An excellent storyteller and one of the best-selling authors of all time, it’s not surprising that several of Stephen King’s novels have been made into films. Some of the film adaptations have been excellent like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (though King himself is on the record as having hated it). While others such as Pet Sematary aren’t terrible, but just doesn’t quite live up to the excitement and terror of King’s storytelling.
With Stephen King onboard as the screenwriter, this film version of Pet Sematary sticks fairly close to the novel. We are introduced to the Creed family: Louis (Dale Midkiff), Rachel (Denise Crosby), and their two young children. The family has just moved from Chicago to rural Maine so that Louis, a medical doctor, could take a job at a local college. Rachel is a kind, devoted mother. Ellie (Blaze Berdahl) their daughter is a demanding brat; their toddler son Gage (Miko Hughes), is rather quiet. It’s not long before they meet their neighbor across the street, the imposing, yet kind Jud (Fred Gwynne), who shows them a pet cemetery (misspelled “sematary”), tucked in behind their house. Jud warns the family not to go past the cemetery to the mountain above it.
When Ellie’s cat, Church, is run over, he decides to bury it in the cemetery, only to watch it come back to life as a feral and horrifying. Later, when Gage wanders into the road while flying a kite and is killed, Louis decides he’s not ready to part with his son and returns to the cemetery. Unfortunately for Louis, this time, the results are disastrous.
Designed to scare audiences and leave younger viewers with nightmares. However, while Pet Sematary succeeds in being unsettling, but the gory moments hold no psychological weight; it’s all easily forgotten. As the story takes shape, the cemetery feels less like a real place and more like a hypothetical hell. Louis buries Church in the cemetery in order to avoid a difficult conversation about the cat’s death with his daughter. His motivations for burying Gage there are a whole different ball of wax. Louis wants his son around solely for his own benefit, despite Jud’s counsel that anything that returns from the cemetery is never the same as they were in life; As the old man warns, “sometimes dead is better.”
A longtime video director, Mary Lambert made her feature directorial debut here and misses out on a few good chances to ratchet up the dramatic tension. For instance, in one scene a character is hurrying back to stop another character from doing something that is going to go terribly wrong; the film cuts back and forth between the two characters, but it’s clear from the sequencing of things that the first character isn’t going to get there on time, eliminating any real drama from the scene. The tone is really one of a wink-and-a-nudge rather than scary.
The acting is surprisingly good. I’ve always thought Dale Midkiff an underrated actor and he carries much of the film, very well. In Miko Hughes, the filmmakers picked the perfect child to play Gage. While dummies and cut-away shots were clearly used to depict some of Gage’s bad behavior, Hughes possesses an oddly expressive face. While Pet Sematary isn’t a great horror film, it does offer enough memorable moments to merit a viewing.
Paramount’s 1080p transfer in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio is a very good one. Detail is very good, with deep and defined backgrounds. Faces look natural and colors are quite sharp and robust. Blacks are deep and inky. There are no obvious digital defects.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is reasonable, though not as strong as those found on newer titles. Dialogue is clean and clear, with a bit of directional activity in evidence on occasion. The surround mix utilizes the rear speakers when ambient sounds are necessary, though nothing is particularly strong about this mix.
English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles are available.
All of the special features have been previously available on DVD:
- Commentary by Director Mary Lambert: Lambert gives a thoughtful (if a bit rehearsed), analysis of the novel’s transition from page to screen, the casting process, the filming of certain scenes and more.
- Stephen King Territory (13:09, SD) looks at the legendary author’s long and successful career. The inspiration for the book version of Pet Sematary is discussed.
- The Characters (12:51, SD) takes a brief look at each of the characters in Pet Sematary and how they fit into the story. Includes interviews with cast members Dale Midkiff and Brad Greenquist
- Filming the Horror (10:26, SD) Cast and crew discuss making the film.
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