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Case Number 00726

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Pet Sematary

Paramount // 1989 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // September 21st, 2000

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our review of Pet Sematary (Blu-ray), published September 24th, 2012, is also available.

The Charge

Sometimes dead is better.

Opening Statement

There have been many film adaptations of Stephen King's books. From the terrible (Maximum Overdrive, The Langoliers) to the exceptional (The Shawshank Redemption Misery ), King films have always been a mixed bag of horror to horrible. In 1989, Mary Lambert directed Pet Sematary, about the Creed family and their new move…to hell. Made from an adaptation of King's own script, this is the cliché "Be careful what you wish for" at its nastiest. Do you dare take a walk to the "Sematary"? Or is it time to re-rent Graveyard Shift again?

Facts of the Case

The Creed family has just moved to a quaint Maine country home next to a very busy road. The family, consisting of Dad (Dale Midkiff), Mom (Denise Crosby of "Star Trek" fame) and their two children seem to be the perfect American family. And they are…that is, until they discover something in the woods that will change their lives forever (and for the worse). Their neighbor Jud (Fred "Herman Munster" Gwynne) Crandell, who gets the "Things I really shouldn't mention to my new neighbors" award, warns them of the Micmac burial grounds, past the children's "Pet Sematary" in the local woods. The legend goes that if you bury your dead there, they'll be back in time for supper…

Well guess what the one of the schmucks in the Creed family do? That's right, someone over there who played one to many games of "Operation" as a child decides to burn the midnight oil and make a trip the Micmac burial grounds with a body it tow. Well, happy-crappy n' slap my fanny, someone comes back from the dead, and they woke up on the wrong side of the coffin that morning.

From there out, without giving too much away, life for the Creeds becomes what we mid-westerners like to call a "snowball effect." Here's the deal: If it ain't broken, don't fix it. Yes, we've all heard this term many times in our lives. It's just too bad that the Creeds decided not to listen when this was being said. What a bunch of boobs.

I always imagine that if I were in a horror film, I would be able to make it through, no problem. No, not because I know the rules like in Scream, but because the crap and the fan wouldn't even come close to touching to begin with.

See, if I were to move to Maine and some old codger came over to my house and says "By the way, over yonder there's a piece o' land there that'll bring back your relatives, but they'll smell like my feet and look like my butt crack," the very first words out of my mouth are "I hear Florida is nice this time of year. Forward my mail!" And off I'd go to live among the crocodiles.

The Creeds should be so lucky. They aren't, and this becomes a nice Stephen King thriller that has a creepiness factor of about 10. Dead cats, undead people, ancient Indian burial grounds that have gone sour…Pet Sematary has it all. And then some.

The Evidence

Since I'm a horror buff, it states in my contract that I have to at least like some of the film adaptations of King's novels. Like I mentioned before, they are spotty at best. But Pet Sematary rises above the rest to become a very satisfying horror film, filled with images of terror and fright reserved usually for family reunions. Dale Midkiff turns in a subtle performance as Louis Creed, patriarch of a family that's about to go down the tubes faster than a pile of eight day old Chinese food. His performance is very controlled, all the way up to the very last shoot (and it's a doozy). Fred Gwynne also gives one of his last and best screen turns as a man who realizes his mistake when he opens his yapper about the Micmac burial grounds. I have been a fan of Gwynne since his days on "The Munsters," thinking that he had a very nice touch with comedy. I then saw him in the film My Cousin Vinny and, although I didn't think the film was as good as critics did, Gwynne turned in a nice performance with, once again, good comedic timing. Here he plays a character that is generally void of any comedy and he does a very nice job with the role he's given. It's nice to see him do a dramatic turn before the end of his career.

The story is as tight as you can get from adapting it from a novel. I have read the book, and from what I remember this follows along pretty closely to King's original story. Although there are a few inconsistencies throughout (such as some of the motivation for why these people do what the do…and I can't go into that without giving it all away), overall it's a very frightening tale, played out by the modern master of horror.

The transfer for Pet Sematary is anamorphic widescreen, and Paramount has done a beautiful job of making this print clear and vivid. No grain that I noticed, blacks were solid, colors bright…an overall great job by Paramount. Now if only the same could be same about the extras…

…which include NONE, nada, zip, zero and a big old bag o'nothin'. No kiddin'. Nary a trailer or an interview to be found. Oh, but we do get some lovely parting gifts of a "scene selection." Take that to the bank and lock it up, it's the most wealth you're gonna get on the Pet Sematary DVD. Oh well. If were gonna get nothing, at least we get a good transfer of the film. Right? Right?

Sigh…yeah, it still sucks.

As for the sound, we get Dolby 5.1, with the creepy effects sounding effectively creepy, the heart-pounding music sounding heart pounding…eh, you get the point. It's a well-mastered soundtrack. This also includes English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing, a nice bonus, along with French surround sound as well. I don't know as you want to call those "extras" but lets pretend they are really, really exciting extras, and OH MY GOSH I just peed my pants twice, just to make sure I was THAT excited about getting French Surround Sound!!

By the way, a little disclaimer: There is a Pet Sematary II that came out a few years after this one, by the same director. Lightning didn't strike twice. Buyer beware.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

I really can't give a lot of complaints on this disc. The transfer is more than solid, the sound mix is well done. I mean, yeah, I can go on and on about how they should have given us something on here in the way of extras, even if it was just a theatrical trailer, but what can you do? However, I will tell a short little story to prove my point (and take up reviewing space); I was at the Fangoria weekend of horrors with my buddy Terry a few weeks ago. We sat down during the presentation part of the event when Fangoria was just bringing out the guys from Anchor Bay (one of my favorite DVD companies) to do a Q&A session. After a few questions, one of the Anchor Bay representatives said something that got me all choked up like a four-year-old schoolgirl. I'm paraphrasing, of course:

"It's not our job to decide what movie is more important than another to fans. For each disc we put out, we put 100 percent effort into each one. What one movie is to one person, it's not to another, and vice versa. But it doesn't seem very fair that one movie gets a so called 'special edition' while a different movie gets nothing."

How very true. I don't think much more needs to be said. Lets all just take some time to ponder those words of wisdom for a few moments.

Closing Statement

Pet Sematary is such a great film from King and director Mary Lambert. How is it that so many filmmakers screw up Steve's novels on screen, and only a handful are great cinematic experiences? I guess we'll never know, along with what's going on with the Bermuda Triangle and what happened to the actor who played Wesley on "Mr. Belvedere."

As for the extras, Paramount has a lot of explaining to do. This is a great renter, and a good-to-go buy if you love the movie. Otherwise, wait for the special edition (which should be around the time Pet Sematary II gets one…).

The Verdict

Film and Transfer free to go, extras are D.O.A., but sure to return to court if buried in the old Indian burial grounds. If found, please return to its rightful owner…

[Editor's Note: In case you're wondering why "cemetery" is misspelled throughout this review, it's because the movie misspelled it that way. Long live the American public school system.]

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Scales of Justice

Video: 98
Audio: 95
Extras: 1
Acting: 89
Story: 94
Judgment: 83

Perp Profile

Studio: Paramount
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• English
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Horror

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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