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Paramount Studios presents
Pet Sematary (Stephen King's Pet Sematary) (1989)

"Sometimes, dead is better."
- Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: September 19, 2000

Stars: Dale Midkiff, Fred Gwynne
Other Stars: Denise Crosby, Brad Greenquist, Michael Lombard
Director: Mary Lambert

Manufacturer: Panasonic Disc Services Corp.
MPAA Rating: R for (violence, gore, disturbing imagery)
Run Time: 01h:42m:37s
Release Date: September 19, 2000
UPC: 097360194944
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- BB-A D-

DVD Review

Pet Sematary is horror author Stephen King's riff on the old Monkey's Paw story. As Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne) notes, Sometimes dead is better. Unfortunately, old Jud is a tiresome character who repeats himself endlessly, so people don't listen to him quite as often as they should.

Dr. Louis Cohen (Dale Midkiff), his wife Rachel (Denise Crosby) and two children, Ellie and Gage, have just moved into a new house in Maine next to old Jud, and right along a highway that features large tanker trucks running by constantly. Jud shows the family the "Pet Sematary" behind their place, but he knows a deeper secret: beyond the Pet Sematary there is an old Micmac burial ground that has the power to raise the dead back to life. When Ellie's cat is killed by a truck, Jud convinces Louis to use that power, but the cat doesn't quite come back the same. Things go from bad to worse when little Gage is hit by a truck and killed, ending in a maelstrom of murder, mayhem and madness.

King's novels are notorious for making bad films; Pet Sematary is more successful than many of them. No doubt part of the credit goes to King, who wrote the screenplay as well as the original book. While there is a fair amount of padding (the subplot of the housekeeper's stomach aches seems more than a little irrelevant), the film features a typically Kingian family with lots of homey touches. There are also several threads of familial guilt, on both Louis' and Rachel's part, which help ground the story and make the motivations of Louis seem more understandable.

Louis does, however, sometimes seem willfully stupid, disregarding repeated warnings from beyond the grave not to mess with life and death. He doesn't struggle with these warnings, or give us any sign that he is having difficulties making the decisions to use Micmac grounds. There are some completely over the top sequences, such as the brawl that breaks out at Gage's funeral and ends up with his casket spilling over onto the floor. The everyday, conversational attitude of the dead Victor Pascow (Brad Greenquist), with his brains spilling out of his head brings to mind the similar scenes in American Werewolf in London. He also has some overly melodramatic moments that can provoke some laughs as well.

Moments of this movie are as gruesome and hard to stomach as in any other mainstream motion picture I've ever seen. As a general rule, the special effects are quite good, although at the climax some animatronic dummies are plainly used, disrupting the carefully created atmosphere. The mood at the end is also disrupted by the inane theme song by the Ramones, "I don't want to be buried in a pet sematary." The film does generate substantial tension, however, and is effectively scary when it's not flirting with the absurd.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect RatioYes

Image Transfer Review: The image is a little disappointing for what we're used to seeing in a Paramount anamorphic transfer. Colors are washed out, and contrast seems a little high. Shadow detail is lacking, though the picture is overall sharp and crisp. Blacks are good, but not excellent, reaching only a blackish grey. The fog scenes exhibit some compression artifacts. Part of the problem is the low bit rate used, averaging between 3 and 4 Mbps. Paramount really should have mastered this film as an RSDL disc.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Where Pet Sematary really shines is on the audio. We get both a DD 5.1 and Dolby Surround English track, as well as a French Dolby Surround track. While the DS tracks don't have the clarity and transparent quality of the 5.1 track, they are all effective. This is a very aggressive mix, with plenty of LFE and surround effects. The moving sound of Gage as he plays hide and seek is downright terrifying in the context of the climax. I especially love the threatening roar and rumble heard during the journey to the burial ground, ending in a bird call, that is amusingly punctuated by Jud's comment "It's just a loon." A highly unnerving sound mix, perfectly appropriate to the film.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

static menu
Scene Access with 19 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Ummmmmm, the chaptering is adequate. The English subtitles are yellow and easy to read, although they sometimes paraphrase the dialogue. But beyond that, nothing, not even a trailer. Maybe Paramount has been spoiling us with the extra content lately, but this is a serious disappointment.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

A gruesome, tense film with an outstanding sound mix. The iffy video transfer and complete lack of extras suggest that a rental might be more appropriate than a purchase.


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