I can remember the first time I saw the film adaptation of Stephen King's Pet Sematary. Suffice it to say, it screwed me up. Not only did it deliver a macabre, yet authentic portrait of grief and questions of the afterlife, but the character Zelda haunts me to this day. As a disabled person there was something inherently horrifying about the character. To this day Pet Sematary remains one of my favorite horror features and it's a sentiment shared by many, especially the filmmakers of Unearthed & Untold. Directors John Campopiano and Justin White create a documentary that aesthetically looks fan-made, but seeks to get at the heart of how the movie came to be and how its legacy has endured for nearly 30 years.
Pet Sematary is a story of loss, inspired both by Stephen King's own fear of losing his children and the death of his daughter's cat, Smucky. It's a story that gets at the heart of our fears of mortality and questions of the afterlife. Published in 1983 as a means of closing out King's contract, the book was a surprise success despite subject material the book publishers thought would be too depressing for people to read. Despite the book's popularity a film was slow to develop. It was by the grace of god and a massive writer's strike in the late '80s that compelled Paramount Pictures to greenlight it. Directed by Mary Lambert, Pet Sematary grossed $57 million in the U.S.
Campopiano and White are fans, and that gives Unearthed & Untold a feeling of love and appreciation. The two talk extensively about the film alongside other talking heads, and their attempts to interview people at fan conventions showcases a doggedness towards telling a story that might not appease the masses, but will certainly please those who have always cherished the feature. At a lean 90 minutes the documentary deconstructs in every way possible from King's writing of the book through all facets of production, though it is surprising that the film abruptly ends with text crawls of the box office numbers. It would have been interesting to examine the film's premiere, the critical response (which, upon release, wasn't good), and the enduring cultural legacy.
It's a testament to the directors' dedication that all the cast, with the exception of the deceased Fred Gwynne, are all included. Everyone shares their memories of filming, from Mary Lambert's hesitation at being a female director hired to do a horror film to the dignified awareness from stars Dale Midkiff and Diane Crosby that the film took on added poignancy when they had children. On top of that the various production heads are interviewed to discuss the technical elements of the film. If you've always wondered how they filmed little Miko Hughes' Gage being hit by the giant truck, it's here. (The effect was produced with mirrors.) The greens department discusses how they made the famed Micmac burial ground, relying on actual history from the Native American tribe. A key portion of the film is devoted to the film's on-location shooting in King's home of Maine. Numerous local residents were hired to star in the film, all of them sharing their memories of starring in a major motion picture and then returning to their average lives in the city.
Since this is made for fans by fans, it's understandable that the whole affair lacks the spit and polish of a documentary with a large budget. Noticeably absent is any finished clips from the film, instead using fan-made drawings and recordings saved by the subjects interviewed. In the grand scheme of things these are unnecessary, but it requires the audience to be familiar with everything. Certain interviews, like with Ramones member Marky Ramone who talks about the films theme song, lack definition for outsiders because there's no finished product to hear.
Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary is a fun documentary for those who truly love what Mary Lambert brought to the screen. For a generation of people who have been told the movie isn't good, this documentary validates their adoration. Watch it alongside the original film!