Stephen King once mentioned that the only novel he wrote that really scared him was "Pet Sematary."
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The role of Zelda, Rachel's terminally ill sister, was played by a man. Director Mary Lambert wanted Zelda and her scenes to frighten the audience but did not believe that a 13-year old girl was scary so she cast Andrew Hubatsek in the role to make something be "off about Zelda."
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Stephen King was present on location for most of the shooting of the film. The area it was shot in was only twenty minutes away from his home in Bangor, Maine.
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In Stephen King's novel, Judd mentions that a dog went wild in a nearby town and killed several people. This is a reference to the events of Cujo (1983), another novel by King. It is common for characters in King's novels to mention the events of his other novels.
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The film was shot on location in the same rural Maine area that Stephen King set the novel "Pet Sematary."
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The original screenplay featured the "wendigo" (a Native American demon) that was mentioned in the novel, but it was ultimately cut from the film. Its presence is implied only twice: first, in the scene where Louis is walking through the woods at night and hears something large knock down a tree, and second, when Judd first takes Louis up to the Indian burial ground, there is some kind of loud crash deep in the forest followed by a long, almost feminine howl. Judd says that "it's only a loon," but it is clear that he does not entirely believe it himself.
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Bruce Campbell was the first choice for the role of Louis Creed.
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Actor Brad Greenquist had said in an interview that while in his gruesome makeup for the role of Victor Pascow, no one would sit near him while the cast and crew were having lunch.
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Stephen King is a big fan of the Ramones and referenced some of their songs in the novel "Pet Sematary." In homage, The Ramones wrote and performed the theme song "Pet Sematary," which is featured in the film's closing credits. The truck driver was also listening to "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker" by The Ramones.
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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.
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According to Mary Lambert, one of the hardest things was to get the cat to eat the pork chop.
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Twin actresses played the role of Ellie Creed. Blaze Berdahl, however, was mainly credited for the role while Beau Berdahl Oliver is credited as "Ellie Creed II."
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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 Madonna: Material Girl (1985) and Madonna: Like a Prayer (1989). 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 during the closing end credits.
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Stephen King required the movie to be filmed in Maine and his screenplay to be followed rigorously.
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Mary Lambert tried getting Blaze Berdahl to cry for a scene by suggesting the young actor think back on something from her life that was very sad, but the girl had nothing. Lambert instead ended up offering her more money if she'd cry.
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When Stephen King first wrote the manuscript for Pet Sematary, he shelved it. It was only when his wife Tabitha King told him to publish it, after she found it later and read through it. Stephen King then decided to take it to his publisher.
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George A. Romero was originally set to direct, but when filming was delayed, he dropped out and Mary Lambert stepped in and Romero directed Monkey Shines (1988).
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The original ending was more "sad and quiet and emotional," but early screenings convinced them the film needed a "punchier" one.
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(At around nine minutes into the film) Louis claims his cat, Church, is named after former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Seven blue British Shorthair cats were acquired to play Church, and each of them were trained to do a specific action for the camera.
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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, Mary 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.
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Director Mary Lambert said that Fred Gwynne was her first and only choice for the role of Judd Crandall.
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Fred Gwynne's hair was actually black so he dyed his hair white on a regular basis for the role of Judd Crandall.
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This was the first filmed screenplay that Stephen King adapted from one of his own novels.
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Over the years critics have frequently voiced concern over the impression that being in this film must have left on young Miko Hughes. On the contrary, his parts during the horror sequences were shot separate from the more "disturbing" elements and violent action. He was later edited into these scenes, while a child-dummy was used during the more intense action footage.
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The effort to cast Zelda began with little girls, but they were all just too sweet. "The thinner they were the sweeter and more appealing they were." She eventually thought to cast a boy, Andrew Hubatsek, in the role as he "would be more into the idea of looking ugly and coughing and spitting up and retching." She also thought it would be creepier, and she isn't wrong.
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The tree that Ellie Creed swings on after first arriving at their new home made such an impression on Mary Lambert and Stephen King that they dug it up from a field where they spotted it and re-planted it in front of the house. They had searched all summer for the perfect house with a tree and never found it, so they compromised.
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This was the debut film for young actor Miko Hughes, who was only 31-33 months old during production.
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Since cats are difficult to train, the film crew ended up using nine cats. a jumper, a snarler and a cuddler. No cats were harmed during filming.
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They had to shoot Pascow's "Don't make me tell you twice" scene twice because "it was felt that Dale Midkiff looked too sexy. He was sleeping shirtless."
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Mary Lambert "dragged the crew all over Maine" to find various geographic difficulties to include in the trek to the old Indian burial ground.
