There’s Only One King

Stephen King's classic Pet Sematary novel gets reimagined for a new generation to terrorize moviegoers with a tragic story of life, death and reanimation

Pet Sematary Lead 3
Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

Pet Sematary Lead 3

“Pet Sematary”—in its misspelled form—was scribbled by neighborhood children behind Stephen King’s house, providing the inspiration for the title of his 1983 book. It was then adapted into a movie by Mary Lambert in 1989. Thirty years later, the cult classic has been reimagined by filmmakers Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer to terrify a whole new generation of moviegoers.

Pet Sematary is about a family who moves into a new town and discovers a series of strange occurrences at a nearby ancient burial site where dead pets are laid to rest in the hopes that they will come back to life. After a tragic accident, the parents turn to the cemetery’s magic powers to revive one of their children, which results in a whole new nightmare. It’s not only a highly anticipated 2019 release but also another testament to the timeless resonance of King’s stories.

“Having king's work translate from page to screen has further embedded his name in the pop culture consciousness.”

Multi award-winning author Stephen King has penned so many iconic tales over the course of his career—with 58 novels and approximately 200 short stories on his resume—that it’s impossible to choose just one as his defining work. His first novel Carrie (1974), about a telekinetic teen girl with an abusive mother, led to director Brian De Palma’s powerful on-screen adaptation. The 1976 film boosted the reputation of King, who previously was just another struggling, unknown writer. In a 1979 New York Times interview, he said, “The [Carrie] movie made the book and the book made me.” But then there’s also The Shining, It, Misery, Cujo, Salem’s Lot, and, of course, the aforementioned Pet Sematary in his bibliography. Many of which are notable for being both bestselling books and box office gold. It’s no small feat for a man from such humble beginnings.

Born in 1947 in Portland, Maine, King studied English at the University of Maine. It was on campus that he would meet his wife Tabitha—a prolific author in her own right. The couple built a life for themselves in nearby Orrington, which would later play a big role in King writing Pet Sematary. He and his lived right next to a major truck route where many pets became roadkill. Local kids made a habit of burying their cats and dogs in a makeshift cemetery nearby. As fate would have it, King’s family cat wound up killed by a semi and he was forced to have a conversation about death with his young daughter. That dialogue and experience would become the foundation for what would become Pet Sematary.

Pet Sematary Kids 3

Over the course of  his 40-plus year career, King has penned several novels that have become the groundwork for classic film adaptations, from auteurs like Stanley Kubrick and Brian De Palma. Having his work translate from page to screen has further embedded King’s name in the horror and pop culture consciousness. That impact has been even more evident in recent years as both It— originally a two-night television miniseries in 1990—and Carrie have been remade as big budget films. The new Pet Sematary is shaping up to be an even more horrifying adaptation.

Pet Sematary, which originally hit theaters in 1989, is next in line. Starring Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, and John Lithgow, 2019 version follows the twisted journey of Dr. Louis Creed (Clarke), a flawed hero whose trauma leads him to ultimately foolish but understandable motivations. It’s not hard to sympathize with Dr. Creed’s decision to resurrect his daughter after she was struck by a truck, especially if you’re a parent or know the harrowing emptiness of living on when someone you love is gone. That’s what makes Pet Sematary such a poignant story about grief.

“Even amidst supernatural happenings, King’s stories get at the heart of people's very real anxieties.”

Diehard King fans will be quick to note that in the novel and original film it was actually Dr. Creed’s toddler son Gage who was killed and reanimated, but the new film reveals a slightly different vision. Rather than focusing the horror on someone so young, the project utilizes the range of slightly older actor to breathe new life into King’s book. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura said, “Gage is so young, you can’t really do that much with him. So this way, we’re able to really get underneath our affected child. We’re able to get into the psychological horror of a child [coming back] because of [the daughter’s] age.” Given how positive early reviews have been, it seems critics are on board with the change as well.

Even amidst supernatural happenings, from undead creatures to vampires, King’s stories get at the heart of very real, private anxieties that happen to ordinary people. Perhaps that’s why they’re so terrifying: the notion that it could happen to you. And because King’s books center on universal and timeless themes, they are ripe for adaptations. While the terrifying story remains the same in the upcoming Pet Sematary, the subtle plot shifts should be expected because as the film’s tagline says: “They don’t come back the same.”

Pet Sematary is in theaters April 5th.

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