Growing up in the ’80s there were a lot of horror movies I avoided because, well, I wasn’t a big fan of horror flicks growing up. Now we’re talking the usual ages when people don’t like horror movies, which for most I’d say is before their teenage years. You know, when things still go bump in the night so you want your door left open a crack because that makes it so nothing can do you harm. Sound logic, at least at that age.
Now, I knew of Pet Sematary and didn’t watch it because the idea of pets coming back from the dead as evil beings, well, it’s the stuff of nightmares! So while it fits perfectly as a tale of horror (tail of horror? Badumbum!), it was never something I really wanted to see even when I started enjoying the scares brought on by the genre. Having watched it now, I’m sure as a child there would be things within it that would’ve sent chills down my spine, but as an adult seeing it for the first time the only sense of dread I felt was when I looked at the time remaining out of sheer boredom and saw there was over an hour left.
I’ll get to why I didn’t enjoy it momentarily, but for those of you who do love the film or have fond memories of it from watching it when you were growing up, then let me say first and foremost that the remastered footage here looks great! It’s done so well that it makes you wish that all movies being transferred to Blu-ray and above would be given the remastering treatment beforehand. While there’s definitely an ‘80s vibe to the look, the picture often looks clean enough to pass for something that was shot quite recently instead of 30 years ago.
So, if you’ve loved this movie for decades, or are looking to revisit it for the first time since it kept you awake at night as a child, this is the version to do so with, as it looks fantastic and the gore effects still work really well and don’t look obviously fake even with everything looking a lot sharper.
That all aside, if you haven’t watched this movie yet but are interested in doing so, I’d recommend you wait and check out the remake, which will likely tell the story better. Now, there may be a lot of people who think this is a classic and that no remake can stand up to the feeling you got when you first watched this as a child, but often we view things from our childhood with rose-coloured glasses, or in this case, blood-coloured glasses, because this is an absolutely terrible movie.
The screenplay is actually written by Stephen King, and while some may think that he’d do his own adaptation justice, it’s the exact opposite. In film one of the biggest rules is show, don’t tell. You let the audience pick up on things by watching the movie and allow them to piece where the story is going as it moves forward. But here, King chooses to tell, then tell some more, and then after telling about telling, he takes it one step further and tells even more.
Yes, King’s script here is abysmal and it doesn’t leave anything for the audience to find out for themselves. Everything is heavily foreshadowed, or flat out told to us time and time again, as King chooses to hold our hand through a plot that’s beyond simple to begin with. So, we’re left just watching the actors do exactly what King has stated they’ll do, and listen as they explain to us why they’re doing what they’re doing, and did I mention that the acting is terrible on top of it all?
Back in the ‘80s I get that horror movies were more or less b-movies and they didn’t pull in the bigger names that they may net today. Often these movies had fresh faces to the industry, or ones you may never hear from again. Now maybe I’m being a tad harsh, as the script reads so poorly that it’s possible the actors couldn’t help but often come off wooden, or as though they were saying things that no normal person would say in certain situations. When you’re telling everything instead of showing it, you’re bound to come off looking foolish for the most part.
The bright spot on the acting side comes in both the film’s oldest and youngest stars. Fred Gwynne adds a great, creepy vibe to an otherwise dull film, so much so that it feels like his efforts were wasted. Had the script been written by someone else and had everything not been spoon-fed to the audience at every step, it’s very likely that Gwynne’s work here would’ve been showcased in the way it deserved. Miko Hughes is the other big takeaway here, at under three years old, this kid steals scenes and delivers the horror goods as the film progresses.
Aside from those two there’s little to praise here. The set design is solid, as is the atmosphere that director Mary Lambert captures more often than not, but the script is just so, so bad and so blunt in explaining everything that there’s really no point in even watching the movie. At almost two hours in length, the horror side of the movie doesn’t even kick into gear until the final 30-minutes or so, and even then it’s awkwardly paced and it’s hard to even care what’s happening to anyone because they’ve been so frustratingly bad at making their characters people that we’d be emotionally connected to that their fate doesn’t even matter one way or another.
Now, I can’t be certain until I see it, but part of me believes that the remake of Pet Sematary will at least try to fix some of the errors of this film. First and foremost, Stephen King didn’t write the script, so that’s a win, and the actors involved are much stronger as a whole. I’m hoping they try to hold back on explaining everything straight out, and that the characters will evoke more emotions from the audience to help the overall impact the film should leave you with but failed to do so here in the original.
As mentioned above, this remaster is really well handled, so if you’re a fan of the film and want to upgrade, this is the time to do so as you’re likely not going to get a better version of this film for a long while. The film doesn’t suffer from muddy blacks or any sort of distortion that would take you out of the film and make you think, “Man, this looks like it was shot three decades ago.” Quite the opposite, actually. The audio is also top tier, with the sound effects playing an important role in plenty of the scares, and the score coming through loud and clear. The dialogue, which there’s plenty of to a fault, at least sounds good for the most part.
The special features see a trio of new additions on top of the previous audio commentary, as well as a few other pieces, so we’ll focus on what’s new for this 30th Anniversary edition first compared to prior releases:
Pet Sematary: Fear and Remembrance – This feature is just over 7-minutes in length and sees the cast and crew of the 2019 remake talking about the original film, watching it growing up, its impact on them and the horror genre, as well as why it’s made them want to make an updated version.
Pet Sematary: Revisitation – This feature is just under 10-minutes in length and sees Directory Mary Lambert talking about being asked to come aboard the original film as director, her thoughts on Stephen King as a writer, the horror aspects and gory scenes in the original, as well as helping with the updating of the film for this release.
Galleries – There are some storyboards here that were found during the restoration process for viewers to see, and Lambert does an introduction to them.
The remaining special features were from the previous release of the film, and aren’t in HD, but are worth checking out if you may not have before.
Audio Commentary – There’s an audio commentary with Lambert.
Stephen King Territory – This feature is just over 13-minutes in length and focuses on King and his works, and work on the film.
The Characters – This feature is just under 13-minutes in length and as stated, focuses on the characters in the film, and at times develops them better here than the film does!
Filming the Horror – This feature is also fairly self-explanatory, and comes in at 10 and a half minutes, focusing on the filming of the movie.
Paramount Pictures Presents Pet Sematary: 30th Anniversary Edition. Directed by: Mary Lambert. Written by: Stephen King. Starring: Dale Midkiff, Fred Gwynne, Denise Crosby, Brad Greenquist, Miko Hughes, Blaze Berdahl. Running time: 103 Minutes. Rating: 18A. Released on Blu-ray: Mar. 26, 2019.
Tags: Pet Sematary, Stephen King