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The Micmac burial ground in the film was constructed upon an actual mountain top. According to director Mary Lambert, bulldozers were brought in to build the stone mounds.
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Fred Gwynne said he put his character on like, "a pair of overalls."
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During the opening credits, there are several children's voices reciting epitaphs for deceased pets. One of these voices belongs to Jonathan Brandis, who starred as the young Bill Denbrough in another of Stephen King's most popular works, It (1990).
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The only two songs in the credits are by The Ramones.
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During the film, the character Jud played by Fred Gwynne mentions that he had a pet named "Spot." "Spot" was also the name of the pet dragon on Gwynne's TV show The Munsters (1964).
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They shot the film in Maine because it was in Stephen King's contract that production would take place there. Mary Lambert says it worked out beautifully though as the landscape has "iconographic quality and archetypal resonance."
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The cat's glowing eyes were done in-camera. Cats, as it turns out, have a retina that reflects light. Not a lot of animals have this [attribute], but cats do. The film crew put a light directly above the camera lens, so when they were shooting with the cats, it would reflect into the camera.
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Ellie is psychic in the novel, but Mary Lambert's not convinced she was able to convey that in the film.
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One of the hardest elements for the production design team was the path to the cemetery as it was described as, "shining in the moonlight."
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The scene where Pascow first visits Louis in the night was originally shot with star Dale Midkiff clad only in jockey shorts (as Louis is described in the novel). However, the scene was later reshot with Midkiff wearing full pajamas. The filmmakers were concerned that Midkiff's attractive physical appearance would diminish the eerieness of the scene.
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Other filming locations included an abandoned granite quarry on Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park, where the burial ground was constructed, a forest near Ellsworth for the pet sematary, and Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor for the graveyard scenes.
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Mary Lambert spoke about the creepy painting "Paintings like that are a big part of early American portraiture because there was such high mortality among infants. They didn't have photography back then, so a lot of people had portraits painted of their children after they died so they could remember them, since so many died before the age of 2 or 3. Those paintings are so frightening to me.
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On November 2, 2020, Mary Lambert confirmed through twitter that the DVD's and Blurays do not include the deleted scenes as extra because they are lost.
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One of the things that draws Mary Lambert to horror is the genre's opportunity to make up your own rules as a filmmaker. "You can create a world that exists with its own set of rules. You can ignore physics, but the only thing you have to do is then adhere to those rules." She says Pet Sematary does a great job establishing and following its own rules.
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The house used for the Creeds' home is a private residence near Hancock.
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Tom Savini turned down the chance to direct the film.
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Stephen King had a cameo on ABC's miniseries The Shining (1997) as Gage Creed, the conductor of the Gage Creed band that plays at the Overlook.
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Many fans mistake Church's breed as a Russian Blue when he is in fact a British Shorthair.
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A set was built for the house's interiors as the rooms inside old New England-style houses are too small to film in comfortably.
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When Mrs. Creed hitches a ride with the trucker, after she has car problems, the trucks number is 666.
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The opening title sequence with credits over images of handmade headstones in a pet cemetery came straight from Stephen King's script.
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Some people, probably producers or studio executives, suggested cutting the funeral scene for fear it would inject too much reality into the horror film.
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Steve Masterson is portrayed by Indian actor Kavi Raz. Possibly a nod to the novel's minor character Surrendra Hardu, a coworker of Louis, who is not featured in the film.
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Director Mary Lambert spoke about the costume worn by Gage, "That was painted especially for the movie. Marlene Stewart, my costume designer, designed the costume we were going to put Gage in at the end of the movie. We had the artist paint the child in that costume. Earlier, in flashback, you'll notice that Zelda [Rachel's late sister, who died as a toddler] is in that costume too. It's creepy because it's the painting of a dead child dressed up as an adult in fancy clothing that reflects reality. I was trying to plant [the connection between Gage and Zelda] subliminally in the movie."
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The character Jud is played by actor Fred Gwynne who graduated from Harvard University in 1951. In the remake Jud is played by actor John Lithgow who graduated magna cumme laude from Harvard University in 1967.
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The Creeds' car is a 1988 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser.
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Louis says to Jud regarding Church's condition, "I'm not a vet", coincidentally in the sequel, Pet Sematary II (1992), Chase Matthews (Anthony Edwards) is a veterinarian.
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"The soil of a man's heart is stonier, Louis. A man grows what he can, and he tends it." He is basically believing that a man's heart is harder to penetrate with love and emotion but also how tough his heart is. He believes that he is the keeper of many secrets such as Church, his night time stroll with Pascow and the deal his father in law made to him. However, in many instances he takes glee and pleasure from these secrets.
