For some reason, the utterly iconic and masterful written works of Stephen King have a reputation of not always translating well to the big-screen. In fact, the very best King-based movie is Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining; an adaptation that saw Kubrick change so many elements that King himself eventually made his own Shining adaptation years later. But back in 1989, horror hounds were treated to a feature film take on King’s Pet Sematary, complete with a screenplay from the iconic writer. Now, 30 years later, that ’89 picture has had a new Blu-ray release, so let’s see just how well this particular King adap fares and whether this new release of a 30-year-old effort is worth your time.
As the movie opens up, our attention is on the Creed family (led by Dale Midkiff and Denise Crosby) as they movie to the small town of Ludlow, Maine. Bizarrely, the parents decided it was a smart call to move their two children and cat to a fenceless house that resides right on the cusp of a tankers ‘n’ trucks-filled road. Wouldn’t you know it, but pretty soon their poor feline pal is soon offed and that’s when this film starts to take a turn for the eerie. You see, friendly old neighbour Jud (Fred Gwynne) takes the family to a nearby pet cemetery where the locals have been laying their animals to rest for decades. Once alone with patriarch Louis Creed, however, Jud lets him in on a secret: that just behind the cemetery is an old Indian burial ground that can bring things back from the dead. And when tragedy hits the Creed family, Louis is left debating whether to use this ancient burial ground or whether dead really is better.
Where the horror favourites of the 1980s are concerned, Pet Sematary is one that many feel goes a little overlooked. After all, by 1989 many audiences had soured on horror movies after being oversaturated with too many sequels or too many rip-offs of the same basic formulas. But with Pet Sematary, it’s actually an impressive film for the most part. In terms of setting up the terrors that lie ahead, the first half of the film is great in hitting the right beats and tone. And when the inevitable terrors do come, there are some genuinely great scares in the mix. Throw in some marvellous, pitch-perfect musical notes from Elliot Goldenthal and the result is often something slightly otherworldly.
In terms of performances, obviously the Creed family are at the centre of the tale, yet it’s Fred Gwynne as Jud, the local who’s been there and seen it all, that completely and utterly steals the show. For those used to seeing Gwynne yucking it up as Herman Munster, Pet Sematary shows a whole other side and versatility to the hugely talented actor. With Louis Creed often taking centre-stage in the film, Dale Midkiff does well with what he’s given and has you wondering why the actor didn’t go on to achieve any other major success in the year’s since Pet Sematary was first released. Young Miko Hughes does remarkably well for somebody so young as Gage Creed, the youngest of the Creed family, while Blaze Berdahl is a little underused as Gage’s older sister Ellie. In terms of underused, though, poor Denise Crosby so often feels like an afterthought as we see matriarch Rachel Creed largely take a backseat. For those who’ve seen Pet Sematary, you’ll also remember the great job that Brad Greenquist does as Victor Pascow, a tortured soul who brings mixed elements of horror and quirkiness to the feature.
To be honest, you’re likely well aware of all of the above – what, given the film has been around for 30 years – so the chances are you’re more interested in what else this new release has to offer. Firstly, the movie has never looked so glorious. The new crispness of the picture adds so much to proceedings; in particular helping the pet cemetery itself look fantastic in detail. Away from the HD spruce-up afforded by this Blu-ray (and even more-so in 4K), the bonus material included features a fun and engaging new interview with director Mary Lambert as she looks back on the film. Similarly, another new piece sees the cast and crew of this year’s Pet Sematary remake take a conveniently timed look at the original movie. The true highlight of the special features, however, is the chat track with Lambert; the 1989 film’s director proving a fascinating and fun presence who seems to hugely enjoy talking us through this old favourite. This commentary track has been featured on previous release of the movie, mind.
Is Pet Sematary perfect? Of course not, but it’s a movie that still remains a whole lot of fun, and the new HD transfer and special features offered up in this new Blu-ray release will certainly make it an appealing purchase for genre fans both old and new.
Special Features: Two new featurettes / New image galleries / Archived audio commentary with Mary Lambert / Three archived featurettes
PET SEMATARY (1989) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: MARY LAMBERT / SCREENPLAY: STEPHEN KING / STARRING: DALE MIDKIFF, FRED GWYNNE, DENISE CROSBY, BRAD GREENQUIST, MIKO HUGHES, BLAZE BERDAHL / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW