Color, 2017, 97 mins. 23 secs.
Directed by John Campopiano and Justin White
Synapse Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Just when Hollywood seemed to have written off Stephen King adaptations as an exhausted trend best left on the pop culture scrap heap, a low-budget release from Paramount came along in 1989 and changed the game once again. Pet Sematary marked the first studio film for director Mary Lambert, best known for a string of influential music videos and the arty head scratcher Siesta, and was adapted from a bestselling King novel the author had famously avoiding publishing for years because of its touchy subject matter that, as the publisher successfully touted at the time, scared even the reigning maestro of horror fiction. Though many noted the book's debt to the classic short story "The Monkey's Paw," the heightened level of horror on display hit even closer to home since it completely decimated that most American of institutions, the nuclear family, from top to bottom. King insisted that the film stick to his own screenplay and, for once, actually shoot in Maine, both of which came to pass when a writer's strike sent the studio scrambling for a script that could be ready to go. The massive success of the film spawned not only a Lambert-directed sequel but a slew of new King adaptations that continue to this day.
The story of how Pet Sematary came to the screen was covered superficially in Paramount's special edition of the film released on DVD and eventually on Blu-ray, with Lambert providing both an audio commentary (mostly filled with casual observations and long gaps of silence) and a camera interview along with participants like actors Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby, and Brad "Pascow" Greenquist. That begs the question: was there really a need for another look at the making of this film?
As it turns out, yes, there definitely was. Completed in 2016 and issued on digital platforms in 2017, Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary makes its physical media debut from Synapse Films on Blu-ray with a nice batch of bonus features to sweeten the deal. Somehow directors John Campopiano and Justin White managed to track down almost every single human being who appears on camera in the film as well as many of the crew members, with the only notable holdouts among the living being King himself and producer Richard P. Rubinstein. Lambert seems much more relaxed and chatty here than before, and it's even more gratifying to see how funny and twinkling Crosby is while Midkiff gets the two biggest emotional moments. Greenquist is back and chatty as ever, too, but they're really just the beginning. Miko Hughes (who played Gage, one of the screen's most memorable killer kids) is on hand and seems incredibly appreciative of the experience, and in a really nice coup, we get to see Blaze Berdahl together with her twin sister, Beau, both of whom played young Ellie Creed (something that wasn't really played up when the film came out). Exactly why they needed twins for the role actually makes sense, but you'll have to watch to find out. Since this was shot in Maine and used local residents for a number of roles and crew positions, you get to hear stories from some really crazy, unlikely places including the woman who supervised the grounds of the cemetery itself, the Orinco truck driver who had to mime "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker" over an ear piece, the Budget rental car agent, and... well, just about everyone else, including Maine scholars, actress Heather Langenkamp (who became engaged to makeup artist Dave Anderson on the film), composer Elliot Goldenthal (who got his big break on the film) and, yes, Marky Ramone. Plus locations. Tons and tons of locations, many never chronicled before. There's also a substantial opening segment on King's novel including background about its real-life inspirations like the highway in front of his old house and even an interview with the creator of the actual "pets sematary" that started it all.
The video quality on the Blu-ray (which comes packaged with reversible sleeve options featuring artwork by Alexandros Pyromallis) is obviously dependent on the quality of the sources, which range from pin-sharp new interview footage to archival elements like VHS camcorder coverage of the film shoot and photographs of varying degrees of resolution. It all looks great though and pretty comparable to what you'll find in other documentaries along the same lines like Never Sleep Again, Crystal Lake Memories, and You're So Cool, Brewster!, while the DTS-HD MA English 5.1 audio (no captioning options) is mostly center oriented with some spacious activity for the music score. Also included are two tracks with the creators, first a standard audio commentary and then a Halloweekly podcast episode; there's some overlap between the two, understandably, but they're also jammed with stories about how they ferreted out such a wide range of interview subjects (much of it with the aid of Dale Midkiff's stand-in) and came to the conclusion that they had to do a documentary versus a book.
In the extras department, a video interview with
Campopiano and White (7m32s) is actually a good place to start, maybe even before the main feature, as they explain why they undertook this in the first place thanks to a fateful autographed poster of the film and went on a location tour that evolved into a multi-year passion project. Also, a batch of edited / alternate scenes (8m30s) ranges from minor extensions or editing differences to surprising added bits, including a full explanation of why the undead dog in Jud's story is never seen. One surprisingly substantial extra is
“Pet Tales – From the Cutting Room Floor” (18m27s), which collects some fun deleted anecdotes that strayed a little off the main narrative but offer a lot of quirkiness and extra shading that shouldn't be missed -- especially the first one from Crosby, which sounds like something out of Christine as she tried to find a local car to buy. A collection of location photos (2m2s) of the two filmmakers (who also appear sparingly in the main feature) features them in some very familiar settings, followed by a handful of
poster art concepts, a raw reel of the VHS production footage provided by Rhonda Carter (6m35s), a sizzle reel of highlights and fan testimonials, and a promotional trailer.
Reviewed on March 10, 2018.