Stephen King has a novel he thinks maybe should have never been published. Perhaps, as they say, dead is better. The novel, Pet Sematary, is often listed by critics and fans alike as one of the scariest novels ever written. Dealing with traumatic human loss, and the terrible consequences that come with wrestling with fate, Pet Sematary drives the head of the nail deep into the darkest depths of humanity by examining our worst fear: death itself. The film adaptation, quite faithful to the novel, is one of the better Stephen King films, with local Maine flavor and incredible performances, all on a rather small budget. Directors John Campopiano and Justin White spent five years working on their documentary, a love-letter to Pet Sematary. The finished product, Unearthed and Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary, may be short on key interview subjects such as King himself, but what it lacks in coverage it makes up for in heart and enthusiasm.
Beginning with the failed efforts to get the film made, we discover that if it wasn’t for the writer’s strike in the late 1980’s, the film probably would have never been greenlit for production. Fortunately, the studios were fearful the strike would leave gaps in their schedule, so they chose to work scripts that were ‘perfect’, screenplays so well-written that there was no need to hire an additional writer to tinker with it. Pet Sematary was considered one of those perfect scripts, and while the studio still had issues with the subject matter, rolled the film ahead for production. Another plus was that the loudest voice to get the film made, Paramount studio exec Lindsay Doran, also put Mary Lambert (Madonna: Like a Prayer, The Dark Path Chronicles) in the director’s chair. At the time, Lambert was considered an up and coming visionary director, and she was definitely exactly the type of director to get the film made.
Prof. Tony Magistrale speaks about King’s primary influences on the novel, which of course are the big three horror novels, Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Dracula. Of course, everyone knows that the novel was heavily influenced by the W.W. Jacobs short-story “The Monkey’s Paw”, that much is obvious. The general consensus is King’s novel is a modern re-telling of that classic tale, albeit modernized with the gore factor cranked up to eleven. But beyond the gross-out passages, there’s a story that fundamentally deals with the destruction of the family unit, as well as the vicious transformation that happens when we grab fate by the horns and attempt to control it. Every action comes with consequences, and the actions in Pet Sematary deal with some heavy costs and asks us to answer questions that are best left unasked.
Before the film was made, a lot of people in Maine, where King lives and sets much of his fiction, were rather peeved at him, as most of his adaptations were Hollywood jobs set outside of the setting of the story where the film permits were much less expensive. With Pet Sematary, King insisted the studio use Maine as the setting. Though costlier, the result is authentic, with locals filling most of the spots for extras used in the scenes, as well as minor but more substantial roles in the film. The crew worked diligently to make the setting as close to the novel as possible while utilizing the varied landscape Maine has to offer. And where the settings didn’t quite match, they were able to make movie magic happen, especially when it came to building Jud Crandall’s house, which wasn’t really a real house at all, yet still captured the essence of King’s description from the book quite nicely.
The documentary is not without its own issues. Interviews with Stephen King are sorely missed, though there are several sections with footage with King at various speaking engagements talking about the novel. There are extensive interviews with the cast, including Dale Midkiff (Louis Creed), Denise Crosby (Rachel Creed), Brad Greenquist (Victor Pascow), Miko Hughes (Gage Creed), Andrew Hubatsek (Zelda), Blaze and Beau Berdahl (Ellie Creed), as well as other actors expressing their tangential connection to the film, or just their deep appreciation for it. Directors Campopiano and White leave no stone unturned with what they have to work with, covering the story, the cast, pre and post production, even the Micmac burial set, and all of it without any footage from the original film. Unearthed and Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary is available streaming for Shudder subscribers as well as DVD and Blu-ray and is definitely one of the better film documentaries produced about this horror classic.
BOB PASTORELLABuy Unearthed and Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary