a book for the weak of heart.
There are some grisly Pet Sematary scenes in the 1989 cult classic film, but the grossest parts of Pet Sematary only exist in King's writing. The author is able to get inside his readers' heads and prey on their greatest fears. With Pet Sematary, he cemented himself as one of the most gruesome horror writers in American history.
After digging up his son and puking all over the place, Louis thinks Gage's head is missing because of the mold that's growing on it. It's incredibly distressing and oh-so-gory. King writes, "A deep horror that was very nearly awe stole over him - it was the sort of feeling usually reserved for the worst nightmares, the ones you can barely remember upon awakening. Gage's head was gone."
After that, Louis cleans the decay off his dead son's skin, describing the corpse as resembling "a badly made doll."
After coming back to life, Gage, filled with the unnamed Wendigo demon, returns to his family's home to acquire a scalpel so he can get rid of Jud, their neighbor. This whole section is difficult to read, and King turns the screws on the reader by reminding them the creature attacking Jud is in a child's body.
Whatever demon has taken over Gage says it wants to "f*ck with" Jud; it starts telling him things about his wife that aren't necessarily true, but are hurtful nonetheless. Then comes the physical attack:
Jud managed and put his right hand up to block the blow. And there was an optical illusion; surely his mind had snapped because it appeared that the scalpel was on both sides of his palm at the same time. Then something warm began to drizzle down on his face, and he understood... Jud flailed and got hold of Gage's wrist. Skin peeled off like parchment in his hand. The scalpel was yanked out of his hand, leaving a vertical mouth.
One of the most fascinating things about Pet Sematary is the way Stephen King describes the demise of Louis's son, Gage. The child dies between section breaks, and it's not just grim, it's also bleak:
It was quick, no doubt about that, that's why the coffin's closed, nothing could have been done about Gage even if Rachel and I approved of dressing up dead relatives in their best like department store mannequins and rouging and powdering and painting their faces. It was quick, Missy-my-dear, one minute he was there on the road and the next minute he was lying in it, but way down by the Ringers' house. It hit him and killed him and then it dragged him and you better believe it was quick.
One of the most brutal passages in the book occurs when Louis decides to kill his son. King describes the boy's second passing with remorseless accuracy. Initially, this scene reads like a fight, but it's much harder to get through when you remember this is a father and his son:
Louis clawed for one of the hypos, got it out. He would have to be quick. The thing under him was like a greased fish and it would not let go of the scalpel no matter how hard he bore down on its wrist. And its face seemed to ripple and change even as he looked at it. It was Jud's face, dead and staring, it was the dented, ruined face of Victor Pascow, eyes rolling mindlessly; it was, mirror-like, Louis' own, so dreadfully pale and lunatic... It bucked beneath him. The hypo flew out of Louis' hand and rolled a short way down the hall. He groped for another, brought it out, and jammed it straight down into the small of Gage's back.