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Pet Sematary (1989)

Paramount Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/2/2012

All Ratings out of





Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/2/2012

In the 80s, many people went through a Stephen King phase and I was no exception. (I realize that he's still working and popular today, but there's no denying that the 80s was his heyday.) Everyone's phase had to start somewhere. As odd as this may sound, I remember a teacher reading a King short story to us on an elementary school camping trip. (It was a different time!) However, the first King novel which I read was Pet Sematary and I was blown away by the sheer creepiness of the book. It had a great, moving story, but it was also very scary. When the 1989 film adaptation was announced, I had mixed feeling, as I wanted to see the great book get due justice. Pet Sematary has just come to Blu-ray Disc and I've been able to reconnect with all of those old feelings.

Pet Sematary introduces us to the Creed family, who have just moved to rural Maine. Louis (Dale Midkiff) is a doctor and he's purchased a rustic farmhouse just outside of town for his wife, Rachel (Denise Crosby), and their two children, Ellie (Blaze Berdahl) and Gage (Miko Hughes). They are immediately greeted by their neighbor, Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne) who warns them of the speeding trucks which frequent the road between their houses. As the family gets settled in, Jud takes them on a hike to the pet cemetery behind their house. (Which children has christened the "Pet Sematary".) When Rachel and the kids are away for Thanksgiving, the family cat ("Church") gets hit by a truck and dies. Jud decides that he doesn't want to see Ellie suffer, so he takes Louis to an area beyond the pet cemetery and has Louis bury the cat there. Louis is shocked to find Church roaming the house the next day. How is he alive? When tragedy strikes the Creed family, Louis must decide if he wants to see what that ancient burial ground would do to a human.

The novel Pet Sematary is classic Stephen King. We are introduced to an average American family living average American lives as supernatural terror and insanity slowly creep in. While King had explored the family unit in The Shining, Pet Sematary shows more of a healthy family, so when the horror starts, it's even more devastating. The third act of the book is truly chilling and I can remember so vividly imagining the final face off between Louis and the evil thing.

(SPOILER ALERT: I have to divulge some plot twists in order to discuss my issues with the film, so if you haven't seen this 23-year old movie, read with caution.) But, I was very disappointed with the movie and seeing it again today, I was immediately reminded of why. First of all, Director Mary Lambert has given this movie a terrible look. A book the caliber of Pet Sematary deserves an equally good movie, but this looks like a made-for-TV movie. It's not necessarily a low-budget look -- it's more like a plain, humdrum look which says, "I'm nothing special". The cast doesn't exactly shine either. Midkiff is OK, but his role requires a lot of emoting and he's not up to it. Crosby is utterly unlikable and we should be focusing on the story instead of wondering why they are together. On the positive side, the beautiful cat who plays Church is great.

I hate to say this, but blame must also go to Stephen King, who wrote the screenplay for the film. He's re-written some characters (Jud had a wife in the book) and attempted to streamline chunks from the novel. As in the book, deceased jogger Victor Pascow (Brad Greenquist) becomes a spirit guide, but there's no explanation as to why, so doesn't gel at all. And then we have the finale. It's been years since I read the book, but was Gage able to project hallucinations into people? Why did Louis and Rachel see what they saw? It certainly reminded me of a "Stephen King thing", but it didn't make any sense.

And then we have Gage. When I read the book, I had such a vivid image of the evil zombie which Gage became and in the movie we're presented with a kid wearing some pancake makeup and a fake vein. He wasn't scary at all! Yes, what he did to Jud is cringe-worthy, but Gage it still too cute to be frightening. And come, "No fair."? Are you kidding me? Those are the words of an evil being!

There's been talk of a new adaptation of Pet Sematary and I'm all for it. This film does make good use of its Maine locations and Gwynne is good as Jud, but the movie doesn't pack the punch of the novel. Even Zelda, who is undoubtedly the creepiest part of the film, seems lame today. In fact, the only scary thing in the movie is that painting in Rachel's parent's house. What is up with that? Pet Sematary is by no means the worst film based on a Stephen King story (I'm looking at you Graveyard Shift), but it may be the most disappointing.

Pet Sematary clearly didn't have time for a stunt-cat on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only slight grain at times and no distracting defects from the source materials. This is an odd transfer, as it looks good, but it does nothing to improve the look of the film. The colors look good, although they are just a tad washed out. The image is never overly dark or bright, even with the nighttime scenes here. For a film of this age, the depth is good and the picture is rarely soft. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.2 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are pretty good, as they are detailed and sometimes highlight off-screen sounds. The surround sound effects aren't constant, but they are effective during the forest scenes and in the finale. The best effects come when the trucks go by, as the sound fills the speakers and we bet a nice subwoofer rumble.

The Pet Sematary Blu-ray Disc contains a handful of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Mary Lambert. "Stephen King Territory" (13 minutes) is an interesting making-of featurette which contains archival comments from Stephen King who describes his personal experiences which influenced the novel. He also tours the locations and gives his views on them. We also get comments from King historian Douglas Winter (his book is a must-read) on the source novel and then interviews with Lambert and the cast about the elaborate outdoor sets. "The Characters" (13 minutes) has Lambert talking about the work which was done to bring the characters from the page to the screen. She gives in-depth notes on the casting, most notably the children. The actors talk about their characters and their experiences on the set. "Filming the Horror" (10 minutes) is a more straight-forward making-of featurette where Lambert and Midkiff tell stories about shooting certain scenes. Lambert relates how she got the job, and she explains some of the stranger parts of the finale.

Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long