Pet Sematary (1989 film)
|Directed by||Mary Lambert|
|Screenplay by||Stephen King|
|Produced by||Richard P. Rubinstein|
|Music by||Elliot Goldenthal|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$89.5 million|
Pet Sematary (sometimes referred to as Stephen King's Pet Sematary) is a 1989 American supernatural horror film and the first adaptation of Stephen King's 1983 novel of the same name. Directed by Mary Lambert and written by King, it stars Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby, Blaze Berdahl, Fred Gwynne, and Miko Hughes as Gage Creed. The title is a sensational spelling of "pet cemetery".
The film was released on April 21, 1989, and grossed $89.5 million at the box office on a budget of $11.5 million. A sequel, Pet Sematary Two, was released in 1992 and a second film adaptation was released in 2019.
The Creed family—Louis, Rachel, their children Ellie and Gage, and their pet cat Church—move from Chicago to rural Ludlow, Maine, after Louis accepts a job as a physician with the University of Maine. They befriend their neighbor Jud Crandall, who takes them to an isolated pet cemetery (misspelled "sematary") in the forest behind the Creeds' new home.
Louis encounters Victor Pascow, a jogger who is mortally injured after being hit by a truck. He warns Louis about the pet sematary before dying, calling Louis by name though they have never met. That night, Pascow appears to Louis as a ghost and leads him to the 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, Church is run down on the highway. Realizing Ellie will be devastated, Jud takes Louis beyond the pet sematary and deep into the woods, where they reach an ancient Miꞌkmaq burial ground. Jud instructs Louis to bury the cat and warns him not to tell anyone about what they have done. The next day a reanimated Church returns to the house. He now stinks, moves sluggishly, and is vicious toward Louis. Jud explains that as a boy he revived his pet dog, and that although the cat might be different, it will save Ellie the grief of losing her pet.
Sometime later, Gage is killed by a truck along the same highway. Jud anticipates that Louis is considering burying his son in the Miꞌkmaq 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 Miꞌkmaq 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 Bill to perish with his son. Jud insists that the burial ground is evil and Louis must not bury his son there.
After the funeral, Rachel and Ellie leave for Chicago while Louis remains home, ostensibly to take care of loose ends. 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 can only 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, a reanimated Gage returns home and steals a scalpel from his father's bag. He taunts Jud before slashing his Achilles tendon and his mouth, before biting his 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 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 hanged from the attic before Gage attacks him.
After a brief battle, Louis overpowers Gage and injects him with the morphine syringe. He then lights Jud's 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 grief-stricken Louis 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, Rachel returns to Louis and the couple embrace. Rachel takes a large knife from the counter, before Louis screams.
- Dale Midkiff as Louis Creed
- Fred Gwynne as Jud Crandall
- Matthew August Ferrell as Jud (child)
- Richard Collier as Young Jud
- Denise Crosby as Rachel Goldman-Creed
- Elizabeth Ureneck as Rachel (child)
- Miko Hughes as Gage Creed
- Blaze Berdahl as Ellen "Ellie" Creed
- Brad Greenquist as Victor Pascow
- Michael Lombard as Irwin Goldman
- Susan Blommaert as Missy Dandridge
- Kavi Raz as Steve Masterton
- Mary Louise Wilson as Dory Goldman
- Andrew Hubatsek as Zelda Goldman
- Stephen King as Minister
- Chuck Courtney as Bill 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 films 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. King, who had final say on the choice of a director, met with the studio's first choice of Mary Lambert. She impressed him with her enthusiasm for his novels and her commitment to stay faithful to his source material, which secured her the job.
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 was more ambiguous: it showed only the undead Rachel entering the kitchen where Louis is playing solitaire, leaving his fate uncertain. Although Lambert called this the "more spooky, sad... tragic" ending, because the audience knows "it's not going to be what he wants. She's not coming back as his wife", the studio decided it was too tame and at their request it was re-shot to be more graphic. Rachel's appearance was made far more gruesome with special prosthetic effects, and she kills Louis at the end as alluded to in his screams when the film cuts to black.
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, who 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 her choice to cast Fred Gwynne, whom the studio believed audiences would not 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.
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 in Ellsworth and auditions held at The Grand theater, where several hundred locals auditioned to be extras or for small spoken roles. King himself was very involved in the filming process, consulting with Lambert frequently on her ideas for the story and any deviations from the script she wished to make.
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 Miꞌkmaq 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 Miꞌkmaq ground itself. Other locations included a forest near Ellsworth for the pet cemetery, 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.
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 picture, 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".
Lambert 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 she was friends with the Ramones. 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.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 51% of 35 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 5.42/10. The website'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". Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade B.
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."
Film historian Leonard Maltin called the picture a "BOMB" (his lowest possible rating) and declared, "Despite being a box-office smash, this picture's contempt for its audience should be obvious even to undiscriminating moviegoers...Still, vastly superior to its sequel."
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".
It was released on DVD by Paramount Home Entertainment on April 14, 2003. "Collector's Edition". Pet Sematary was a top-renting VHS upon release. Paramount released it on DVD in 2006 and on Blu-ray in 2012. Pet Sematary was released on 4K UHD Blu-ray on March 26, 2019.
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.
In August 2017, the brother-sister team behind the 2017 adaptation of Stephen King's It, Andy 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 adaptation 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 released on April 5, 2019.
On December 7, 2021, director Guillermo del Toro said that he would love to make his own version of Pet Sematary saying "You know the novel that I would have killed to adapt, and I know there’s two versions of it, and I still think maybe in a deranged universe I get to do it again one day is Pet Sematary. Because it not only has the very best final couple of lines, but it scared me when I was a young man. As a father, I now understand it better than I ever would have, and it scares me a hundred times more." del Toro also pointed out scenes from King's book that were left out of both film versions. "For me, the best scene in that book is when [Louis] opens Gage’s coffin, and for a second he thinks the head is gone, because this black fungi from the grave has grown like a fuzz over the kid’s face. … I think you cannot spare those details and think that you’re honoring that book. One of the things I thought about Pet Sematary that we would do in post is when the dead return, when Gage returns, I’d spend an inordinate amount of money taking out the sheen from his eyes. So that the eyes are dull.”
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- MattFini's Halloween Top 10 Lists: Most Memorable End Credit Songs
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- Maltin's TV, Movie & Video Guide
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