The 1989 version of Pet Sematary is one of the most beloved Stephen King adaptations ever produced. The film has an incredibly spooky vibe and it adequately replicates the horror King creates in his acclaimed novel. Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary, the documentary about the making of Pet Sematary, goes behind the scenes of the film and even some of King's writing. It's a fascinating look at a story that only gets better with age. Even the new Pet Sematary movie manages to capture King's essence in a frightening way, though it does not eclipse the relevance of the 1989 original.
Unearthed & Untold reviews how Zelda was cast, what Stephen King thought of the adapted story, and what it was like to film in Maine - an odd location for a big-budget horror movie. Although King teaches us that sometimes dead is better, in the case of the original Pet Sematary adaptation, it can be fun to relive the horror.
Many of the locations in Pet Sematary are the places that inspired King while he was writing the novel - from the pet cemetery he lived next door to, to the town where he spent time off while he wasn't teaching. In Unearthed & Untold, the cast and crew of the film discuss how it's not just the buildings and homes that add to the creepy vibe, but the other exterior surroundings in Maine, as well.
Denise Crosby (Rachel Creed) notes that the woods surrounding the Pet Sematary sets helped inspire her attitude while filming the more dour, horrifying scenes. If Pet Sematary was filmed in Los Angeles, or any other state doubling for Maine, the emotional inspiration from the area would not have been the same. Many of the locations in the film are miles away from one another, especially the Micmac burial ground and the deadfall, and each were just as necessary in creating the most appropriate aesthetic for the adaptation.
The pet cemetery of Pet Sematary is a real place, although it is not an ancient graveyard - at least not according to the documentary. The actual cemetery is in Orrington, Maine, and Stephen King lived next door while he was teaching at Hampden Academy.
Bethany Smith, one of the founders of the "Pets Sematary," says that King's house was empty for "many many many years" before the author moved in. She explains that the cemetery was started in the '70s out of necessity because of the large amount of pets perishing on the highway. Smith also explains how the pet cemetery came to be called "Pets Sematary." She said:
The neighbor up the road, Johnny, he was really into spray painting anything and everything, he decided that our cemetery had to have a sign because it was a growing population. We gave Johnny the task of making the sign and he showed up with it spelled the way it's spelled and we had a really good laugh.
Lindsay Doran, a producer on the film, tried to get her Pet Sematary adaptation off the ground in the early '80s while working as an executive at Embassy Pictures. Despite her position in the company, they felt that "the time for Stephen King movies had come and gone." When she moved to Paramount in '85, she once again attempted to get the film off the ground with no success.
It wasn't until the writer's strike of 1988, when the company started to worry about holes in their upcoming release schedule, that Pet Sematary was approved. Because they couldn't hire any writers, they couldn't greenlight any new scripts, but Doran already had Pet Sematary in her back pocket. In the opening of the documentary, she says that Paramount executives tried to put the kibosh on the film despite not having any scripts available. They finally gave her the go-ahead with their backs against the wall.
Stephen King really didn't want to release Pet Sematary. After he wrote it, he put it in a drawer and tried to forget about it before moving on to write something new. The story came back to life in the '80s after King moved from his first publisher, Doubleday, to Viking. Due to his previous contract with Doubleday, there was a pile of money withheld from King, and in order to access it, he had to give them one more book. In 2019, King explained to Entertainment Weekly:
The money had piled up enough, so I said, "Well, what do I do about this?" And [King's lawyer] said, "You'll have to give them another book, and make it part of the agreement that they can publish the book under their bullsh*t terms. But they have to break the investment fund."
According to the documentary, Doubleday didn't want the book from King while he was still working with them. However, after moving to Viking, they were hungry for another King hit so they agreed to his terms.