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Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary
2017 - Unrated - 75 Mins.
Director: John Campopiano, Justin White
Producer: Joe Dain, Miles Fineburg, Jim Klock, Peter Schafer
Written By: John Campopiano, Justin White
Starring: Denise Crosby, Dale Midkiff, Mary Lambert
Review by: David Rolston
Official Site:

Lambert set the mood
At the height of MTV's 1980's stranglehold on the music business, a number of music video directors (most notably Spike Jonze, Michael Gondry and David Fincher) would emerge from their music video work to direct feature films. Given the ninety some year history of Hollywood talkies, opportunities for women to direct have been few and far between, even in recent decades, but in the 1980's it was nearly unheard of for a woman to find herself with the opportunity.

Within this male centric climate, Mary Lambert had established herself as one of the most notable music video directors of the time, having made some of the best known Madonna videos including Borderline, Like a Virgin, Material Girl and the controversial long form video for "Like a Prayer". Lambert also directed hit videos for Janet Jackson's Control album which would do much to help Jackson step out from behind the shadow of her famous brothers, and helmed videos for major hit songs by Sting, Sheila E. and The Eurythmics.

Defying the odds, Lambert would be given the opportunity to direct "Pet Sematary" which was released by Paramount Pictures in 1989. It has stood the test of time and remains one of the best film adaptations of a Stephen King novel, and one of the handful from a script written by King himself. Among the many interesting aspects of the project, King stipulated that any adaptation of Pet Sematary had to be filmed on location in Maine.

And so we come to "Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary" a largely unseen 2017 documentary that relates the unlikely story of Pet Sematary the novel, and its cinematic adaptation, which is one of the few horror films or films of any type for that matter, directed by a woman in the 1980's. From a technical and visual standpoint, "Unearthed & Untold" is by no means anything more than pedestrian documentary film making, but it does have a fascinating and improbable story to tell, containing surprise after surprise for those who have seen and enjoyed Mary Lambert's film.

"Unearthed & Untold" began its life as a pet project from co-directors John Campopiano and Justin White, millennials who had seen the film as teens, became obsessed with its production, and set out to assemble an oral history by visiting the original Maine locations. How it was that Pet Sematary came to be filmed in Maine, is one of the many interesting anecdotes that emerge from the film.

As Campopian and White's research proceeded and they located subjects to interview, they realized at some point that they had enough material, which if it were expanded, might provide a unique retrospective on the cult film. In the modern DIY era of average people turned investigative journalists, musicians and podcasters, "Unearthed & Untold" is an example of how superfans have in a number of cases, been able to expand what began as a personal exploration, into fully realized productions. The directors were able to slowly build a network of contacts that eventually led them to the producer, actors and production people associated with the film. And as it turned out, there is a good deal about the plot of the story that has roots in Steven King's personal experience as a resident professor at the University of Maine.

Eventually, the film explores the actual production process, and Lambert emerges as the hero of the film, both for her resilience and fortitude with casting decisions and the production challenges of a small location film, constrained by a limited budget. As a woman with an art school education, her instinctual understanding of how to visually depict gothic americana matched King's vision well. "Pet Sematary" is both a tragic cautionary tale that taps into the universal fear parents have about their children, while also being atmospheric, macabre and nightmarishly terrifying. "Pet Sematary", despite critical indifference, was a box office success that would endure and gain cult popularity on video and cable tv.

In conclusion, "Unearthed & Untold" is a solid making of documentary that also provides an unusually deep investigation into the inspirations behind the novel, which is no mean feat given that the filmmakers weren't able to secure an interview with King himself. What would also likely have made this a better more complete examination of "Pet Sematary" would be the inclusion of actual clips from the film. Without them the filmmakers are constrained in their ability to illustrate the production stories, having to rely on stills and talking heads. With that said, while this is not what I would consider an essential documentary about the making of a film, there is something that will pique the interest of most fans and budding makers who enjoyed Lambert's seminal 1980's horror film.
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

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