Pet Sematary, Stephen King’s story of a New England family and their dealings with a life-restoring Native American burial ground, has never been the best-loved of King, in any medium.
The 1983 book is not considered one of the author’s best, even by King himself, while the 1989 movie adaptation of the novel received dismal reviews on release.
2019’s remake of the 1989 film (or second adaptation of the book, if you prefer), however, has been received more favourably.
Directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, the new movie has already proved its mettle at the box office and impressed viewers and (the majority of) critics with its surprising twists and savage scares.
Here are 10 things you need to know about Pet Sematary 2019.
Warning: here be spoilers
10. Stephen King called the book “really f***ing terrible”
Horror novelist Stephen King has written some classic scarers in his time: Carrie, The Shining, It, Misery – the list goes on.
One book which King most definitely wouldn’t rank among his best, however, is Pet Sematary.
“If I had my way about it, I still would not have published Pet Sematary”, King says in 2009’s Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King. “It seems to be saying that nothing works and nothing is worth it, and I don’t really believe that.”
King later told Entertainment Weekly: “I read it over, and I said to myself, ‘This is awful. This is really f***ing terrible.’ Not that it was badly written, necessarily. But all that stuff about the death of kids. It was close to me because my kids lived on that road.”
9. Gage is played by twins
Gage, the youngest of Louis and Rachel’s children, isn’t played by one actor in the 2019 remake, but two.
In a creepy Stephen King-esque twist, three-year-old twins Hugo Lavoie and Lucas Lavoie both play Gage.
It’s a reversal of how things went down in the 1989 original, in which instead Ellie was played by twins, sisters named Blaze Berdahl and Beau Berdahl Oliver.
8. Five cats play Church
In the film business, they say you should never work with children or animals. Having already decided to work with twins, Pet Sematary directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer also opted to work with more animals than was necessary.
In total, five cats – all rescues – were recruited to play the Creeds’ demonic cat, Church.
The cats were reportedly treated very well across the 10-week shoot, with them and their trainers having their own individual trailers to relax in between takes.
In addition, once shooting was over, all the cats were adopted by various members of the crew.
7. In the novel, it’s (SPOILER) who dies instead
In the 2019 Pet Sematary, Louis narrowly manages to save Gage from being hit by a truck – but can’t stop the truck’s load detaching and killing Ellie.
Louis’ next step is to take Ellie to the Pet Sematary and bring her back from the dead, which of course leads to all manner of terrible consequences.
In King’s novel, as in the 1989 film, the roles are reversed: it’s Ellie who survives, while Gage is the one killed by the truck, only to later be resurrected into a demon child.
6. Jud’s wife is still alive in the novel
In both the 1989 and 2019 films, Jud shows Louis the Native, animal-resurrecting burial ground beyond the pet cemetery simply because he wants Ellie to have her cat back.
Jud’s reasoning in the novel is more complicated. In the book, Jud shows Louis the restorative burial ground in part because Louis saved Jud’s wife from dying after she had a heart attack.
Whereas in the film she’s already dead by the time we meet Jud, in King’s book, Norma Crandall is very much still alive, and the motivating factor for Jud revealing the secret of the Wendigo.
5. The directors shot two different endings
One of the major changes to Pet Sematary in 2019 is its ending, which wasn’t actually decided until relatively late in the game.
According to directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, during reshoots on the film they were given room to choose from three possible endings: what Entertainment Weekly described as “dark, darker or darkest”.
In the end, the filmmakers went with ‘darkest’, which is what we see in the film, but also opted to shoot another ending as well, just in case.
The alternative climax would have seen the Creed family in a kind of twisted new equilibrium: the alive Louis and Gage living together in ‘harmony’ with the undead Ellie, Rachel and Church. This ending will be available as an extra with the home release of the film.
4. There are Shining easter eggs in the film
What with the Stephen King universe being so expansive, directors Kölsch and Widmyer had a lot to choose from in terms of easter egg material.
One of the most prominent of King’s works to get the easter egg treatment is The Shining.
References include Ellie trying to break through the bathroom door with a Jack Nicholson-esque Kubrick stare; the dumb waiter doors pouring forth blood, a la The Shining’s bloody elevator; while at another point in the film, we see a sign for D. Torrance Realty, a reference to The Shining’s premier shiner Danny Torrance.
3. There are King easter eggs galore
It’s not just The Shining – there are several other King references in Pet Sematary, including are a couple of references to the original, 1989 Pet Sematary film.
Ellie’s funeral features a cameo from the same graveyard which appeared in the 1989 film, while the end credits song is a cover of The Ramones’ Pet Sematary.
There are also references to Cujo, when Jud talks at Ellie’s birthday party about a ‘rabid’ Saint Bernard, and It, with a road sign showing ‘Derry’ (the main town in It) on Rachel’s way back to Boston.
2. The Wendigo is a real (and terrifying) Native American folk tale
Stephen King may be the master of horror myth-making, but even he couldn’t come up with Pet Sematary’s terrifying Wendigo all by himself.
A mainstay of Native American tales, specifically those of Algonquian-speaking tribes, the Wendigo is a folk monster that predates European arrival in the Americas.
According to the legend, the Wendigo is a supernatural being with an insatiable lust for human flesh and a hideous, rotting appearance.
1. There’s probably going to be a prequel
Before the film hit theatres, Pet Sematary producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura teased a possible prequel to the film.
Di Bonaventura told Consequence of Sound: “I think if you look at the book, we didn’t cover all that stuff that happens before the Creed family moves in. So, I think there’s a movie there”.
Di Bonaventura’s one stipulation was that Pet Sematary had to be a success first, but considering the film just made back double its budget in its opening weekend, the second film greenlit.