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Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary


An in-depth independent documentary and celebration of Stephen King's classic tale of terror, Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary, is told through the voices of cast & crew from the 1989 hit film, along with the Maine locals. In addition to first-time-ever interviews, tours of the many iconic locations used in the film and never-before-seen photographs and home video from the set, this documentary explores the impact Pet Sematary had not only on horror fans, but scholars of Stephen King's work. (From Synapse’s official synopsis)

 Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary
While Mary Lambert’s Pet Sematary may not compare to the likes of Brian DePalma’s Carrie (1976) – or even a particularly good movie in its own right – but certainly feels like one of best of representations of author Stephen King’s specific storytelling style. The source novel, published in 1983, is a personable, yet underwhelmingly creative variant on W.W. Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw (pub. 1902) that lent itself better to adaptation than most of King’s epic tomes. Lambert’s take is mixed bag that succeeds on the merits of her music video style even as it fails on storytelling and performance levels. The important thing here, though, is that it is an interesting movie with a unique and largely unknown production history. I don’t need to be a fan to thoroughly enjoy this behind-the-scenes documentary from first-time feature directors John Campopiano & Justin White.

Campopiano & White may (currently) lack the experience and budget of some of the bigger horror retrospectives, but the quality of their content is usually comparable. They manage to score substantial interviews with almost every major participant (aside from King himself, who still appears via archival material) and set their talking heads alongside a wide assortment of news clippings, production art, fan art, and photos/home video from the set. There is one very important element missing, however, and that is footage from the movie Pet Sematary itself. This could’ve sunk the entire documentary, but the sheer quantity of content, coupled with images/video of the cast in costume and on-set, convincingly covers the lack of film scenes and adds critical production value. Following a short introduction, the doc covers the making of Pet Sematary in a relatively chronological manner, beginning with King’s novel, its inspirations, and elements of the author’s real life that found their way into the story. Then things move on to the state of cinematic horror in the mid-’80s, which was waning in popularity following a glut of post- Halloween slashers, and King’s own stipulations for the adaptation, which demanded that the filmmakers shoot in Maine and work from his own script. Despite these challenges, the film was greenlit and, from here, the doc follows the casting, filming, the hardships of working with animals and children, make-up, locations, and release.

 Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary
One of the most interesting aspects of the production, especially in this era of #metoo and Oscar speeches about inclusion riders, is the fact that Pet Sematary was in large part made by women. Producer/Embassy Pictures executive Lindsay Doran (whose name was left off the final credits entirely) was the film’s biggest champion. By her own admission, she constantly harassed fellow execs to finance the film, before finally finding a break during a writers’ strike (King’s script was already finished and paid for). Then, thanks in part to Doran’s influence, MTV favourite Mary Lambert was hired to direct. Surprisingly, this wasn’t that rare for the mid/late ’80s. Women were put behind the camera for a number of hard R-rated horror films in between 1986 and ‘88, including Kathryn Bigelow ( Near Dark, 1987), Deborah Brock ( Slumber Party Massacre II, 1987), Roberta Findlay ( Blood Sisters, 1987), Jackie Kong ( Blood Diner, 1987), and Genie Joseph ( Spookies, 1986). I wish that Campopiano & White would’ve spent more time on this particular subject, because it feels unique to this period. Were women fighting to make these films, because they meant something to them? Perhaps they wanted to shift the genre away from the misogyny of the slasher era? Or was movie horror just considered a such a ghetto that studios were willing to open their doors to whoever wanted the job? I also would’ve enjoyed a little more exploration of George A. Romero’s time as King’s original choice for director. I know there isn’t much in the way of concrete information and understand that Romero probably wouldn’t be interested in talking about a movie he didn’t make, but, as is, there’s only a single, momentary mention of his involvement.

Video


Unearthed & Untold is a modern documentary shot using modern, consumer-grade digital cameras. I first saw it when it popped up on Amazon Prime streaming in HD, but this 1.78:1, 1080i transfer offers a more consistent bit-rate than that. Do note, however, that this is an interlaced, rather than progressive transfer, and, while I didn’t notice any combing effects or similar interlacing artefacts, its overall clarity/sharpness is a bit lower than some comparable productions. These issues really stem from the fact that it is a somewhat more independent documentary, not from bad authoring on Synapse Films’ part.

 Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary

Audio


The film is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, which is an upgrade from the Dolby Digital 2.0 track sitting on Amazon Prime. The sound design is simple and largely driven by well-centered interview dialogue that is surrounded by Douglas Harper & Kurt Oldman’s softly-mixed score. Note that the production was not able to secure the rights to Elliot Goldenthal’s original Pet Sematary score or any of the Ramones songs used throughout the movie (Marky Ramone is briefly interviewed, though). There are a handful of sound effects used to punctuate certain sequences and these tend to feature directional enhancements, but I didn’t notice the extra 2.1 channels very often.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with directors John Campopiano & Justin White – This director’s commentary was recorded specifically for this Blu-ray/DVD release. Things start strong with stories of tracking down the various interviewees, but there’s simply not a lot of content here.
  • Podcast Commentary with Campopiano & White – This earlier commentary was recorded for part of the Halloweekly Horror Podcast. It is not scene-specific; rather, host George (last name unknown) interviews the directors about their experience. It runs about 44 minutes in total.
  • Deleted/alternate scenes (8:30, HD)
  • Interview with Campopiano & White (7:32, HD) – The directors discuss their film and their stories overlap quite a bit with the commentaries.
  • Pet Tales: From the Cutting Room Floor (18:27, HD) – Additional deleted footage. More specifically, deleted anecdotes from the interviewees, who go off on tangents that the filmmakers didn’t think fit the documentary.
  • Pet Sematary location photo compilation (2:02, HD)
  • Poster art concept reel (00:38, HD)
  • On-set video footage from Rhonda Carter (6:35, SD) – More of the raw, shot-on-video footage seen throughout the documentary.
  • Sizzle reel and promotional trailer


 Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary

Overall


Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary is an entertaining and informative documentary that manages to maneuver around its lack of original Pet Sematary footage, thanks to extensive research and good pacing. It’s especially valuable for fans of Mary Lambert’s original film, who have been stuck with barebones DVD and Blu-ray releases for some time now. Synapse’s Blu-ray comes loaded with extra scenes and two director interviews that offset a rather weak commentary track.

 Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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