Pet Sematary (sometimes referred to as Stephen King’s Pet Sematary) is a 1989 American horror film adaptation of Stephen King’s 1983 novel of the same name. Directed by Mary Lambert and written by King, the film features Dale Midkiff as Louis Creed, Denise Crosby as Rachel Creed, Blaze Berdahl as Ellie Creed, Miko Hughes as Gage Creed, and Fred Gwynne as Jud Crandall. Andrew Hubatsek was cast for Zelda’s role. King, who scripted from his own book, also has a cameo as a minister.
A sequel, Pet Sematary Two, was met with less financial and critical success. An upcoming second film adaptation of the same name is scheduled for release in 2019.
The Creed family—Louis, Rachel, and their children Ellie and Gage—move from Chicago to rural Ludlow, Maine, after Louis is offered a job as a doctor with the University of Maine. They befriend their elderly neighbor Jud Crandall, who takes them to an isolated pet cemetery (misspelled “sematary”) in the forest behind the Creeds’ new home.
On his first day at work, Louis meets Victor Pascow, a jogger who is mortally wounded after being hit by a bus. He warns Louis about the pet cemetery before he dies, calling Louis by name despite the fact they have not previously met. That night, Pascow comes to Louis as a ghost and leads him to the Pet Sematary, warning him not to cross the barrier because the ground beyond is “sour”. Louis awakens, assuming it was a dream, but notices his feet are covered in dirt.
During Thanksgiving while the family is gone, Ellie’s cat, Church, is run down on the highway. Realizing that Ellie will be devastated, Jud takes Louis beyond the cemetery and deep into the woods, where they reach an ancient Micmac burial ground. Jud instructs Louis to bury the cat and warns him not to tell anyone else about what they have done. The next day a reanimated Church returns to the house, a shell of what he was before; he stinks, moves sluggishly, and is vicious towards Louis. Jud explains that as a boy he himself revived his beloved pet dog in the Micmac ground, and that although the cat might be different, it will save Ellie the grief of losing her favorite pet.
Sometime later, the young Gage is killed by a truck along the same highway. The family is devastated, and Jud anticipates that Louis is considering burying his son in the Micmac ground, although Louis denies it. Jud believes that introducing Louis to the ritual ground aroused the malevolent forces present there, which caused Gage’s death.
He tells him the story of a local named Bill Baterman who buried his son Timmy in the Micmac ground after he was killed in World War II. Timmy returned as a malevolent zombie, terrifying the townsfolk. A group of men including Jud tried destroying Timmy by lighting the Baterman house on fire, only for the deranged Bill to perish with his son. Jud insists that the burial ground is evil and Louis must never try to bury his son there.
After the funeral, Rachel and Ellie leave for Chicago while Louis remains home. Despite Pascow and Jud’s warnings, Louis exhumes his son’s body and buries him at the ritual site. In Chicago, Pascow appears to Ellie in a dream and warns her that Louis is about to do something terrible. Rachel is unnerved by her daughter’s dream, but is only able to reach Jud when she calls, who tells her Louis is not home. She decides to return to Maine, much to Jud’s alarm.
That night, the reanimated Gage returns home and steals a scalpel from his father’s bag. He taunts Jud before slashing his Achilles tendon and throat, killing him. Rachel returns home and is lured into Jud’s house by the voice and specter of her dead sister Zelda, only to discover that she is actually seeing Gage, holding a scalpel. In shock and disbelief, Rachel reaches down to hug her son and he kills her.
Waking up from his sleep, Louis notices Gage’s muddy footprints in the house and discovers that his scalpel is missing. Receiving a phone call from Gage that he has “played” with Jud and Mommy, he fills three syringes with morphine and heads to Jud’s house. Encountering Church, he kills the cat with an injection before entering the house. Gage taunts him further and Louis is startled by Rachel’s corpse falling hanged from the attic before he is attacked by his son.
