Unearthed & Untold: The Path To Pet Sematary (Movie Review)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

PLOT: An extensive behind the scenes documentary on the making of Stephen King's PET SEMATARY.

REVIEW: Casual fan or hardcore horror aficionado, chances are, if you grew up in the 80s, you've been impacted in some way by the film adaptation of Stephen King's PET SEMATARY. First time filmmakers John Campopiano and Justin White are clearly entrenched in that camp, as they've cobbled together a trove of compelling behind the scenes footage, cast and crew interviews and rich geo-historical contexts for their new release, UNEARTHED & UNTOLD: THE PATH TO PET SEMATARY – an insightfully researched, highly entertaining documentary that functions as both a romantic love-letter to, and a celebratory retrospective on, one of King's most venerated works. Festooned with one cool factoid and tidbit after another, it's not only neat to see what all of the principal contributors are up to these days, their methods and motivations achieved on location in the state of Maine back in 1988 offer many fascinating revelations as well. With the glaring omission of Stephen King's participation aside, UNEARTHED & UNTOLD is a solid hagiographic look back at the making of bona fide horror classic. Fans of PET SEMATARY everywhere should definitely dig this one up!

King and the deceased notwithstanding (notably Fred Gwynne), everyone's back from the past. Director Mary Lambert of course, stars Dale Midkiff (Louis Creed), Denise Crosby (Rachel Creed), Miko Hughes (Gage Creed), Beau and Blaze Berdahl (Ellie Creed), Brad Greenquist (Victor Pascow), Andrew Hubatsek (Zelda), Susan Blommaert (Missy Dandridge), etc. – as well as a whole host of below the line contributors, including DP Peter Stein, composer Elliot Goldenthal and others. They're joined by a rather needless passel of so called horror experts, the filmmakers included, as they try to contextualize PET SEMATARY within the milieu of 80s genre moviemaking, offering fond memories, trivial stories and anecdotal salutations. And the location had a lot to do with that!

The film starts with the arduous production slate, how Stephen King insisted on not only writing the screenplay himself, but that the film also be shot on location in Maine, essentially in the author's backyard. Hoops and hurdles were passed, and finally the studio pegged music video director de jure Mary Lambert (Material Girl, Like a Virgin) to helm the big-screen adaptation. Even more interesting is the germination of King's inspiration for the flick, a real life "pet sematary" in Orrington, Maine – which served as a burial ground for the many deceased pets of locals that perished on the trucking Route 15. Even King's own cat Smucky was buried there at one point. The kernel of an idea had bloomed!

And it's just that, the creative blossoms and back-stories behind each, that make the movie so damn fascinating. For instance, King and his wife Tabitha once fearfully chased their own toddler to the edge of the very Route 15 we're talking about, and it shook them both so deep to the core that Stephen wrote it into the screenplay. In easily one of the most memorably harrowing scenes in the movie, when Gage chases his kite-string into the road as a semi comes roaring down the lane, we also learn what a fantastic piece of trick photography was used to achieve the scene in a way that looked believable but kept young Miko Hughes completely away from danger. I won't spoil how, but it's pretty damn cool.

So too was the story behind the casting of Andrew Hubatsek as the infamously unnerving Zelda, and how Harron always intent on having a male play the role. Well, at least until all the females voiced their unwillingness to go to such dark decrepitude. We hear from makeup and FX man Dave Anderson about how the visuals were achieved and what a keen sport Andrew was for devoting himself to the part. We also learn how the late great Fred Gwynne persuaded DP Peter Stein into shooting the flick, this after the man refused to work on another horror joint after FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2. Gwynne confessed he lost a toddler himself, in real life, and how important it was to make PET SEMATARY precisely because it grapples with large matters of life and death, and wasn't merely some throwaway exploitation piece. Stein agreed and the rest, they say, is history made.

For me, the only real issue in the film is the lack of King's own interview, instead the filmmakers insert stock footage from various other sources as a way to make the man feel part of the film. Whether or not he was reached out to, or if he declined, we'll never know. But if King had been alongside the rest of the cast of a thousand, a more intimate look at the musings and making of the film and would inevitably be painted. It would feel more complete. That, and for whatever reason, the onscreen inclusion of directors Campopiano and White seemed rather gratuitous. Perhaps their contributions would be felt far greater had there been a dearth of interviewees, but that's not the case at all. In fact, I think we'd all love to hear from the main talent – above and below the line – even more than the allotted 75 minutes. Why anyone simply titled as "horror fan" (a friend perhaps) was brought on to bloviate about the importance of PET SEMATARY seems unnecessary if not somewhat indulgent. A minor gripe, sure, and really one of the only.

No, in the end, UNEARTHED & UNTOLD is a splendid cradle-to-grave document of not just one of Stephen King's best tales, but an undoubted 80s horror classic in PET SEMATARY. Fans of the flick, light or heavyweight, would be a bit foolish not to check this one out. It's fraught with a litany of killer behind-the-scenes nuggets and never before seen footage of the actors in between takes. Whether it's the seed of King's idea, the insistence to shoot in Maine – which itself becomes a major player in the film – the tricks of the trade used to attain certain shots, the memories and motivations of various actors, the alternative endings, whatever – the movie is well catered to the true fans of the film. If that's you, gallop down the PATH TO PET SEMATARY at once. If that isn't you, well, why the hell did you click on this damn review in the first place?!

Source: AITH

About the Author

5372 Articles Published

Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.