New Adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘Pet Sematary’ has High Expectations

Nancy Bilyeau
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Crédit photo : Kerry Hayes © 2018 Paramount Pictures.

After the 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel It became one of the biggest hits of the year, earning $700 million, it became very clear indeed that any novel of King’s was box office gold. In April of this year, audiences will have another chance at a horror classic with a new adaptation of Pet Sematary, which King published in 1983.

In the film, a man named Louis Creed, his wife, Rachel, and their two children, Gage and Ellie, move from Boston to rural Maine, where they are enlightened about the eerie “Pet Sematary” located nearby. After the tragedy of their cat being killed by a truck, Louis resorts to burying it in the mysterious pet cemetery, which is definitely not as it seems.

Stephen King, the 2003 recipient of The National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Taken at the 2007 New York Comicon. Photo by “Pinguino” CC BY 2.0

The horror novel was made into a film in 1989, starring Dale Midkiff, Fred Gwynne, and Denise Crosby. Stephen King was present for much of the film shoot in Maine. King has said in interviews that of all his novels, this is the only one that really scares him.

Almost 30 years to the day, the new adaptation will be released, directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer and starring Jason Clarke, John Lithgow, and Amy Seimetz.

Pet Sematary teaser poster

In the new film, the directors made a major change. In King’s novel, the Creed family “gets the shock of a lifetime when their dead three-year-old toddler Gage is resurrected and returns home,” according to Indie Wire. “The film, however, has made a strategic choice to kill the Creed’s young eight-year-old daughter Ellie, played by Jeté Laurence, instead.”

The filmmakers are aware that this could draw criticism.

Lorenzo di Bonaventura. Photo by Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 3.0

“Trust me, we were nervous about it,” producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura told Entertainment Weekly. “I feel this way about anything that you remake or update. If we gave you what you had before, we didn’t do the subject matter much good. I’m very protective of movies too, but I want a new experience each time, and feel like filmmakers have really thought about the choice. We thought, ‘All right, let’s make this choice.’ ”

Pet Sematary is prominent on many lists of most anticipated films of the year. In the trailer, the family is shown moving into their house in the country, but John Lithgow appears to warn them, “These woods belong to something else.”

Pet Sematary teaser poster

“Sometimes dead is better” is the spoken theme of the film in the trailer, and prominent in other advertisements.

Jeff Buhler explained their intentions in an interview. “As much as all of us are huge fans of the original film, there are moments that are larger than life and feel borderline campy,” Buhler said. “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.”

The directors have emphasized they wanted to adapt King’s book as faithfully as possible.

The inspiration for the novel struck in early 1979 when King was serving as a writer-in-residence at the University of Maine at Orono and living in a rented house in nearby Orrington that bordered a major truck route that killed dogs and cats. In the woods behind his house, local children had created an informal pet cemetery.

One day, his daughter’s cat was killed by a passing truck and King was faced with burying the cat in the pet cemetery and then explaining to his daughter what had happened. Shortly after the burial, the idea for a novel came to him.

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“He wondered what would happen if a young family were to lose their daughter’s cat to a passing truck, and the father rather than tell his daughter were to bury the cat in a pet cemetery,” according to stephenking.com. “And what would happen if the cat were to return the next day, alive but fundamentally different.”


Nancy Bilyeau, a former staff editor at Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and InStyle, has written a bestselling novel about a spy in an 18th century porcelain factory. For more information, go to www.nancybilyeau.com.