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Why a New ‘Pet Sematary’ Adaptation Might Be a Great Idea

Why a New ‘Pet Sematary’ Adaptation Might Be a Great Idea

As September 8th quickly approaches with a new version of Stephen King’s epic horror tome, IT clenched in its pincers, I’ve been revisiting other adaptations of “Uncle Stevie’s” catalogue that could benefit from getting a second cinematic translation.

While some King adaptations stand on their own as outstanding (or at the very least, interesting) pieces of cinema, others are dated, disconnected, and downright disastrous. Oddly enough, one King film seems to be all these things at once, and that film is 1989’s Pet Sematary.

For the uninitiated, here’s the setup…

Both versions of Pet Sematary tell the story of Dr. Louis Creed, his wife, Rachel and their children, Ellie and Gage. The Creed clan moves from their home in Chicago to a small town in – you guessed it – Maine when Louis is offered a job at a state university, a decision he’d soon regret. Work is tough on Louis and the location of the family’s new home is less than desirable. Things get increasingly worse for them when they discover an ancient Micmac burial ground that brings dead things back to life.

Now let’s talk about the source material…   

Stephen King’s 1983 novel is one of the scariest books I’ve ever read. That’s not hyperbole; that’s fact. Dread drips from every page as the reader follows Louis Creed’s obsession over his inability to accept the mortality of his loved ones. He does everything within his power to cheat death as if the Hippocratic Oath extends beyond the grave.

The first to fall victim to Louis’ slow descent into madness is Church, the Creed family’s pet cat. Church is laid to rest in the burial ground and returns as a shell of his former self. The resurrected Church is mean. He’s no longer playful. He stinks. And as if a pissy, smelly zombie cat isn’t a huge red flag, Louis decides to bury his son in the same soil after he is run over by one of the many 18-wheelers that speed by their home.

As awful as all that sounds, somehow the novel finds a way to make things worse.

But Pet Sematary’s real source of horror is found in the ancient spiritual entity that stalks the gravesite and its surrounding area, a malevolent being known in Native American folklore as a Wendigo. While rarely explicit on the page, the force of this spirit is omnipresent throughout the novel and plays into the larger King Universe in later books.

Both the tangible and intangible terrors that fill the pages of Pet Sematary slowly build to one of the creepiest final pages of any horror novel ever written. It’s a fantastic macabre yarn that is still effective nearly 35 years after its release.

But in the 1989 film adaption, some things work while others…not so much…

From a screenplay by King himself, Mary Lambert (Urban Legends: Bloody Mary) directs a stripped-down version of the novel. All the major story beats are there, and most of the visceral horror elements are intact, making is a pretty effective little horror film that is widely considered one of the better King adaptations. When I saw Pet Sematary as a kid (before I read the novel), it scared the shit out of me (especially the Zelda scenes). But upon watching it as an adult, there were diminishing returns (except for those Zelda scenes; they’re still creepy).

The problems with Pet Sematary are manifold, but there are two key issues that hinder it from having any real longevity. The first is how the film looks. Pet Sematary is a product of its time, which is to say it looks a lot like other late ‘80s/early ‘90s horror films. There’s a direct-to-video quality to its composition, and while some of the production design is great (the burial site is fantastically realized), many of the shots and transitions look like they belong on primetime television and not amulti-millionn dollar theatrical release.

The other issue is how the film pretty much ignores any of the spiritual elements from the novel. There is no sense of ominous terror in the film. We get the gore and the shocks and the resurrection and that’s about it, which ultimately should be enough to appease book-readers (and it almost is).  

At the end of the day, I don’t dislike Pet Sematary. There are some great horror moments that have been burned into my psyche and some solid performances (except King’s weird obligatory cameo) to admire. But it says something about the strength of the novel when I can read it after already watching the film and being privy to the demise of key characters and find myself still getting creeped out by what’s happening on the page.

So, what next?