After a brief battle, Louis kills Gage with the morphine injection. He then lights the house on fire, leaving it to burn as he carries Rachel’s body from the fire. Pascow appears and warns Louis not to “make it worse” but Louis, now grief-stricken to the point of insanity, believes that because Rachel was not dead as long as Gage was, burying her “will work this time”. Pascow cries out in frustration and vanishes as Louis passes through him.
That night, the horribly mutilated Rachel returns to Louis and the couple embrace. Rachel takes a large knife from the counter as Louis screams.
- Dale Midkiff as Louis Creed
- Fred Gwynne as Jud Crandall
- Matthew August Ferrell as Jud as a Child
- Richard Collier as Young Jud
- Denise Crosby as Rachel Creed
- Elizabeth Ureneck as Young Rachel
- Miko Hughes as Gage Creed
- Blaze Berdahl as Ellie Creed
- Brad Greenquist as Victor Pascow
- Michael Lombard as Irwin Goldman
- Susan Blommaert as Missy Dandridge
- Mara Clark as Marcy Charlton
- Kavi Raz as Steve Masterton
- Mary Louise Wilson as Dory Goldman
- Andrew Hubatsek as Zelda Goldman
- Lisa Stathoplos as Jud’s mother
- Stephen King as Minister
- Chuck Courtney as Bill Baterman
- Peter Stader as Timmy Baterman
The film rights were sold to George A. Romero in 1984 for $10,000. King had previously declined several other offers for a film adaptation. Romero eventually had to pull out of the production, as he was busy with Monkey Shines. Development executive Lindsay Doran loved the finished script and advocated for it to be made at Embassy Pictures and then at Paramount Pictures, after she became vice president of production there in 1985. She was told each time that there was no more demand for Stephen King movies after the slew of adaptations from his novels released in the early 80’s. It was only during the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike that Paramount reconsidered because the studio was facing a possible shortage of new productions for 1989 release. Stephen King’s script for Pet Sematary was finished and ready to go, so Doran was given the greenlight to obtain the rights for Paramount and start production.
As stipulated by King when selling the rights, Pet Sematary was shot in Maine where the story was set and King himself wrote the screenplay. Production was based out of Ellsworth and auditions held at The Grand theater, where several hundred locals auditioned to be extras or for small spoken roles.
The house used for the Creeds’ home is a private residence near Hancock, while Jud’s house across the street was actually a facade constructed around an existing house that was insulated with fireproof material so that the mock-up could be burned around it. The interiors of the Creed house were recreated on a soundstage in Ellsworth, while the interiors of Jud’s house were built inside the Bangor Arsenal. The approach to the Micmac burial ground was filmed at an abandoned granite quarry on Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park, while a hilltop near Sedgwick was the site of the Micmac ground itself. Other locations included a forest near Ellsworth for the pet sematary, Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor for the graveyard scenes, and Ellsworth Town Hall, which stood in for the hospital of the University of Maine, Orono.
Initially, Paramount executives wanted a pair of twins to play the role of Gage, like those chosen to play Ellie, which was the more cost-effective option. However, Lambert was very impressed with three-year old Miko Hughes, whom she felt was a natural talent despite his young age, so she lobbied the studio to accept her choice. She also faced resistance from executives over Fred Gwynne, whom the studio believed audiences wouldn’t take seriously because of his fame as Herman Munster. After first auditioning girls for the role of Zelda, Lambert changed course and ended up casting Andrew Hubatsek in the role, because she felt having a grown man playing the role of a teenage girl deformed by spinal meningitis made the character more frightening.
Pet Sematary was director Mary Lambert’s second feature film. She was better known for her work directing music videos, especially those for Madonna including “Like a Prayer” and “Material Girl”. Through her work in the music industry Lambert was friends with the Ramones, who were one of Stephen King’s favorite bands. She approached them about recording a song for the film and they agreed to write and perform “Pet Sematary”, which is featured in the closing credits.
