At times, Pet Sematary feels like a series of kooky events rather than a cohesive movie. Even so, this adaptation of Stephen King's novel is an entertaining mix of terror and dark comedy, and Director Mary Lambert nails the tongue-in-cheek climax. Things get strange when the Creed family discovers a pet cemetery behind their new home. A family pet buried there comes back to life, but something about the cat has changed. A more desperate situation requires a human burial in the pet cemetery, and what returns is a far cry from what once was. The sour ground in the pet cemetery is a macabre concoction from author King, who remains unafraid to rip families apart. Pet Sematary is one of the better film adaptations of King's work.*
Eighteen-wheelers barrel down the road outside the new home of Louis (Dale Midkiff) and Rachel Creed (Denise Crosby), and neighbor Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne) warns the pair that the pet cemetery is full of pets that died in the road. The Creeds have two young children, Ellie (Blaze Berdahl) and toddler Gage (Miko Hughes). When Ellie's cat, Church, is run over, Louis buries it in the pet cemetery, only to witness its return as something feral and undead. When Gage wanders into the road while flying a kite and is killed, Louis decides he is not ready to part ways with his son, and returns to the pet cemetery to disastrous results.
Pet Sematary asks whether it is better to lose someone or have that person remain on earth sans his former personality traits. Louis initially buries Church in hopes of avoiding the conversation about the cat's death with Ellie. Gage is a different beast entirely, as Louis wants him around for his own benefit, despite warnings from Jud that anything that walks back from the pet cemetery will not be the same as it was in life. Leave it to King to dream up a re-animated, homicidal toddler, which is what Gage becomes in hilariously bloody fashion. Pet Sematary might have been straight horror save its humorous undercurrent, which works surprisingly well with the terror. There are threats both human and beast in the film, but the stakes are somewhat tempered by the wink-and-nudge tone.
There are plenty of crazy happenings to enjoy in Pet Sematary: Louis gets his own spiritual guide in Victor Pascow (Brad Greenquist), a ghost with serious road rash that Louis tried to save in the emergency room. Rachel has some disturbing dreams about her long-dead sister, who died of spinal meningitis while under Rachel's watch. The kids don't make out especially well either, especially poor Gage, who goes from angelic to demonic without so much as the chance to voice his objections to the transformation. Director Lambert keeps things moving, though the movie has a somewhat disjointed, ripped-from-the-pages feel. The film sets up the legend of the pet cemetery, which is located atop an Indian burial ground, before moving into its second act, when feline and child are buried. It's then that things get bloody and go over the top.
The acting is surprisingly good for such a pulpy adaptation, and Midkiff, who looks a lot like Paul Rudd, sells the drama. The filmmakers picked a perfect child to play Gage, and, while some dummies and cut-away shots were obviously used to depict Gage's bad behavior, Hughes has quite an expressive face. The gore is often unexpected, and the film features some nice practical effects gags. By its finale, Pet Sematary has committed completely to spoofing its horror beginning, but overall, the film is an awful good time.
This is an impressive catalog title from Paramount, and the 1.78:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer looks great. The image features plenty of detail, and backgrounds are deep and well defined. Fabrics are nicely textured, and facial details are abundant. Colors are quite strong and well saturated, and blacks are deep and inky. The image retains a nice layer of grain, and no obtrusive digital sharpening is visible. The print is clean and without defects, and I suspect this Blu-ray presents the film as it appeared in theaters back in 1989.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is also strong, though not as resonant as newer mixes. Dialogue is clean and clear, and bit of directional dialogue pops up from time to time. This surround mix does utilize the rear speakers for ambient and action effects, and there are some decent sound pans when trucks whiz by on the road and when Gage "plays" with his daddy. A French 2.0 Dolby Digital track, a Spanish mono Dolby Digital track and a Portuguese mono Dolby Digital track are also included, as are English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Paramount gives Pet Sematary striking new cover art for its Blu-ray debut, and the first pressing includes a cool lenticular slipcover on which Church appears to move back and forth. The single-disc release is housed in a Blu-ray eco-case.
There are no new bonus features, but the extras created for the previous Special Edition DVD are included. First up is a Commentary by Director Mary Lambert, in which she discusses the novel's transition to the screen, as well as casting and production on the project. Stephen King Territory (13:09/SD) focuses on the writer and his decades-long career, while The Characters (12:51/SD) takes a look at characters specific to this story. Finally, Filming the Horror (10:26/SD) is a short making-of featurette.
Pet Sematary is not as accomplished as more serious adaptations of Stephen King's work like The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, but it's a lot of fun. There is plenty of gore and dark humor after a grieving father turns to supernatural forces within a pet cemetery to ease his pain. The Blu-ray features excellent picture and sound quality and some nice extra features. Highly Recommended.
*Note (9/25/2012): Several of you noted that King's novel lacks the somewhat campy tone of the film. I have not read the source material, and my comment about Pet Sematary being "less serious" than other King adaptations applies to the film and not the source material. I normally don't change my reviews after posting them, but decided to remove that language for clarity.
William lives in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.