Pet Sematary (1989)

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Released 12-Nov-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Horror None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1989
Running Time 98:29
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (51:15) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Programme
Region Coding 4 Directed By Mary Lambert

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring Stephen King
Dale Midkiff
Fred Gwynne
Denise Crosby
Brad Greenquist
Michael Lombard
Miko Hughes
Blaze Berdahl
Susan Blommaert
Donnie Greene
Case ?
RPI $29.95 Music Elliot Goldenthal
The Ramones

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Hungarian Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

"If I had my way about it, I still would not have published Pet Sematary. I don't like it. It's a terrible book not in terms of the writing, but it just spirals down into darkness. It seems to be saying nothing works and nothing is worth it, and I don't really believe that." Bare Bones: Conversations on Terror with Stephen King

You could almost say that the good Stephen King adaptations are the ones that have no Stephen King cameos in them. Of course, you would be neglecting Firestarter, Children of the Corn, Sometimes They Come Back and a few other stinkers, but Pet Sematary seems to qualify. The novel, a massive best-seller in its day, is a cracking good yarn, precisely because it "spirals down into darkness". I read the New English Library paperback in my teens and it scared the living poo out of me. The story is an updating of W.W. Jacobs' classic tale 'The Monkey's Paw' crossed with a Ray Bradbury chiller called 'The Small Assassin'. King left the finished manuscript in a drawer for three years before publication; it disturbed him that much. All of which raises the obvious question: Why have so many Stephen King's novels translated poorly to the silver screen?

Fantasy writer and scenarist Harlan Ellison explains it all brilliantly in two slices of his film column Harlan Ellison's Watching. Since this great book is out of print, track down the more accessible Kingdom of Fear The World of Stephen King. These two essays appear alongside many excellent pieces by the likes of Clive Barker and Michael McDowell. Pet Sematary itself hovers somewhere between Creepshow II and The Dark Half. Compared to its contemporaries and especially the sequel, Mary Lambert makes a reasonable go of it with a script by the Maine Man himself and a $11.5 million budget, but the film does have a number of fatal flaws.

Doctor Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) and his wife Rachel (Denise Crosby) arrive in Maine to start a new life with their two monsters, err, children Ellie (Blaze Berdahl) and Gage (Miko Hughes). Everything seems perfect, but before the engine in their station wagon cools, toddler Gage is snatched from the path of a speeding semi-trailer by neighbourly Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne from The Munsters). To further illustrate the dangers of the highway, Jud takes the Creed family on a tour of the local Pet Sematary, where numerous kids have buried their beloved animals, the unfortunate cats and dogs flattened into fur rugs by the Orinco eighteen-wheelers passing by. After discussing Death and cat neutering with his family over breakfast, Louis tends to a shattered road accident victim called Victor Pascow (Brad Greenquist) on his first day at work. With a head that resembles a Big Mac thrown against a brick wall, Victor cautions Louis about dark and terrible things before flatlining the heart monitor. Being a story birthed by Stephen King, we know at this juncture that the Creeds won't be playing Happy Families for long, because behind the Pet Sematary, over the deadfall and through the forest, is another burial ground one with the power to bring the dead back to life. But sometimes dead is better . . .

Dead is an apt description of the acting prowess on offer, and it's the main reason why Pet Sematary fails. Take Dale Midkiff for instance, please! This telemovie uber-talent, who lulled us to sleep in Elvis and Me with his papery monotone voice, has all the passion and vitality of a Michael Bolton song. In Pet Sematary, he reaches new career lows as the doting father both torn and driven by tragedy. Either that, or constipation. Someone more competent, like Timothy Hutton from The Dark Half, would have worn this role like a glove. And what about Denise Crosby, that dramatic non-presence plucked from the Star Trek: Next Generation soundstages at Paramount? Looking distracted and rather butch, she is unconvincing as the mum and devoted wife saddled with emotional baggage. Still, playing off Dale Midkiff would not have inspired anyone to greatness. Child actors Blaze Berdahl (aged 8) and Miko Hughes (aged 2) jangle your nerves far more than the horror elements on offer. To be fair, the shooting schedule would not have granted many takes for anyone, let alone child actors and their idiosyncrasies. While the irritating Miss Berdahl has mercifully dropped off our radar screens, her co-star Miko Hughes has since appeared in Apollo 13, Wes Craven's New Nightmare, Kindergarten Cop, Zeus and Roxanne, and Spawn to name a few credits. Actually, his resume is looking healthier than the rest of the cast put together, with the exception of the late Fred Gwynne, who delivers a fine performance as the quintessential Stephen King character, Jud Crandall. He appears to be the only actor who understood the material and could pull it off.

