Pet Sematary —Stephen King’s 1983 novel and its subsequent ’89 movie—is, above all things, a story about love. A father’s love for his children, and a child’s love for their beloved pet. Louis Creed takes his daughter’s dead cat Church to the Micmac burial ground because he loves her; he takes his dead son Gage to the Micmac burial ground because he loves him. He loves his family, and can’t imagine his life without them. Basically, a profoundly stupid man driven by grief as well as love, and he figures, ‘it worked once, it’ll work again.’
The Origin Story of My Love for Pet Sematary
Pet Sematary is a special little horror to me; it remains the only Stephen King novel I’ve ever read, even though I love and support King with all my heart and soul. (One time, a dude I dated tried to explain King’s writing to me and I had to sit there and listen like I didn’t already want Stephen King to adopt me as his own child.) Although I’ve seen many more King-based films than Pet Sematary, it remains my absolute favorite. It has a lot to do with the fact that Pet Sematary is the only story that terrified King himself.
In the 2001 edition of the novel, King adds an introduction explaining the process of publishing Pet Sematary and why it took so many years after it was written to finally publish. Pet Sematary is based on real experiences King had living in Maine with his family in 1978, from the daughter’s dead cat to the—almost—dead son. The busy road and the pet cemetery for the animals claimed by the road are true features in the novel, taken straight from life. King’s daughter buried her cat Smucky in the pet cemetery near their rented house. Their son Owen had a close call with a truck while running towards the road. King shelved this novel after it was written, considering it too dark, convinced he’d gone too far. Being aware of the personal toll this story took on King ups the fear factor.
But is it Horror?
I wouldn’t say Pet Sematary is a horror story the same way IT is; there are supernatural elements, of course—coming back from the dead isn’t usually something people just do—but I would say it falls into the same category as The Shining. It’s utterly human at its center, fueled by human desires and emotions. As I said above: in this case, mostly love.
Not to dismiss the chilling terror of being faced with your zombie son murdering your wife and your neighbor. And then having your zombie wife do the same thing to you. There is a true horror that comes with the ghost of a guy you couldn’t save attaching himself to you and making you sleepwalk, warning you not to go past the pet cemetery.
“Sometimes dead is better…”
This being said, I have a rocky relationship with movie remakes. I love movies so obviously dated they’re hard to watch. The Claymation from the original Evil Dead films gets me every time; the chewing shark puppet from Jaws; just the entirety of Dune. Questionable special effects and animation that’s obviously animation stirs something deep and abiding in me. I’d watch Creepshow over anything made in the last ten years, easily. (Except I really liked The Conjuring, so there’s that.)
But remakes, I have trouble with those. Whenever I see another article teasing yet another remake, I get nervous. Which beloved, timeless film are they going to butcher now? With horror films, usually it’s a recycle of the same story with more unnecessary blood and gore to the point of nausea. (As was the case with the Evil Dead remake.) I’m sick of it, bring me original stories or bring me nothing. So, after IT came out, when I saw a tease for a Pet Sematary remake, I was appalled. I hoped it wasn’t true. Now, I find it is indeed true, but am less appalled after careful research into the plans for this remake.
“Grounded, Character-Driven, Psychologically Horrific…”
Screenwriter Jeff Buhler, with directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch, is, according to Slashfilm.com, planning to make one of the “scariest Stephen King adaptations ever.” Which, okay, I can get behind that. Buhler told Slash Film, “Dennis [Widmyer] and Kevin [Kolsch] and I really connected around the idea of bringing the story back to the source material…Our desire was to tell a really grounded, character-driven and psychologically horrific version of Pet Sematary, which, in my belief, is the scariest book that King ever wrote.”
With this admission from Buhler, I’ll give his remake another chance. We’re on the same wavelength in terms of the source material, and I love someone who shares my opinions. Hopefully, Buhler, Widmyer, and Kolsch take this opportunity to tone down the camp, rev up the psychological terror, and keep that sense of dread that permeates every line of the original novel.
Pet Sematary will release in April 2019, almost exactly 30 years after the original film debut. Currently, the cast consists of Jason Clarke, John Lithgow, and Amy Siemetz.