Time has not been kind to Mary Lambert's adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. Wait. Another lousy Stephen King movie, you ask? Big surprise, I know, as there are a ton of them. More so than there need be for source material that is so incredibly rich with rock and schlock. The novel is a classic from King. The film, while memorable for some late occurring nightmarish happenings, is sadly not as memorable.
To be fair to this twenty-three year old movie, I don’t take issue with the somewhat dated look of the film nor is there fault to be found with the performance of then five-year-old Miko Hughes as the scalpel-wielding baby turned psycho Gage. It’s in the rather uninspired direction from Lambert and the so-straight-it’s-boring performances from Dale Midkiff and Denise Crosby that lay waste to the continued appreciation of Pet Sematary.
Adapted by King himself, Pet Sematary is the supernatural tale of a doctor gone insane with grief after the death and resurrection of the family cat, Church, and, more importantly, his little boy. Moving always brings a nice change and for the Creeds moving from the city to the country is a nice change of pace for their once busy lives. Little do they know that living so close to a country highway could be so dangerous.
The Creed’s first taste of tragedy comes when a full-throttled diesel truck mows down the family cat. Prompted by his easy-going neighbor Jed (Fred Gwynne of television’s “The Munsters”), Dr. Louise Creed (Midkiff) buries the family cat within an Indian burial ground known to the locals as Pet Sematary. Soon, it returns. Of course, it’s not really of the same disposition as it was before; it smells and is viscously angry toward Louise.
Next in the supernatural burial ground is his son. When Gage is mercilessly taken out by another speeding semi-truck, Louise ignores Jed’s dire warning that “sometimes dead is better” and puts his son in Pet Sematary. And when he returns, his vengeance is paid at a costly price.
Lambert’s workmanlike direction undermines the rich visuals and emotion of King’s screenplay and plays it safe with a paint-by-numbers approach to movie making. So much for her creativity on display in her numerous music videos and debut. Her direction here is maybe too smooth and – outside of Gwynne’s sorrowful performance and Gage’s creepy post-mortem lines – leaves a lot to be desired.
All too soon this close-knit family falls apart and are shuttled away to Chicago. While King centered the script around emotional loss, the acting and rapid sequencing of events has that quality bubbling out as almost parody. The pre-resurrection scene where Gage’s coffin is tipped over by Louise and his arguing father-in-law is a bit too overdramatic. There’s also little sense of atmosphere that, in my opinion, is weird since we are dealing with a spooky old graveyard where the dead return to life.
Pet Sematary isn’t all bad and, perhaps just barely, there is enough twisted occurrences to keep it on this Halloween season. But it is material that is just dying to be brought back to life…
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Horror Violence and Disturbing Images.
Runtime: 103 mins.
Director: Mary Lambert
Writer: Stephen King
Cast: Dale Midkiff; Fred Gwynne; Denise Crosby; Brad Greenquist; Miko Hughes
Tagline: Sometimes dead is better.
Memorable Movie Quote: "God sees the truth... But waits."
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: April 21, 1989
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: October 2, 2012
Synopsis: Behind a young family's home in Maine is a terrible secret that holds the power of life after death. When tragedy strikes, the threat of that power soon becomes undeniable.
English SDH, French, Spanish (less)
English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German SDH (less)
Available on Blu-ray - October 2, 2012
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit); French: Dolby Digital 2.0; Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono; Portugese: Dolby Digital Mono
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode appears to be the same as the Special Collector’s Edition DVD a couple of years back. With a boosted contrast level and saturated colors, there’s really nothing notable about the transfer. There are, unfortunately, several blurry scenes and the resolution suffers in quality throughout the running time. Colors don’t pop and facial tones appear to be washed out and thin. At times, the shadows absolutely dominate the screen with crushing blacks and definition is hard to spot out. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack also disappoints with a surround sound that isn’t active in large chunks of the picture and rather thin bottom to the sound spacing. Dialogue, however, is clean.
- Provided by Lambert, the director’s commentary is sparse and more concerned with anecdotes about the shooting of the film then with actual discussion about the film. She does, however, spend time discussing what brought her to the production.
For fans of Stephen King, the supplemental material is the best part of the packaging. It begins with a thirteen-minute collection of interviews with biographer Douglas E. Winter and producer Richard P. Rubinstein as they discuss the inspiration for the novel. The next featurette has its actors and director discussing the themes of the movie and the characters. Finally, more interviews with cast and crew as they discuss the make-up effects of the horror film and ponder its legacy.
- Stephen King Territory (13 min)
- Characters (13 min)
- Filming the Horror (10 min)