Pet Sematary has a timeless sense of place and horror. There are a plethora of talented filmmakers who could bring this story to a new generation of film-goers – in fact, IT director Andy Muschietti just recently expressed interest. But my top pick? Give it to Robert Eggers (The Witch). That dude understands the importance of atmosphere and the sense of place in a communal horror story. I think he could easily realize a film adaptation that would treat the burial ground as its own character, which was completely lacking from the first film.

Also, his version of Zelda would probably fuck me up for life.



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COMMENTS

58 Comments
  • Chip

    I’d be game for either director at this point.

  • DJV1985

    Don’t mind it being remade but I’m currently reading Pet Cemetery and meh it’s not that scary. It’s a slog to get through and all that (keep in mind the book I got turned out to be printed with the worlds smallest text lol) but so far (halfway) it just doesn’t seem all that scary, I enjoyed the original film so yh not sure why people claim this to be a scary book.

    • Munchie

      Ha ha ha ha ha!

      • DJV1985

        I’m reaching here but that’s the boys laugh right? Because that kid freaked me the hell out lol. As an Uncle after watching this film I could never look at those kids the same way again lol

    • Chip

      I think it’s scary for anyone whose had a near death encounter for themselves or others. It helps to remember that what happened to Gage nearly happened to one of King’s children, and his wife almost begged him not to write that book. The loss of a child is what scared King the most, and so that gives Pet Semetary a big of a platform to work off of.

  • Papa_spoosh

    Just read and rewatched. I was surprised at how closely the movie followed the book but it was superficial seeming. If someone buried the book in the Micmac, this screenplay would what came stumbling home. It definitely needs a remake and Eggers would be an amazing choice. Javier Botet would make a mean Zelda

  • Fred

    I always figured that if they’d remake it, they should change the story a bit. We’ve seen it already on screen and it was very faithful. Imagine if it was Zelda they buried? Holy God that would be scary! Keep the core story, but change the characters, make it about a different family. Switch the silly kid zombie for a Zelda ghoul. And for the love of God, put the Wendigo in it! It’s the best part!

  • Joel Kopplin

    Great choice for director! I would be beyond excited if he was the one to do it.

  • shawn lawson

    I don’t agree at all. I still think Pet Sematary is THE scariest film ever made. Juds death fucked me up bad as a kid. Only movie I ever had to shut off! As far as book to film comparison….I would have added the scene of Juds dead son walking up the street and I’m glad they didn’t have dead Gage speak as vulgar and as much in the film. Thought he spoke just enough to be creepy. The perfect horror film imo

    • pablitonizer

      Agree! One of the scariest films ever made!

  • sliceanddice

    Night Flyer, anyone? No. Just me then.

    • pablitonizer

      I love Night Flyer!

      • Necro

        Yep! And Miguel Ferrer (R.I.P.) was fucking excellent as ‘Richard Dees’!

    • Necro

      Sorry!

  • Munchie

    The girl who played Ellie was one of the absolute worst child actors ever. Downright atrocious.

    • 1EyeJack

      Ha! Ha! You’re absolutely right – she’s annoying as can be, but lets not forget the terrible acting by the parents in this movie as well. The guy who plays the father has the emotional range of a cardboard box. Even Fred Gwyn is off with that accent (I’m from Maine myself so I know how wrong he got it). For these reasons this story def should be remade.

      • Terry Powell

        For me it was the mother. I couldn’t stand her. Don’t know if it was the actress or the character(probably both) but there is no way I’d bring this woman back to life, even without the annoying murderous tics the revival brings. If they remake it, cast somebody likeable, make the character more loveable so we can understand why the guy would be willing to bring her back.

  • We just covered this movie (and the potential of a remake) on my podcast! Serendipitous!

    https://thedrewreviews.com/podcast/147-pet-sematary

    Great article!