The original cut of the film delivered to Paramount’s executives was judged to be too long, so excess footage had to be removed. The original ending scene showed only Rachel’s hand coming to rest on Louis’ shoulder after she returns home, before the film cut to black and Louis’ screams could be heard. The studio decided this was too tame and at their request it was re-shot to be more graphic.
The film’s score was written by Elliot Goldenthal. The film features two songs by the Ramones, one of Stephen King’s favorite bands: “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” appears in a scene, and “Pet Sematary”, a new track written specially for the movie, plays over the credits.
The song “Pet Sematary” became one of the Ramones’ biggest charting hits, reaching number four on Billboard‘s “Modern Rock Tracks” list, despite being, in the words of AMG, “reviled by most of the band’s hardcore fans”
The Los Angeles Times wrote that the film “defied the critics and opened at blockbuster levels”. The film grossed $57 million in North America. Released in 1989 by Paramount Home Video, Pet Sematary was a best-selling video. Paramount released it on DVD in 2006 and on Blu-ray in 2012. Pet Sematary will be released on 4K UHD Blu-Ray on March 26 2019.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 50% of 28 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review, and the average rating was 5.1/10. The site’s critical consensus reads, “Pet Sematary is a bruising horror flick that wears its quirks on its sleeves, to the detriment of its scare factor.” On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 38 out of 100 based on 12 critics, indicating “generally unfavorable reviews”. Variety called it “undead schlock dulled by a slasher-film mentality”. Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that the film “has some effectively ghoulish moments” but “fails mostly because it doesn’t trust the audience to do any of the work”. Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film zero stars out of four and called it “sickening.” Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “Lambert goes for strong, succinct images and never stops to worry whether there’s a lack of credibility or motivation.” Richard Harrington of The Washington Post called it “bland, clichéd, cheap”.
Harrington criticized Gage’s actions as disturbing and the climax as “an ugly payoff to an inept setup”. Philip Strick of The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote, “The family feuds and loyalties which lend some coherence to the novel and justify its punchline … are simply plundered for their shock effect en route to the final bloodletting. Emaciated, then, rather than enhanced by its adaptation, Pet Semetary as a movie is nevertheless strikingly well-told.” Bloody Disgusting rated it 4.5/5 stars and wrote, “The plot alone would make for a scary movie, but by injecting excellent atmosphere, capable acting and generally nightmarish scenes, Pet Sematary is a truly effective horror flick and well worth the price of admission.” At Dread Central, Steve Barton rated it 4/5 stars and called it one of the best King adaptations; Jason Jenkins rated it 3.5/5 stars and called it “one of the better King adaptations of the period”.
A sequel, Pet Sematary Two, was released in 1992 to poor reviews and a disappointing box office. Although it references the events of the first film, the sequel focused on all-new characters. Pet Sematary has acquired a cult following in recent years, and members of the cast occasionally appear at horror conventions to discuss it.
In 2002, New York horrorcore rapper Cage wrote the song “Ballad of Worms” which was featured on the album Eastern Conference All Stars II for the independent hip-hop label Eastern Conference Records. Before thought to be about his relationship and struggle with the hip-hop community, he later revealed it was a love song dedicated to the Pet Sematary character Zelda.
A documentary, Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary, premiered in September 2014, and was released in January 2017.
Pet Sematary was ranked #16 on IFC’s list of the best Stephen King film and television adaptations, and also placed at 16 on Rolling Stone’s Top 30 King adaptations.
There was intermittent buzz about a possible adaptation of Pet Sematary. Juan Carlos Fresnadillo was announced to direct an adaptation in October 2013, but nothing came of it.
In August 2017, the brother-sister team behind the 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s It, Andrés and Barbara Muschietti, told the Toronto Sun that they hoped to adapt Pet Sematary after the sequel of It. Again, there was no further action.
Finally, in December 2017 Paramount Pictures announced that it was remaking the film, with Jeff Buhler penning the script and Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer set to direct.
The new movie stars Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz as Louis and Rachel Creed, with John Lithgow appearing as Jud Crandall. The movie began filming in Montreal, Canada in June 2018 and was set to be released on April 5, 2019.