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Pet Sematary Blu-ray Review

Pet Sematary (1989) movie poster Pet Sematary

Theatrical Release: April 21, 1989 / Running Time: 103 Minutes / Rating: R / Songs List

Director: Mary Lambert / Writer: Stephen King (screenplay & novel)

Cast: Dale Midkiff (Louis Creed), Fred Gwynne (Jud Crandall), Denise Crosby (Rachel Creed), Brad Greenquist (Victor Pascow), Michael Lombard (Irwin Goldman), Miko Hughes (Gage Creed), Blaze Berdahl (Ellie Creed), Susan Blommaert (Missy Dandridge), Mara Clark (Marcy Charlton), Kavi Raz (Steve Masterton), Mary Louise Wilson (Dory Goldman), Andrew Hubatsek (Zelda)

Buy Pet Sematary from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD Instant Video

Whether already established or simply on the rise, many of those who directed the earliest film versions of Stephen King writings have enjoyed long and distinguished careers. Such titans as Stanley Kubrick (The Shining), Brian De Palma (Carrie),
Rob Reiner (Stand by Me and Misery), John Carpenter (Christine), and David Cronenberg (The Dead Zone) brought King's suspense and horror stories to the big screen. Not every director has flourished, however.

Mary Lambert had made music videos for the likes of Madonna, Janet Jackson, Mick Jagger, and Sting along with the 1987 thriller Siesta when she became the first and only woman entrusted to helm a Stephen King adaptation for theaters. While Lambert's debut had faltered at the box office, fell short with critics, and picked up two Razzie nominations to go with an Independent Spirit Awards nod, her second film was a hit. With a $57 million domestic gross, 1989's Pet Sematary became the most successful King film yet and it has only been eclipsed by three such efforts since (Misery, The Green Mile, and 1408).

The strong reception inspired a sequel in Pet Sematary Two, which Lambert returned to direct even though King was uninvolved. Since that 1992 film, Lambert has only twice made it back to theaters: for the limited release music drama Clubland (1999) and the teen thriller flop The In Crowd (2000). The director has continued to dabble in horror, but of the television (Disney Channel's Halloweentown II: Kalabar's Revenge, Syfy's Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, FEARnet's "The Dark Path Chronicles") and direct-to-video (Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, The Attic) varieties. Now 60, Lambert seems destined to have Pet Sematary remain her best-known work for the indefinite future.

Dr. Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) is surprised and happy to find Winston Churchill still alive. Ominous-looking neighbor Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne) has big Thanksgiving Day plans for Louis.

Although more than two dozen works had already been born out of King's fiction, Sematary became only the third to enlist the author as screenwriter, following the anthology films Creepshow and Cat's Eye.

The Creed family, consisting of patriarch Louis (Dale Midkiff), his wife Rachel (Denise Crosby), their young daughter Ellie (Blaze Berdahl, "Ghostwriter") and infant son Gage (Miko Hughes), has just moved to rural Maine, where Louis is to be the new doctor at the local university. Their new home is on a highway primarily used by trucks driving at fast speeds. Welcoming neighbor Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne, "The Munsters") explains that the traffic has claimed the lives of many a pet, which is why a nearby trail leads to a pet cemetery, whose crude signage supplies the misspelled title.

We come to learn that it is no ordinary animal graveyard. While the rest of the Creeds are in Chicago to spend Thanksgiving with the icy in-laws, Louis finds the family's gray cat Church (short for Winston Churchill) dead by the side of the road. At Jud's advice, the two men make a challenging hike to secretly bury the feline in the outskirts of the cemetery, a former Indian burial ground. Not long after, Church resurfaces, alive, dirty, and a bit hostile. After a terrible tragedy, Louis contemplates testing the pet cemetery's resurrectional powers, in defiance of Jud's stern warnings that "sometimes dead is better."

The titular pet sematary (sic) leads to an unusual second graveyard used as Indian burial grounds.

The images conjured by the title and suggested by the opening credits' inviting tour of childishly-scribbled headstones largely go unrealized here.
Ghostly dogs and cats sound compelling, but the movie has other sources of horror and intrigue in mind.

Pet Sematary is a film designed to scare audiences, to make children burst out in tears and later be haunted by nightmares. It succeeds at unsettling, but its thrills are at first the gory kind, assigned no psychological weight. As the story slowly takes shape, it becomes less about a scary real place and more about the scary hypothetical places that a suffering human mind and soul might wander. It's rich terrain with almost biblical overtones. And yet it only fuels a fairly standard late-1980s horror movie.

As the only credited writer, King cannot pass blame to another, like he has on filmings he has deemed unsatisfying. But though fundamental, the problems seem to manifest in the directing and editing. A dead young man stuck between worlds (Brad Greenquist) features far too prominently for not ever being properly introduced. He serves to warn Mr. and Mrs. Creed about danger, his bloodied brain exposed seemingly to send young viewers' hands over their eyes.

The film's destination becomes inevitable about halfway in and it is a ludicrous one that involves perspective shots, doubles, cutting around action, and massive suspension of disbelief. In short, it's kind of stupid and undermines the suspense and atmosphere that has previously been built up. There's also a funeral scene at odds with the rest of the picture, its darkly comedic melodrama inventing conflict at the cost of tonal coherency and structural soundness. One additional issue is the lingering mystery of why the Creeds' two visible neighbors talk like they're in a 1930s movie; if that's a Maine accent, it's news to me.

