Mary Lambert may be a veteran rock video director, but she's of the pre-aesthete MTV generation, back when the form concentrated on the conceptual more than the visual. Her transition to feature films was therefore not of the Michael Bay variety, wherein one shifts gears to make glossy, two-hour commercials for Hollywood values. No, Lambert would simply be telling longer stories than the one about Madonna and a lion (she helmed that defining "Like a Virgin" clip). With a comparable lack of artistry. And equal camp value.
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Lambert's first film, Siesta, was a bizarrely uncompelling thriller that indicated to no one she should mount another feature. But lo and behold, she wound up doing it again, and a mondo project to boot: Pet Sematary [sic], from a screenplay adapted by the source novel's own author, Stephen King. Unfortunately, a great premise was shredded at the outset by King's hackneyed interpretation, which puts too much stock in exposition and the old sage-voice-from-beyond-the-grave gambit. Lambert, who never met a moment she didn't overplay, could scarcely be a more abominable match with the material.
Dr. Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) has uprooted his family to the kind of country digs wife Rachel (Denise Crosby) deems "gorgeous!" before setting foot inside. Across the way resides curmudgeonly Jud (the late, great (as in, never been better) Fred Gwynne), who warns them about the diesel trucks that frequently detour through the neighbourhood; to prove a point, he takes them to a nearby pet cemetery, the final resting place for all the shortcut's roadkill. When Church, the beloved cat of Louis' daughter (Blaze Berdahl), meets his maker, Jud suggests a clandestine trip to a different place, a Micmac burial ground whose soil resurrects the dead.
Church comes back the very next day, the little girl none the wiser. Yet the cat's disposition has clearly changed from sunny to bloodthirsty. Jud concedes the supernatural ground must have gone sour--"Sometimes, dead is better," he tells Louis, but this initial failure does not stop Louis from visiting the hallowed field a second time when his adorable little boy (Miko Hughes) is smacked by an eighteen-wheeler.
King has often said the reason his horror stories are so frightening is because he writes about what scares him, and therefore on a cathartic, guttural level. Here, he explores the parental fear of losing children, and Louis' distraught irrationality at the expiration of his son is sure to have moms and dads everywhere bobbing their heads in sympathetic recognition. The author, however, is also given to flights of utter nonsense and cornpone dialogue, fat that usually gets trimmed away when an objective force is doing the translating.
Pet Sematary needed a writer with conservationist, rather than preservationist, instincts, someone with zero attachment for the subplots that contribute neither to the story's outcome nor thematic richness (such as the information, distributed in flashback, that Rachel's sister died of spinal meningitis, an obligatory expenditure on prosthetic effects). And it required a director capable of shooting something more attractive--and creepier--than Prom Night. Before popping this DVD into my machine, I remembered Pet Sematary as being a pretty good watch in my teen years; I know now that I was allowing Gwynne's captivating performance to colour my perception of the film whole.
As part of an inferred Stephen King promotion, Pet Sematary has been released on DVD from Paramount the same week as their Dead Zone remaster. The 1.85:1 letterboxed, 16x9-enhanced Pet fares worse because it's more blandly photographed--colours have a brownish tinge to them, and shadow detail occasionally waffles in dark scenes (of which there are plenty, though not as many as one might assume). The 5.1 remaster is also less exciting, save a few early effects such as a truck driving towards and past the camera, its diesel rumble imaging accordingly from the mains to the rears. LFE and surround usages are pretty much otherwise anonymous. Oddly, there are no extras contained on this disc.
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