  • KSE1977

    Total heartbreaking story that was a far better book than a movie. Still, it is a story that is easily told in any time period, so I say why not give it another try?

    • Karl-Göran Gustavson

      Yep. I saw the movie and it scared me to death, I was quite young. A few years later I picked up the book and it scared me to death and I started hating the movie. The entire point of the book is lost. The casting on some characters are really off. Especially Jud. I’m usually against remakes but in this case I’m all for it. My favourite King book, hands down. It deserves a better adaption.

  • I enjoyed the original and I want a remake/reboot with some improvements.

  • pablitonizer

    Well, if IT performs really well at the box office I can see a lot Stephen King’s adaptations being remade like Pet, The Stand, or even The shinning

  • Necro

    I don’t know I’m 50/50 on this one. I’ve thought about both points on either side and I honestly don’t know. If it came down to one final vote and it was absolutely my decision that would ultimately decide if it was going to be remade, it would be a rough decision.

    • Creepshow

      Don’t leave us hanging.
      Would you choose the Red pill, or the Blue pill?

      • Necro

        After careful consideration to both sides I have to side with don’t remake it. I would say remake it BUT only if a *truly gives a shit director* takes it on. Even with that though they could still destroy it. In this case leave well enough alone. IMO

  • Munchie

    Dis…dis…I CAN’T REMEMBER!

  • The Blogger

    I don’t know lets see what Muschietti does with IT and then go from there. I’d hate to get excited for future stuff and then it disappear after a bad turn out for IT.

  • Laura Kinney (X-23)

    OH MY GOD, stop with the freaking remakes ALREADY!! Is Hollywood that out of ideas?! Do we really need another MTV-type, CGI infested inferior crapfest dumped on us?! Leave it be, Hollywood!!

    There’s gotta be some other Stephen King works that haven’t been adapted yet and are still waiting to be!! I mean, look at Graveyard Shift. That short story got it’s OWN movie, and it was fun!!

    STOP remaking the movies we love!! (I’m looking at you, Evil Dead 2012, you P.O.S)

    • theundead

      Who’s forcing you to watch it

      • Laura Kinney (X-23)

        I wasn’t talking to you.

        I’m talking to the people who are fed up with all these shitty, lazily made, half ass, cash grab remakes. There are a lot of people who are sick of these.

        And last time I checked, it’s a free country. If I wanna bitch about all these remakes, then so be it. Not EVERYONE who posts on here is gonna love every single movie mentioned in the topic’s heading.

        It’s called difference of opinion. I have mine and I’m sure you have yours. So there’s no need complaining if my opinion doesn’t agree with yours.

        And P.S. NO ONE is forcing me to watch it. I’m going to go outta my way to NOT watch this or IT.

        • American Atheist

          It is pathetic that now horror fans are requesting remakes of classic horror movies. I understand Hollywood being lazy and greedy doing remakes. It’s another thing when horror fans are requesting remakes. The charm of classic horror movies is how they were made back then, not the current PG-13 CGI shit-fests that Hollywood currently calls horror.

          You are right about Evil Dead 2012. It makes me vomit when I read people saying they want that girl in the remake to star along side with Ash (Bruce) in a movie. Fuck that.

          • Laura Kinney (X-23)

            THANK YOU!! Finally, someone who agrees with me, and isn’t brainwashed by a lazy, greedy, corporate, cash-grab Hollywood.

          • American Atheist

            I grew upn the 80’s (thankfully). I appreciate horror as creative art. In the 80’s and 90’s directors had freedom to take chances and create some truly remarkable horror movies. Now everything is cookie cutter bullshit.

          • Laura Kinney (X-23)

            YES!! Those were the best years for horror IMO!! (There are the occasional good horror films today, when they’re not cheap, rushed productions)

        • theundead

          And who’s forcinga gun to your head and everyone else to watch remakes and reboots?

          • Laura Kinney (X-23)

            You obviously didn’t read my statement to that other guy, so I’ll dumb it down for you: Freedom of Speech.