The public consensus on Pet Sematary is that is a middling Stephen King film, a far cry from his very best (generally considered to be The Shining and the atypical stuff like The Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me) and probably in the second or third tier of horror adaptations. Even so, King's name carries a lot of weight and enough to make the film Paramount's October catalog Blu-ray debut, aptly timed to the Halloween horror season.

Pet Sematary Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.78:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (French),
Dolby Mono 2.0 (Spanish, Portuguese)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese; Movie-only: English SDH
Not Closed Captioned; Video Extras Subtitled
Release Date: October 2, 2012 / Suggested Retail Price: $22.98
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Lenticular Cardboard Slipcover
Still available as Special Collector's Edition DVD ($14.98; September 26, 2006) and on Amazon Instant Video / Previously released as DVD (September 19, 2000) and in 4-Movie Stephen King Collection (September 26, 2006)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Like most Paramount Blu-rays, this one looks very good. The film's original grain is maintained, but it has a moderate presence here among the sharp, sparkling clean visuals. A few shots are grainier, like a jarring view of a truck driver. On the whole, this won't wow anyone used to watching modern cinema in 1080p, but it is pretty much exactly what you want and hope to see from 1980s horror in high definition.

The default 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack has some obvious limitations in its dialogue recordings, but it still fares okay. There are a few noticeable instances of directionality, as when young pet owners' voices engulf you at the start and trucks move from one side to another. The mix isn't dynamic or demo-quality, but it gets the job done probably better than the DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Dubs and subtitles are provided in three foreign languages.

Author/screenwriter Stephen King crosses his fingers in "Stephen King Territory." Director Mary Lambert reflects on her biggest film in an audio commentary and 2006 featurette interviews. A 2-year-old Miko Hughes keeps cool on the Pet Sematary set in this photo from "Filming the Horror."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

As you would imagine, all the extras from Pet Sematary's 2006 Special Collector's Edition DVD are retained on Blu-ray.

First and most significant is an audio commentary by director Mary Lambert. Rehearsed, humble, soft-spoken, and Southern, she dissects the story's appeal and recalls some specifics from production. While she has some insight into elements unique to horror, at many times she has little more than scene narration to offer.

If you're not a huge fan of the film, this isn't an essential listen.

Three standard definition featurettes follow.

"Stephen King Territory" (13:09) focuses on the author, who gives a tour of the Maine shooting locations at the time of production. In the present-day, King biographer Douglas E. Winter puts the novel into context, comparing it to the W.W. Jacobs story "The Monkey's Paw." Cast and crew discuss the film in a mix of 1980s (producer Richard P. Rubenstein, Denise Crosby) and 2006-ish (Lambert, Dale Midkiff, Brad Greenquist) interviews.

"The Characters" (12:51) turns our attentions to casting, with Lambert recalling the film's principal human and feline actors, Midkiff and Greenquist remembering their roles and deceased castmate, and, in archival footage, King and Fred Gwynne speaking on Jud Crandall.

"Filming the Horror" (10:26) rounds out the platter with reflections on production by the aforementioned 2000s interview subjects.

The film's original theatrical trailer is sadly still missing.

The static, silent menu gives us a wide version of the cover art with bloody highlighting of listings on a stone slab. The disc supports bookmarks, but does not resume playback as some recent Paramount BDs finally have.

One nice touch: the eco-friendly Blu-ray case is topped by a lenticular-faced cardboard slipcover, which gives Winston Churchill the cat something of a three-dimensional presence. The cover art interestingly reinforces that misdirect of a title, while featuring it in the same font and colors as the original poster art.

A bloodied Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) sets out to find whether this is one of those times that dead isn't better. Mrs. Creed's haunting childhood sibling Zelda isn't just meningitic...she's a man (Andrew Hubatsek).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Pet Sematary isn't great horror, nor is it terrible. If Stephen King's respected name requires it to be judged harshly, then it also has allowed it to be taken seriously. The film's interesting ideas and winning atmosphere are undercut by its reliance on an ineffective conventional action climax.

Paramount's Blu-ray meets expectations squarely, offering a strong feature presentation and nothing new but everything old at an okay price. Though this probably isn't a movie you'll be compelled to buy, let alone in high definition, it will make a decent addition to any Stephen King video library.

Buy Pet Sematary from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Adapted from Stephen King: Cujo The Shining Misery
Directed by Mary Lambert: Halloweentown II: Kalabar's Revenge Mega Python vs. Gatoroid
New: Arachnophobia Hocus Pocus The Halloween Tree The Game Ed Wood Mad Monster Party The Loved Ones
Fred Gwynne: The Christmas Star | Dale Midkiff: Air Bud: World Pup | Miko Hughes: Full House: Season 7
1980s Horror: Poltergeist Child's Play The Watcher in the Woods Something Wicked This Way Comes
The Crazies (2010) Cohen & Tate Adventures in Babysitting The Cat from Outer Space Orphan The Ring

Pet Sematary Songs List: Ramones - "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker", Ramones - "Pet Sematary"

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Reviewed September 18, 2012.



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