Directed by Mary Lambert
Distributed by Paramount Home Video
Growing up a horror fan, it was easy to be into the work of Stephen King. At one point the man was churning out quality terror tales faster than McDonald’s doles out its artery clogging crap meals (complete with a side order of paramedics, just to keep you coming back). King has a self-described “diseased imagination”. When he does balls-out horror, no one can touch him. Pet Sematary is a tale that took two years to be published. King wrote it but felt the story was way too much of a downer. As a result it sat in his drawer for a few years until he used it to fulfill his contract with Doubleday. Downer or not, there’s one thing about Pet Sematary that is unmistakable — from its opening paragraph, and even its first frame of film, we know we’re in for some truly gritty and visceral horror.
Meet the Creeds: Louis, Rachel, Ellie, and little Gage. Together with their kitty, Church, the family decides to give life away from the hustle and bustle of the big city a try. Their home in Ludlow, Maine, is picturesque in every way. From the big blue sky to the open fields to the prerequisite white picket fence, it’s obvious that this is their idea of the American dream. Even their neighbor Jud Crandall, played with a lot of love by the incomparable Fred Gwynne, is straight out of the Mark Twain novels of yore.
However, there is a ying to every yang. Though the family’s surroundings are for the most part beautiful, there are two sinister locales that cannot be ignored — the open and busy road that separates their home from Jud’s and a tiny stone-lined path that leads to a pet cemetery. “That road has used up a lot of animals,” cautions Jud while explaining to the Creeds why the child-fashioned graveyard exists. Of course most warnings are never truly heard, and before you know it, the road claims the life of Church, the cat.
Jud is an old softy. He knows how much Ellie and Gage loved their pet. In an attempt to change things, Jud leads Louis not only down the path to the cemetery but beyond it to the Mic Mac Indian burial grounds. “You have to bury your own,” Jud tells Louis, and early the next morning Church comes back, but he’s a little on the evil side. Oh well, at least all is well, right? Wrong. A couple of days later Gage is struck down by a fast moving eighteen-wheeler right in front of his horrified family. Their son, once full of life, is now gone, but Louis knows better. He knows how to “Bust him out” and bring him back. However, sometimes dead is better.
Many adaptations of King’s work have failed miserably. They never manage to capture the feel and essence of their source material. Mary Lambert’s Pet Sematary is not one of those films. In fact, this reviewer would venture to say that Pet Sematary is the very best of them all. I was a huge fan of the book, and it stands to this very day as my favorite thing that King has ever written. This film is the perfect companion piece. Lambert got the story. She knew what it would take to not only make the movie good but also remain faithful to the source material. There had to be gore. There had to be atmosphere and disturbing imagery. In short, there was no need for tinkering. Pet Sematary is not a joyous tale. There is no room for a happy Hollywood ending with a pretty little bow placed on top of it. What we have here is Stephen King at his nastiest, and horror at its purest.
When Paramount originally released this movie, the DVD was as bare bones as you could get. In fact, except for a French audio track, there wasn’t a damned thing on it other than the film itself. I’m happy to say they have corrected themselves. This special collector’s edition stands head and shoulders above the original release. Here we are treated to three featurettes that run about forty-five minutes total. They’re good but just a bit too short. It seems as if once they really start delving into things, their end credits start rolling. Each featurette explores different aspects of bringing this story to life. In the first, entitled Stephen King Territory, we hear from the man himself talking about the genesis of the tale and how it was inspired by real life events, right down to some of the dialogue. Fascinating stuff. The second and third cover the characters and how everyone did their part to capture the terror on celluloid through various behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. The DVD is then rounded out by an engaging and must hear commentary by director Lambert. Mary is an uber intelligent lady with an eye for the camera that few folks have. Let’s just pretend that her sequel, Pet Sematary Two, didn’t happen, shall we?
The only thing that irks me about this release is the changed cover art. It’s just plain ugly. I guess the guy who designed the atrocious artwork for Paramount’s last four Friday films just got a little more work. Seriously, cut this crap out already! We like the original posters.
This is one of those rare instances when I am more than happy to double dip. Pet Sematary is a well rounded and truly frightening piece that given the right conditions can end up scaring the shit out of you. And don’t give me any of your macho bullshit either. I can guarantee you that if you saw the skeletal and twisted Zelda hunched over in the corner of your bedroom, you are liable to — just as she screams — “Never sleep again”. Get yourself a copy of this now, folks. It’s a must have!
Audio commentary with director, Mary Lambert
Stephen King’s Pet Sematary: Stephen King Territory featurette
Stephen King’s Pet Sematary: The Characters featurette
Stephen King’s Pet Sematary: Filming the Horror featurette
4 out of 5