It’s September, which means most of us are already fully into Halloween mode and will be spending the next several weeks watching horror movies and sharing that dancing skeleton meme. To help us celebrate what is objectively the greatest holiday season of the year, Paramount Home Entertainment is dropping a 5-Movie Blu-ray Collection of films based on the works of Stephen King in stores this week. It’s an impressive collection, including David Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone, the 1994 TV miniseries adaptation of The Stand, Mary Lambert’s classic Pet Sematary (1989), the 2019 remake of Pet Sematary by Starry Eyes directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kölsch, and Silver Bullet. Paramount was kind enough to provide a copy for review, and I’m happy to report that it’s only slightly thicker than a standard Blu-ray case, so it should fit nicely on the shelf without disrupting your collection. Also, despite a few disappointing exclusions, the collection is quite good and well worth owning for any Stephen King fan.
The Dead Zone disc is bare bones – nothing but the film and a few audio tracks and subtitle options, plus a chapter select. This is a little disappointing, as previous DVD releases of the film have included behind-the-scenes featurettes, with a Region 2 Blu-ray release featuring a nearly hour-long interview with Stephen King. That gripe aside, this is definitely the best The Dead Zone has ever looked on home video. The transfer is very clean and the picture is reasonably sharp, especially considering this is a 40-year-old film. And the film is excellent, to boot. David Cronenberg’s eerie drama about a man who awakens from a coma with the ability to see the future has long been praised as one of the best of King’s many adaptations. It’s not especially scary, but it isn’t meant to be. It’s a powerful drama bolstered by an unexpectedly vulnerable performance from Christopher Walken.
Next up in the set is Silver Bullet, the 1985 adaptation of King’s illustrated novella Cycle of the Werewolf. Like The Dead Zone, this is a bare bones disc with no special features to speak of, which is a real shame because I absolutely must know everything about the making of this film. Originally directed by horror icon Don Coscarelli, he left the project in the middle of filming when the producer and Stephen King got into a standoff over the design of the werewolf costume – the producer maintained (correctly) that the werewolf looked stupid, and King disagreed. Thanks to this release, we can now view the stupid-looking werewolf in high-definition. Silver Bullet is an extremely cheesy movie that still holds a lot of drive-in grindhouse appeal for me, despite not being anywhere close to what people would consider “good” or “scary.” Plus, it is to date the only film in which Gary Busey gets the shit kicked out of him by a werewolf, which should’ve been the focal point of the Silver Bullet marketing campaign. The transfer looks great, polishing the picture while still retaining that gritty film look of movies from the mid-80s. Silver Bullet has earned a cult following in the years since its release thanks to its “so bad it’s good” nature and some cool practical effects, including a genuinely grotesque nightmare scene in which the Reverend imagines his entire congregation transforming into monsters. It’s by no means the worst King adaptation (for instance, Paramount could’ve included the truly awful Graveyard Shift in its place), and it’s a fun movie to watch with a group of friends on Halloween.
The Stand is the next movie in the set, the epic 1994 miniseries based of King’s famous apocalyptic novel about the ultimate battle between good and evil following the death of 99% of the planet’s population. If you’re a person who’s been curious about reading the novel but felt overwhelmed by its titanic length (it’s over 1,000 pages long), you can just pop on the miniseries, as it is an extremely faithful adaptation. The Stand is quite good and features an impressive cast including Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Ruby Dee, and Rob Lowe, and this Blu-ray edition looks great. Wisely, the picture retains its original 4:3 aspect ratio rather than stretching it to widescreen, and even though it’s a 26-year-old made-for-television movie filmed in 16mm, the picture looks vibrant. (Perhaps too vibrant in some spots, as the plastic handguns are now even more obviously plastic than ever before.) The Stand also boasts the first real special features in the collection, chiefly an incredible commentary track for all four episodes by Stephen King and director Mick Garris recorded in 1999. Absolutely everything you could want to know about the writing of the novel and the making of its adaptation is covered in this six-hour (!) track, making it one of the best supplemental features of the collection. There’s also a fluffy 5-minute EPK from 1994 featuring some interview blurbs from King and the cast. It isn’t much more than soundbytes designed to generate excitement for the miniseries, but it’s a fun piece of history to have.
The collection concludes with two versions of Pet Sematary, the original 1989 adaptation directed by Mary Lambert and the 2019 remake by Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kölsch. The 1989 disc features a gorgeous high-definition transfer of the classic film, making the colors pop and the shadows loom in a way that makes the 30-year-old horror show feel refreshingly new. There’s a wealth of supplemental material here too, including a commentary track by Lambert and three behind-the-scenes featurettes focusing on the creation of the novel, finding the right cast, and the filming of the project. There’s also two new features that were produced to coincide with the 2019 remake, including a 9-minute retrospective conversation with Lambert and a montage of interviews with the cast and crew of the remake discussing the impact both the novel and the original film had on them. Finally, there’s an image gallery of behind-the-scenes stills, storyboards, and promotional material that includes posters, lobby standees, press kits, and more. From both a technical and bonus material standpoint, this disc is the star of the collection.
The Pet Sematary 2019 disc is the best-looking film of the collection for obvious reasons (it’s only a year old while everything else in the set was filmed several decades ago), and it also includes a number of special features. The most impressive offering is a four-part making-of documentary called Beyond the Deadfall that is roughly an hour long, covering every aspect of the production. The directors and the cast and crew share their experiences reading the novel for the first time and the challenge of adapting it into a new film after such a well-received adaptation already exists. (It ultimately took nearly 10 years to bring this new version to the screen.) This is a fairly exhaustive documentary, but weirdly the part I found the most fascinating was an in-depth conversation with the cat trainers who were on set working with the five different cats who played Church. Watching them put make-up on the cats is wild, and the process behind getting the cats to actually do what the directors wanted was surprisingly interesting. There’s also a large section devoted to Jeté Laurence, the excellent young actress who plays Ellie, and the creation of her revenant make-up, which is simple but effective. The rest of the materials include various deleted and extended scenes, including a trio of dream sequences for Louis (Jason Clarke), Rachel (Amy Seimetz), and Ellie, and a three-minute monologue about the grim tale of Timmy Baterman delivered by Judd (John Lithgow). Finally, the disc boasts an alternate ending, which steers closer to the ending of King’s novel while still delivering its own horrible twist. (In my opinion, both this alternate ending and the film’s theatrical ending are quite good.)
Altogether, this is a quality collection for any King fan featuring four genuinely good horror movies and one extremely fun to watch rubber werewolf movie. The lack of any special features on The Dead Zone and Silver Bullet are the only real strikes against it, but there’s more than enough goodies on the other discs to make up for it.