Two King classics, one half-decent time-waster, and one generally awful piece of fun garbage are what you get in The Stephen King Collection, a box set from Paramount that delivers all of the studio's King flicks in one handy package. Personally I'd have simply purchased movies 1 and 2 and left the other pair on the shelf, but if you're a hardcore horror completist, I wouldn't blame you for snagging the whole set.
The Dead Zone (5 out of 5 stars) -- Absolutely one of the very finest King flicks to ever hit the screens, David Cronenberg's The Dead Zone is a thing of dark, twisted, ironic beauty. Christopher Walken plays small town schoolteacher Johnny Smith, who, after a horrific accident, awakens five years later with the power to see ... things. All he has to do is touch you in some way, and Johnny can tell all sorts of amazing things -- most of which are pretty awful indeed.
Boasting a fantastic Michael Kamen score, an addictively icy tone, several truly creative jolts, and a wonderfully bittersweet finalé, The Dead Zone is one of the finest King adaptations out there. Tom Skerritt, Hebert Lom, Brooke Adams, and (especially) Martin Sheen provide fantastic support, but The Dead Zone is all Walken's show -- and the guy delivers a heartbreakingly sympathetic performance. If you love the TV series, you'll probably go nuts for Cronenberg's rendition.
Pet Sematary (4 out of 5 stars) -- A true-blue bruise of a horror flick, packed with unsettling images, shocking demises, and a wonderfully apt sense of macabre humor. It's an O. Henry-esque tale about a young father who "wishes" his dead child back to life, only to realize that... Well, I don't want to spoil anything.
Director Mary Lambert ladles out the atmosphere in big, generous doses: Shock scares, nasty gore, creepy concepts... It's like a horror genre salad bar -- and the chilliest thing in the whole flick is the sight of a "dark secret" invalid who's slowly wasting away in a back bedroom. And in a flashback no less! (Flashbacks are usually another word for "filler" where horror flicks are concerned; not so in this Sematary.)
Perhaps a bit too extreme for the PG-13 horror crowd, but Pet Sematary is pretty well-regarded among the hardcore fans. It's got some stuff you've never seen before, plus it offers the wonderful Fred Gwynne in a fantastic scene-stealing role -- one that helped to bolster his reputation as more than just "that big goofy guy from The Munsters."
It's dark and grim and perhaps even a little tasteless, but I say Pet Sematary works, sometimes almost too well.
Silver Bullet (3 out of 5 stars) -- Based on the short novel Cycle of the Werewolf and starring Corey Haim (in a wheelchair) and Gary Busey (before he went nutty), Silver Bullet is sort of a "training wheels" werewolf movie. If you're not yet ready for An American Werewolf in London, The Howling, or Ginger Snaps, but you rrrrreally want to see a modern-style werewolf rumble, you could probably do a bit worse. (Actually I know you could: You could rent An American Werewolf in Paris.)
Haim is a sweet crippled kid in a lovely little Rockwellian town, but get this: A werewolf has been batting peoples' heads off down by the train tracks! And then a kid gets all shredded up! So it's up to wheelchair kid and his big sister to track the monster down, not at all unlike the adventures you see in your favorite episode of Scooby-Doo.
Adapted for the screen by King himself, Silver Bullet is fairly packed with goofy dialogue and airy bouts of chat-laden exposition -- but when Act II starts meandering to a close, the flick wakes up and exhibits a half-decent pulse. The monster effects are inconsistent yet still creepy, and the dry spots at least offer colorful folks like Lawrence Tierney, Terry O'Quinn, and Everett McGill.
Basically, though, Silver Bullet is a horror flick for young fans who aren't quite prepared for the really scary stuff. It's a forgettable piece of lycanthropic fluff, but it's a whole helluva lot better than...
Graveyard Shift (2 out of 5) -- And it gets those 2 stars only due to Goopy Gore and Guilty Pleasure-ism.
Based on a short story from King's (excellent) Skeleton Crew compilation, Graveyard Shift is about a stunningly disgusting textile mill that's been overtaken by rats. And when I say "rats," what I really means is, like, millions of rats, a few of which are a whole lot larger than a rat oughtta be.
Workers delve deep into the bowels of the building, only to become rat food. Rinse, lather, repeat for 88 minutes. To be fair, Graveyard Shift's hilariously overbaked screenplay delivers a whole bunch of unintentional chuckles, the kills are appreciably nasty, and the production design of the main setting is, yep, pretty nastily effective.
Plus we get an amusing Brad Dourif gig (he plays an ill-fated exterminator!) and an outrageously villainous performance by Gabriel Macht; frankly the movie's probably worth renting only for Macht's performance -- and for all those adorably carnivorous rodents. First and final feature from Ralph S. Singleton, Graveyard Shift is a pretty bad movie, but it's one of those 'fun-bad' movies, especially if you're a hardcore horror ho, like me.
All four films are presented in an anamorphic widescreen format. Having never seen the previous DVDs, I cannot compare, but the flicks look pretty darn solid to me. Silver and Shift show their age a bit more than the "good" flicks, but overall the transfers are strong.
The Dead Zone -- Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 Surround. A French mono track is also included, as are English subtitles.
Pet Sematary -- Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 (English or French) with optional English subtitles.
Silver Bullet -- Dolby Digital Mono (English or French) with optional English subtitles.
Graveyard Shift -- Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0 Surround, or French Stereo. English subtitles.
The Dead Zone comes with four featurettes and the original theatrical trailer. The featurettes go by Memories From The Dead Zone (12:15), The Look of The Dead Zone (9:23), Visions and Horror From The Dead Zone (9:42), and The Politics of The Dead Zone (11:32). Interview subjects include director David Cronenberg, cinematographer Mark Irwin, editor Ronald Sanders, author Douglas E. Winter, and actress Brooke Adams. Martin Sheen is also on board, although it's as part of an early-'80s archival interview.
Pet Sematary comes with an all-new audio commentary from director Mary Lambert, and it's a pretty damn good one, too. Also included are featurettes entitled Stephen King Territory (13:08), The Characters (12:50), and Filming the Horror (10:25). Interview subjects include Mary Lambert, cinematographer Peter Stein, author Douglas E. Winter, and actors Dale Midkiff, and Brad Greenquist. Stephen King and Denise Crosby pop up in archival footage. Rounding out the disc are some previews for Star Trek and The 4400.
As far as Silver Bullet and Graveyard Shift go, we get nada in the extra features department.
Call it a mixed bag. I'd proudly include The Dead Zone and Pet Sematary among my King Klassics, while Silver Bullet has just enough kitschy charm to warrant a rental. Graveyard Shift is all sorts of bad, but there's still some grungy fun to be found in there.