Fresh on Blu-ray: ‘PET SEMATARY’ brings special features back from the dead

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James C. Clay // Film Critic

PET SEMATARY (2019)

Rated R, 101 minutes.
Director(s): Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
Cast: Jason ClarkeAmy SeimetzJeté LaurenceJohn LithgowHugo LavoieObssa AhmedAlyssa Brooke Levine and Sonia Maria Chirila

As long as horror movies can still make money, there will be Stephen King adaptations, no matter how precious they may be. PET SEMATARY is, of course, one of King’s most celebrated books. Mary Lambert’s 1989 original is a solid film in its own right but didn’t capture the spirit of the novel, which, as Hollywood history has shown us, isn’t always the goal. The remake/remix, directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmeyer, captures the essence of the novel while adding their own creative vision to the project. 

Back at SXSW, our features editor Preston Barta covered the film’s premiere with a review and interviewed the cast and directors at a press junket. Now the time has come for the film to hit home video, and the release is essential viewing for any fan of the remake. 

There are plenty of boutique Blu-ray distributors like Scream Factory, Criterion, or Vinegar Syndrome that load their titles with commentaries, documentaries and interviews from cast and creators of films that time forgot. It’s rarified air these days for a major studio like Paramount to pack a disc with this many special features, but PET SEMATARY (2019) came out (nearly) full-stop to fill in some blanks of the narrative feature, with an alternate ending, deleted scenes that actually contribute to the narrative, and an hour-long production documentary. 

Despite your feelings on the remake, it’s important for fans of home video to keep voting with their dollar, so we can keep getting content that exceeds lame production featurettes and a few talking head interviews. 

The heart of PET SEMATARY (2019) is a dark family drama. L-R: Amy Seimetz, Hugo (or Lucas) Lavoie, Jason Clark and Jete Laurence. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

Alternate Ending

The alternate ending for the film provides two different tones that work independently of each other. The theatrical ending of the film hit with a big cinematic punch that was haunting as it was sprawling. I’m not sure King himself reckoned with how big this small story about grief could go. In the theatrical edition, the film ends with a few swerves. Instead of the youngest of the Creed clan, Gage, getting killed and resurrected, it was Ellie Creed who spends the film receiving conflicting messages from her parents regarding the concept of death. The film does a wonderful job allowing Ellie to be in the image of her parents, as she deals with the dualities of being contemplative human. On the one hand, undead Ellie is relieved that there is an afterlife, but on the other, she’s angry at what her father has allowed to become of her.

Kolsch and Widmeyer take of creative license with both of their endings, but the one they chose for the theatrical version has a more visceral reaction. It depicts the undead Creed family, including Church descending upon Gage (presumably to kill the little guy) who is stuck in the family car CUJO style. There was something about this imagery that made it a worthy finale that left you wanting so much more of this world. The horrific implications are boundless.

While the alternate ending has Louis Creed (still alive) being surrounded by his family in their home, it is framed in a gothic portrait that ends more as a moral tale than something horrific – which is more of an ode to the final few pages of 1983 novel. Both versions end with a family feud that has their meanings and merits, but the theatrical version embraces the pure horror elements rather than lecturing Louis Creed for his misdeeds.

This story works best without passing judgment against Louis, even though his hubris ends up being his undoing. But like any central character in King’s stories, we are all humans who make mistakes. Unfortunately for citizens of King’s version of Maine, things tend to end poorly. The sour ground could have seduced any of us.

Why Judd and Louis go lurking into the night is beyond human comprehension. John Lithgow, left, and Jason Clarke in ‘PET SEMATARY.’ Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Deleted and Extended Scenes

The deleted scenes for PET SEMATARY (2019) add depth to the film, and while they aren’t necessary to the film’s plotting, Kolsch and Widmeyer’s cutting room floor adds to the mythology surrounding the film.

Daddy’s nervous too- The film is rooted in family drama, and this is the best scene between Louis and his daughter. It involves Ellie as Louis gives her a pep talk about the human fear of a new place. The scene doesn’t move the plot forward but provides depth to their father-daughter dynamic.

I wanted her to die- There are many subplots to the story of PET SEMATARY, but anything revolving around Zelda and Rachel is by far the most horrifying. This scene features Rachel recalling to Louis her childhood feelings of wanting her deformed sister to die. We never hear Zelda’s side of the story because she is dead, and this film allows Rachel to be a sympathetic character and an unreliable narrator of her own life. King’s work has a nasty streak of not being too kind to those who are disabled, or in mental anguish. While this isn’t a politically correct way to address the character, the remake frames Zelda in a light that’s just beyond the uncanny valley of what is human and what is monstrous.

A few things with this scene, it heightens the creep factor with an intimate moment of a married woman and builds upon their characters. Louis has always been kind of a condescending to Rachel, despite her paralyzing fear. It eludes how his hubris will be all of their demise and just how scary it can be to be vulnerable. 

She didn’t come back the same- Watching both PET SEMATARY films, you wonder why Judd Crandall takes Louis to the Pet Sematary to bury Church. Turns out Judd had a dog named Biffie and a wife named Norma who both passed on and came back, and it has tormented the him ever since.

He knows the outcome. It’s not only irresponsible, but it completely changes your psychology. You become an alternate version of yourself once you give in to the temptations the sour ground has to offer. John Lithgow describes Judd as performing a magic trick that he just can’t resist showing to Louis.

Beyond the Deadfall- This documentary is split into four parts that are 12-18 minutes long. They detail the production with interviews from the cast, screenwriters, directors and producers. Each piece flows well to give an in-depth look into the production of the film and what motivated the creators to put their spin on the story.

Chapter One: Resurrection- The filmmakers discuss why it was time to bring PET SEMATARY back to the big screen. This project was in development hell for about ten years running, with many fits and starts. They even grappled with asking themselves the question, “Is a remake even necessary?” Ultimately, it was.

Chapter Two: The Final Resting Place- This portion of the documentary shows the great lengths the crew went to ensure that the sets felt real with loads of detail and art direction to provide a backdrop to the film’s grave.

Chapter Three: The Road To Sorrow– The best part of the film is the rich humanity that’s laced throughout this film. The actors go in great detail on what motivated their character choices and what kept them interested in the project.

Chapter Four: Death Comes Home– As the documentary comes to a close, the filmmakers discuss the death of Ellie and how important it was for the film to earn this massive plot twist.

At the time of this writing, I’ve watched this Blu-ray and special features two times through, and it’s packed with information that ignites the thematic material and provides a genuine insight into the filmmaking process. If there was one complaint, it’s that there isn’t a commentary. And while we essentially get enough information from the creators, you can’t compare to a two-hour fireside chat with your favorite filmmakers.

Grade: A-