In the blood-soaked horror film library, Stephen King’s name surely has an honored place. With stories that have become horror classics, from The Shining to Carrie, he has churned out a fair number of grizzly tales over the years. One such tale is that of an ancient American Indian burial ground where legend tells the dead may come back if buried under its soil. Events naturally transpire to play that legend out and hopefully scare audiences along the way. King has played around before with the living tormented by the dead (or recently dead) and, as with most of his works, his settings require isolation of some kind – self-imposed or circumstantial – for the story to make sense. In the case of Pet Sematary, it doesn’t really add up though that hasn’t stopped the film gaining some loyal fans over the years. Its debut on Blu-ray will please those fans looking to revisit King’s popular tale in high definition.
Studio: Paramount Pictures
US Rating: Rated R
Film Length: 102 Minutes
Video: MPEG-4 AVC 1080P High Definition
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French Dolby Digital 2.0, Spanish/Portuguese 2.0 Dolby Digital mono
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese
Release Date: October 2, 2012
Review Date: September 30, 2012
“Today is thanksgiving day for cats. But only if they came back from the dead.”
The Creeds have relocated to the idyll of countryside Maine where Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) is to become the town’s medical doctor. On moving day, with his wife Rachel (Denise Crosby), daughter, Ellie (Blaze Berdahl) and young son Gage (Miko Hughes), Louis takes in the quiet country air and marvels at the simplicity their new life promises. They meet one of their neighbors, Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne), a tall grey-haired man in dungarees with a thick accent. He warns of the busy road that runs between their properties, a thoroughfare for big rig trucks that barrel down the dusty way at dangerous and deadly speeds. Many a pet has died on that road, he warns, as he describes the cemetery for pets that sits down the end of a path running from the Creeds new home. Later, he tells the father that beyond the place where pets are laid to rest, spelled ‘sematary’ (presumably from the poorly educated townsfolk from ages past), there is a burial ground with supernatural, spiritual strength. A place where it is told the dead can be buried and come back to life – though not quite as before. When the Creeds suffer a heartbreaking loss thanks to that deadly road outside their home, a despondent Louis ignores dire warnings and visits the ancient burial ground in an attempt to reverse the tragedy.
Pet Sematary is both effective and ridiculous, pawed by stiff performances (Fred Gwynne excepted) and buried in an abundance of banal horror film tricks. Some of that is atmosphere, mood if you will that works well, but for a hefty portion of the film’s running time it is little more than cats jumping onto tree limbs and the sort deployed to keep the audience off balance. Upon its release, several reviews found the use of young actor Miko Hughes as an instrument of menace and evil repulsive, especially his handling a scalpel and grinning as if possessed. Frankly it all seems relatively ordinary by today’s standards (how many evil children films have we seen over the past two decades). Despite the critical disquiet, Pet Sematary became quite the box office, grossing just north of $57MM off a $12MM budget (and spawning a sequel three years later).
Stephen King adapted his popular book for the screen himself, a rarity, though that alone doesn’t serve the screenplay any better than other adaptations of his works. King is an idea man. This story was inspired by the death of his cat on the road in front of his home, but creepy ideas and inspiration aside, King’s work can be little more than a stock elements spun around that one idea (though not always) and in his own hands, he crafts a screenplay that hangs far too much around that idea without a grander purpose, a compelling character set, or a payoff that rings true. And there are too many threads at play. Beyond the ancient American Indian burial ground bringing the dead back to ‘life’, we are graced with flashbacks of a creepy sister tucked away in a back bedrooms and hallucinatory visits from the victim of a deadly car accident (which itself is either a nod of the hat or a rip from American Werewolf in London). There are too many ingredients, too little of which works together.
Finally, note should be made of director Mary Lamberts lean contributions to the film. With notable accomplishments in music videos, Lambert efficiently steers even the more clunky elements of King’s screenplay while also lending dramatic weight to tender moments among the more standard horror fare.
The film is framed at 1.78:1 and displays a good level of detail. The transfer is clean, daylight scenes very bright and edges crisp. For a catalogue title of a film now over 20 years old, it looks very good indeed and there isn’t any heavy-handed use of digital tinkering (edge enhancement and the like). Grain is intact and fans will have plenty to celebrate.
Paramount pictures present Pet Sematary with a quite good English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. There are no issues to report with any of the audio elements, dialogue, sound effects, and music all clean and clear, and creeks and other haunting effects are arrayed nicely in the surrounds when needed. It’s an effective track that delivers nicely given that it’s now over 20 years old. Additionally, Elliot Goldenthal provides an effective and disconcerting score though it lacks the creative and distinct voice of his later works.
The special features have all ported from the 2006 DVD Special Edition and are entertaining enough. Besides the commentary by director lambert, which is informative and better than average, we are provided three featurettes which cover writing horror, filming locations, and the folk that fill the tale. Each are fine enough though split up they seem less substantive.
Commentary by director Mary Lambert
Stephen King Territory
Filming the Horror
I have never been all that impressed by Pet Sematary and it doesn’t appear to have held up as a horror tale all that well either. Beyond the poor acting, the film’s denouement is laughable nonsense playing out like a scene with Chucky from Child’s Play, albeit without the benefit of a murderous doll or the tinges of wit in the script. I love a good horror film, but this tale remains disappointing for me. Solid Blu-ray release, however.
Overall (Not an average)