            I don’t have to like something to post about it. It’s a free country and I can post what I want.

          • theundead

            I don’t and some people don’t go on movies, tv shows and video game post to write negative comments wasting there time

        • theundead
  • marshally

    The original was creepy, I’m all for it. I’d also like to see a remake of Salem’s Lot, Desperation and The Langoliers

  • curtis

    I am in for a remake but the original was excellent,

  • Jedediah Bishop

    New ideas might be great

  • Mike Wallace

    I think it’s King’s best “pure horror” novel. I’d love to see a remake.

  • Briand

    I’ve wondered if the shining had ever been thought of. I love the book and Kubrick’s film. Not the 90′ one so much.
    I’d like to see a second family move into the lookout. I’d also like to see Jack Nicholson revisit his role as Jack Torrence at some point.
    Either way though, Pet semetary would be great if the same talent and effort is put into it, as it seems that’s been put into IT.

  • Simon Allen

    IF IT IS A HIT THIS MAY BE A GOOD FIT BUT IF IT IS SHIT , FORGET IT !!!
    In other words if IT makes a fortune I predict Hollywood is gonna go crazy for anything with Kings name on it ….on the other hand if IT stinks …..:-( .

    • Necro

      Say that as fast as you can 10 times!

      • Simon Allen

        I did …..i spat A LOT ! 🙂

  • Mr. Dry

    Ok, we’re getting a bit overdosed of remakes but this one seems interesting. The first one was pretty good and it had a perfect dread atmosphere. Zelda scenes are scary as fucking fuck, even nowadays but everything kinda sinks down in the ending, at least for me. If Muschietti’s work in It is as good as it seems I’d be down for a Pet Sematary version of his own, otherwise, I’m with you that Eggers would nail this.

  • MrX13

    From the looks of it, IT is going to be a badass scary film and make a lot of money. Let Muschietti finish with IT p2 and then he can take on Pet Semetary and make it scarier than the original

  • I’d be up for this. I actually think this movie is pretty crappy. I’d love to see a decent remake of Firestarter first, though.

  • Adaaification

    The book is a creepy and scary hellride. And the movie is a nearly very good adaptation of the book. The dealing with death, the confrontation with your mortality and the question what comes afterwards are omnipresent in both.

    Should IT be as good as it seems, the Georgie scene is scary and intense beyond imagination, then why not remake Pet Semetary? Like the author said, the movie is a product of its time and it’s more then OK for what it is.

    Worst Case? The remake sucks. So what?

  • American Atheist

    Fuck no! Good luck replacing Fred Gwynne. He made Pet Sematary creepy as fuck.

    Remakes are a fucking cancer. It’s pathetic that horror fans are now requesting remakes. Hollywood has programmed the sheep well.

    You must be absolutely thrilled that they are remaking An American Werewolf In London. You know, because the original horror classic isn’t good enough for you.

    • Drakk_Mallor

      Every story currently being written, filmed or staged is a remake of
      something that has been done over and over and over and over again,
      stolen either from Greek myth, the bible or folklore/fairy tales. Even
      Shakespeare knew that. American Werewolf in London was just a campy
      retelling of Lon Chaney’s The Wolf Man, having a guy with an American
      accent there in the UK and being a lycanthrope, just like the old
      Universal movie. Everything’s a fucking remake, man. In one way or
      another. Nothing’s original. Stories are just echoes that we try to
      trace back to these lost authentic screams in the wild.

      Also mad props to Fred Gwynne, he was so awesome in Pet Sematery that South Park made that a recurring character.

  • HeteroFriendly

    Didn’t you write another article about this same dumb idea before homie?

    Didn’t you write another article a few months ago titled almost verbatim how remaking the shining again or something was actually a good idea?

    • Oliver Riddle

      Lol a lot of websites do that “How __ is a good idea”.

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