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Missy's car is a 1975 Honda Civic Wagon [WB].
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When the husband (Louis Creed, played by Dale Midkiff) is lying in bed reading, the book is by E. Nesbit, a well-known turn-of-the-century author of fantasy books about ordinary children (English ones) who encounter supernatural creatures. (For instance, THE FIVE CHILDREN AND IT.) Some of her books are very creepy, but not as creepy as this movie.
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When Victor Pascow is being carried into the clinic after being hit by a truck, a rabies poster with a picture of Cujo can be seen on the bulletin board by the stairs.
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The story was inspired by actual events experienced by Stephen King that occurred while he was living in Orington, Maine with his family. King recalled that while living there, his daughter's cat was killed on the highway. Much of Ellie Creed's emotional outburst was taken directly from King's own grief-stricken daughter. King also remembered that once, his youngest son had nearly run into the road while a truck was speeding down it, much like Gage does in the film. The character of Judd Crandall was based on the elderly neighbor that lived across the road from King. Also, there was an actual pet cemetery in the woods behind the King house, which became the basis for the one in the novel.
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The idea for this story came about when Stephen King's daughter's cat, Smuckey, was killed on the highway outside their home. Smuckey's name appears on gravestones in the pet cemetery, in both the film and the novel.
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The picture at Rachel's parents' house is a painting of Zelda as a child, before her spinal meningitis. Gage is later seen wearing a similar outfit (as well as having her red hair) to signify that Zelda has come back through him, which was Rachel's deepest fear.
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Judd Crandall's house for the film was actually a facade built upon a smaller preexisting house. For the finale, where the house is burned, an asbestos shield was constructed between the two houses so that while burning the facade no damage would occur to the smaller house it was built upon.
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When Church is killed for the second time at the climax, the needle is rigged to look as if it is sticking into him, but it is not. The cat was sedated by a veterinarian. A representative of American Humane was present and the cat made a full recovery.
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(at around 1h 16 mins) When Rachel gets off the semi, the numbers "666" are on it.
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Mary Lambert sees Victor Pascow as "the good angel and Jud as "the bad angel," she says, as the friendly old man is the one Louis should be ignoring. His wardrobe, especially the large hooded jacket he's wearing when Church is found dead, is meant to suggest the darkness.
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The character of Missy is actually the blending of two characters into one. In the book Missy does not commit suicide. The only characters to die prior to Gage's death are Pascow and Norma Crandall, Jud's wife.
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The portrait of Zelda as a child also features a gray cat at the child's feet, an obvious foreshadowing.
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The discussion as to how to present the zombie Gage onscreen touched at one point on the possibility of using a little person. Instead, they wisely settled on a combination of the real Miko Hughes and a puppet. Anytime there was blood, that was a puppet, because the film crew didn't want to traumatize Miko.
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For the scene when Louis discovers Jud's body, a sculpture of Fred Gwynne's head was used rather than the actor himself. This is why the shot of Jud's body is so brief.
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In the novel Rachel passed a sign for Salem's Lot, showing the two are connected.
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At 59:09, as the house goes up in flames, Timmy Baterman shouts "love dead, hate living". This is line originally from The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), as spoken by Boris Karloff as the Monster. Timmy repeats the line a minute or so later.
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Body Count: 6
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Gage's hand lurching from the grave is a homage to the end of Carrie (1976).
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In the book, there are several callbacks to Stephen King's The Shining, some of which carry over into the film. Victor Pascow calls Louis "Doc" (which was Danny Torrance's nickname), and throughout the film it's shown that the Creed family suffer from nightmarish visions and premonitions, implying that they all have the shining ability. (The Shining is a metaphysical mechanic that Stephen King has utilized in many of his books written subsequently to that one, as part of a shared literary universe.)
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The storyline revolves on the omen of being hit by the fast trucks on the road. Stephen King would himself suffer a similar accident in 1999, when he was struck by a minivan while walking on the shoulder of Route 5, in Lovell, Maine.
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According to Mary Lambert, the scalpel handled by the undead Gage wasn't sharp.
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(At around 47 mins) The factory from which the truck that hits Gage is leaving, is the International Paper Factory (formerly Champion Paper Factory) in Bucksport, Maine.
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When Church is found dead alongside the highway, a fake cat was used.
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Both the cat (Church) and dog (Spot) are made to appear bloody at times. Harmless make-up was used to look like blood.
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The truck that runs over and kills Gage was a Peterbilt 378.
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The dead rat dropped into the bathtub was fake.
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