Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Mary Lambert|
|Produced by||Richard P. Rubinstein|
|Screenplay by||Stephen King|
|Based on||Pet Sematary
by Stephen King
|Music by||Elliot Goldenthal|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$57.5 million|
Pet Sematary (sometimes referred to as Stephen King's Pet Sematary) is a 1989 American horror film adaptation of Stephen King's 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. Author Stephen King has a cameo as a minister.
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 in the forest behind the Creeds' new home.
On his first day at work, Louis meets Victor Pascow, a jogger who is brought in with severe injuries from a car accident. He warns Louis about the pet cemetery before he dies, calling Louis by name despite the fact they have not previously met. After he dies, Pascow comes to Louis in the night 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 in front of the house. Realizing that Ellie will be devastated, Jud takes Louis beyond the cemetery and deep into the woods, where they reach an abandoned Micmac burial ground. Without explanation Jud instructs Louis to bury the cat and warns him not to tell anyone else about what they have done. The next day Church comes back to life, though a shell of what he was before; he stinks, moves sluggishly, and is vicious towards Louis. Jud explains that he himself revived his beloved pet dog in the Micmac ground as a boy, and that although the cat might be different, it will save Ellie the grief of losing her favorite pet.
Sometime later, 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, Gage returns home and steals a scalpel from his father's bag. He taunts Jud before slashing his Achilles tendon and 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 two 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 knife from the counter, and just as the screen cuts to black, Louis' screams of pain can be heard.
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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. As stipulated by King when selling the rights to Paramount, Pet Sematary was shot in Maine where the story was set. The house used for the Creeds' home is a private residence near Hancock, while Judd's house was actually a facade constructed around an existing house that was insulated with fireproof material. Other locations included Acadia National Park, where the burial ground was constructed, and Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor for the graveyard scenes.
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 cast Andrew Hubatsek in the role of Zelda, because she felt having a grown man playing the role of a teenage girl was more disturbing.
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. They also decided that the closing scene 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 the Billboard '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.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 43% of 23 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating was 5.2/10. 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". 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, cliched, cheap". Harrington criticized Gage's actions as disturbing and the climax as "an ugly payoff to an inept setup". 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. The film has acquired a cult following in recent years and members of the cast occasionally appear at horror conventions to discuss it. A documentary, Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary, premiered in September 2014, and was released in January 2017. It was ranked #16 on IFC's list of the best Stephen King film and television adaptations
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