In the blood-soaked horror library of films adapted from literary works, Stephen King’s name sits somewhere close to, if not at, the top. Many of his stories have become horror classics, from The Shining to Carrie, as he’s churned out a fair number of grizzly tales over the years. One such tale is that of an ancient American Indian burial ground, explored in his novel Pet Semetary, where legend tells the dead can come back if buried under its soil, but they don’t come back the same.
There is, as one typically finds in King’s work, a potent idea at the core of Pet Semetary. While the film has gathered a loyal fan base over the years, it isn’t always a particularly good film. However, regardless of how you feel about the quality of the film, there’s no denying the superb quality of this 4K edition.
The Production: 3/5
“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 seems to promise. They meet one of their neighbors, Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne), a tall grey-haired man in dungarees with a thick accent. Jud warns of the busy road that runs between their properties, a thoroughfare for big rig trucks barreling through 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 can work well, but for a hefty portion of the film’s running time it is little more than “cats jumping onto tree limbs” that are deployed to keep the audience off balance. As the parents, Dale Midkiff and Denise Crosby seem to struggle with the film’s horror and silly tones, and as their children, Miko Hughes is very, very good as Gage for being so young, and Blaze Berdahl is suitable as his older sister, Ellie. Fred Gwynne is quite interesting as the thickly accented neighbor, Jud Crandall.
Several reviews at the time took issue with having young actor Miko Hughes used as an instrument of menace and evil, finding it repulsive, especially the boy’s handling of a scalpel and grinning as if possessed. Frankly, it all seems ordinary by today’s standards. Despite the critical disquiet, Pet Sematary went on to become quite the box office success, grossing just north of $57MM off a $12MM budget (and spawning a sequel three years later).
Stephen King wrote the screenplay himself, something he rarely does, but I can’t say it helped much. The story was inspired by the death of King’s cat on the road in front of his home. Creepy ideas and inspiration aside, King’s work can sometimes be little more than a stock elements spun around that one idea, and adapting his own novel for the screen, he fails to find a grander purpose to his core idea, or a compelling set of characters, or even a payoff that rings true. I suspect it is just one of those stories that works better on the page, because there are just too many ideas to adequately play out in a short movie. Beyond the ancient American Indian burial ground bringing the dead back to ‘life’, we have flashbacks of a creepy sister tucked away in a back bedroom, 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). Simply put, there are too many ingredients, and too little of it working well 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 the more tender moments found amongst the more standard horror fare.
3D Rating: NA
Pet Semetary makes its debut on UHD courtesy Paramount Pictures and the imminent release of the new film based on the same novel in theaters. For this release, Paramount went back to the camera negative for a new scan, supervised by director Mary Lambert, and the results are something special.
The first thing you’ll notice is the inky blacks and the deep green of the grass in the brooding opening credits sequence. Once the credits are over, the bright daylight takes over and shows off how impressive the level of detail and saturated colors are. The red of the 18-wheeler truck pops off the screen, and the blue of the daytime skies are vivid and real.
The HDR grading (HDR+, Dolby Vision) deepens the colors and gives a more striking black level, and it looks better than ever.
Paramount pictures sticks with the previous English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio for this release. The audio is good, with dialogue, sound effects, and music all clean and clear, and the creeks and other haunting effects arrayed nicely in the surrounds when needed, it. It’s an effective track that delivers nicely even for its 30th anniversary.
Additionally, Elliot Goldenthal provides an effective and disconcerting score though it lacks the creative and distinct voice of his later works. An expanded edition of this score was released by La-La Land Records (I have it and it’s a great presentation of the score). You can purchase it HERE.
Special Features: 3.5/5
All of the previously included special features, including the informative, interesting audio commentary from director Mary Lambert has been ported over from the previous releases, and are available on the included Blu-ray (the others are three featurettes which cover writing horror, filming locations, and the folk that fill the tale.
On the UHD, you’ll find the Audio Commentary, and a small collection of new special features, the best of which is the Revisitation conversation with director Lambert. The Fear and Remembrance feature has some interesting interview snippets with the cast of the 2019 remake, but there’s not much depth here. Finally, the Galleries showcase film and marketing storyboards with an available introduction from director Lambert
On the UHD
Audio Commentary by director Mary Lambert
Fear and Remembrance
Pet Sematary: Revisitation
On the Blu-ray
Audio Commentary by director Mary Lambert
Stephen King Territory
Filming the Horror
I have never been all that impressed with Pet Sematary, though I must admit I did enjoy seeing it in the terrific looking 4K version more than I have ever done before. Beyond the, at times, shaky 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 film doesn’t really work for me. I’ll admit I was more impressed with the production on this viewing compared to when I reviewed the Blu-ray release back in 2012. My son was only a few months old at the time and I found the sequences leading up to the death of the Creed child deeply unpleasant. That hasn’t changed for me – I still find it hard to watch, but I did find more to like about the film in general.
If you’re a fan of the film, you will want to pick this up without fail. If you’re curious, or if you were never a fan but are willing to give it another try, the UHD is the way to go.
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