Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time: How To Remake Pet Sematary

August 11, 2017 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Pet Sematary

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

A bit of horror news tucked away last week was that Andy Muschietti, the director of the upcoming IT remake, wants to remake Pet Sematary next.

He said: “We’re huge fans of Pet Sematary. If we can get our hands on that and do the Pet Sematary we want to do, that will be something. One day, maybe.

It’s Paramount that currently owns the original, and possibly the remake rights. If IT is successful (and I can’t imagine why it won’t be, financially), then the studio would likely be chomping at the bit to let Muschietti get his hands on the property and do something with it. As many have pointed out before, many of King’s adaptations are flawed and could use with an update that makes them truer to the book, or at least a better cinematic representation.

Not that Pet Sematary needs another adaptation, but it could stand to get a little darker.

I should say that before I continue, there are extensive SPOILERS for the book and film, as I have to go into detail on the changes and how to better represent the story on the screen.

If you’ve only seen the 80s movie, you might be wondering how much darker Pet Sematary can get. The movie is pretty close to the book, in as far as some of the lines are pulled directly from the pages, the structure is mostly the same and the events go down nearly identical to how they happen in the novel. However, there’s a lot there, tonally, that gets lost in the translation.

Take Gage’s death, for example. In the movie, they do a good job with it. Obviously there’s not a single person that wants to see the truck actually hit Gage, because none of us are sick weirdos. However, the movie glosses over the pain and the misery that the Creeds feel after his death in order to move the story along. It’s there, and you can see how hard it hits each individual member of the family, but in the book it absolutely destroys them. Ellie is more or less rendered a mute, Rachel can’t function and as Louis is making the decision to bury Gage in the Micmac burial grounds, he’s already started losing his mind.

These are things that are easier to place in writing than they are in a film, so it’s understandable why they’re glossed over somewhat in the film. The film is, more than anything else, a horror film and it’s goal is to scare. The book, meanwhile, goes the opposite direction and brushes past the scares to focus on the grief and madness. The Pet Sematary, the Micmac burial ground and the horrors that come from it are secondary to the horrors of loss.

A remake, if such a film ever came into fruition, would have to somehow balance the two in order to justify its existence, I think. It would have to really drive home the pain of loss while keeping the horror that made the film memorable. More than that, it could also add in elements of horror from the book that the film missed.

For example, if you’ve read the book you know that Gage speaks in an entirely different way. In the book he mostly retains the personality of a two-year-old, albeit one with taste for human flesh and the desire to murder people. He’s also more or less unharmed after his death, but once again, no one really wants to see a child that’s barely put together after a truck ripped him apart. That’s about the only difference I understand and agree with. You could perhaps get around that with CGI, which is probably what they’d do now, but back then you weren’t going to get two-year-old Miko Hughes to sit still in the makeup chair. And I doubt his mother would want him looking like that either.

In the novel, he’s had extensive damage because well, he’s a little kid that got struck with a semi and dragged for half a mile. It’s disgusting and it brings home the horrific nature of death. However, he also speaks with an adult’s voice. That implies that it’s not actually Gage that came back warped by the burial ground, but that something (perhaps the Wendigo or bad spirits) possessed his body.

This is driven home when Gage is killed a second time and just before he dies, he cries out in pain for his father. That’s actually something the movie did really well, as Gage cries out there too and Dale Midkiff sells the pain at watching his son die a second time.

But back to my original point, is that in the book, he talks like Gage when he does talk. He’s more intelligent than a two-year-old but he still sounds like one. In the novel, he has a high-pitched voice but he sounds like an adult and he knows things that a kid wouldn’t know. He taunts Jud with his wife’s alleged infidelity then speaks in her voice to tell him that she’s in Hell. It’s what messes Jud up enough to allow him to get tripped up by Church and killed.

I think if you went that route, and really sold it with the performances, you could pull it off. The film had a lot of trouble with evil Gage. Miko was a toddler and you don’t expect toddlers to pull off half of what he already did, let alone what Gage does in the book. While I normally am against CG in general, I think if done right it could really pull off the horror of the resurrected Gage without relying on or possibly traumatizing a kid.

I really do believe that the only way a Pet Sematary remake could work would be to make it as dark as the book as possible. It would be very hard to get that to fly from a major studio, but if IT works then maybe Muschietti would have enough clout to get it done. All it takes is one blockbuster for studios to put faith in you and one flop for them to ignore you. Unless you’re the Wachowskis, who keep getting chances even after the absurdity of Cloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending.

I know one way the remake shouldn’t happen, and that’s how it was rumored to be some time ago. That remake was meant to center on Ellie and I believe it was aiming for a PG-13. You know, to appeal to those hip kids with a monster movie instead of a film about loss and how it consumes people if they let it. Basically, I’m pretty sure they wanted a zombie movie to appeal to younger audience so they could make a buck off the name.

I mean, at least they’re not shoving seven books into 95 minutes and expecting people to like it, but it still would have been a bad idea.

The truth is, we’re never going to know what happens with a Pet Sematary remake until it becomes more than an idea and starts gaining traction. I still don’t want it to happen, because the film was great, but if they decided to take things in darker, more depression direction, then I’d be on board. And if Muschietti does a great job with IT like I’m expecting, then I say let him remake whatever he wants.

Ending Notes:

That’s it for me. Leave some comments here, on my Twitter or my Facebook.

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