George Romero is another person who could have pulled it off. He was supposed to direct Pet Sematary but declined after spitting the dummy at producer and long-time associate Richard Rubenstein (Martin, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Thinner). In steps Mary Lambert, who made a name for herself directing Like a Virgin and Borderline for Madonna, as well as helming the decidedly comatose Siesta. Pet Sematary has a scattering of superb moments despite the woeful performances, including an optical effect that gives me the shivers every time. One speculates about the version Romero may have delivered, although like Pet Sematary, his adaptation of The Dark Half is hamstrung by supernatural concepts that are difficult to swallow even in print, which is why characterization in a Stephen King movie must be the absolute, primary and ultimate consideration. Otherwise, screams turn to yawns and horror turns to humour.

Attempts to interpret Church the cat as an expression of Rachel's dissatisfaction with Louis fulfilling his manly duties, or seeing the whole film as a nightmare Pascow suffers under anaesthetic, are casual musings that all reached dead ends. Was King writing about his own worries? Nevertheless, the themes from the book are apparent in the film, which is no small victory. With one or two crazy sequences and a pleasing gore quotient, Pet Sematary is undemanding entertainment. At times shot like a TV movie of the week, with a clumsy segue into slasher film territory in the final act, Pet Sematary plods along much like Rachel's deformed sister Zelda: daring us to embrace her, warts and all.

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Transfer Quality


Perhaps repaying its box-office successes, Paramount has given Pet Sematary a generally terrific transfer to DVD. The PAL image is 16x9 enhanced and presented in a ratio of 1.78:1 and not the original 1.85:1, as evidenced by the additional headroom at the top of the frame.

From the crisp white opening credits superimposed over languid shots of the Pet Sematary, you know the transfer is going to be sharp and detailed, although not reference quality. Whenever film grain goes off the scale, there is a dramatic drop in resolution. Blacks are solid and shadow detail reveals much of the set decoration by Katharin Briggs and Kathe Klopp. Edge enhancement creeps in occasionally, but owing to the age of the film a slight amount of brittleness is to be expected.

Colour saturation does its best with the cinematography by Peter Stein, which looks bold and vibrant in sunny outdoor shots, and quite drab in others. Colour bleed and low level noise are no problem at all.

Film specks (black and white) pop up infrequently enough to be ignored. As reported for the US release, film grain runs riot in a number of shots, most notably during the early sweeps through the dimly-lit Pet Sematary and on the Paramount logo. The main offenders are concentrated in reel one. There are no compression artefacts apart from a mild amount of aliasing on hard edges and overhead powerlines, which are more conspicuous during grainy shots.

The layer change at 51:15 is little bit jarring, depending on how fast your player refocuses. Mine is sluggish.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


Accompanying the mostly fine video transfer is a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that pulls out a few surprises for those of us already familiar with the film.

Dialogue is clear as a bell and undistorted. Instances of ADR are obvious in problematic surroundings, but the overall audio sync keeps time with the visuals. At one point, you will hear a particular vocal effect applied to Pascow's first ethereal sermon to Louis that would have been impossible on VHS . . . as Pascow floats up, his last warning to Louis does indeed issue from the ceiling. Eerie!

Pet Sematary was an early assignment for maestro Elliot Goldenthal, who would later work on more prominent projects such as Interview with the Vampire, Heat, Demolition Man and Final Fantasy. His primitive but still effective compositions here are served well by the surround remix and higher fidelity that Dolby Digital offers. Stringed instruments, melancholy piano chords and children's choir vocals swell throughout the muscular soundfield. Both rock numbers by one of Stephen King's favourite band The Ramones are loud and punchy.

Also taking advantage of the improved dynamic range are the sounds of dirty big tanker trucks barrelling down the road. The cumulative effect of these noisy drive-bys is guaranteed to set your nerves on edge, so turn up the volume to get the most from it. Generally speaking this is a busy and dynamic sound mix, with chirping crickets, loons, wind, cat screeches and other ambient sounds occupying various positions in the room. Directional effects across the front, sides and back of the soundstage are also plentiful, keeping the viewer's ears locked into the story, even though the mind may be planning a midnight raid on MacDonald's.

Bass from synthesizers, diesel motors, thuds on wooden surfaces, inexplicable booming sounds in the forest and other causes underscore the soundtrack, lending it a sonic menace that outstrips the story itself.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



The menus are static with 16x9 enhanced graphics and no sound.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

The Region 4 DVD misses out on: The Region 1 DVD misses out on: Go for the local disc.


Pet Sematary is one of the best second-tier Stephen King novel adaptations, which is not saying much given the company it keeps.

Paramount have given us an almost definitive release on DVD. The anamorphic transfer does the freakshow visuals justice (not to mention making the bloodletting more vivid) and the 5.1 surround remix is probably way better than the film deserves. Even without extras this is a splendid pick-up for students of the danse macabre.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Rod Williams (Suss out my biography if you dare)
Monday, October 07, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-737, using Component output
DisplayLoewe Ergo (81cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderDenon AVD-2000 Dolby Digital decoder.
AmplificationArcam AV50 5 x 50W amplifier
SpeakersFront: ALR/Jordan Entry 5M, Centre: ALR/Jordan 4M, Rear: ALR/Jordan Entry 2M, Subwoofer: B&W ASW-1000 (active)

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Yet another Paramount DVD with no extras :( - Mick