During Ellie's birthday party, Jud can be heard in the background saying, "There was a big Saint Bernard. He got rabies...". This is an obvious reference to Cujo (1983), another movie based on a Stephen King novel.
Referring to the original adaptation Pet Sematary (1989), Stephen King has stated that of all his novels, this is the only one that genuinely scared him.
Animal trainer Melissa Millett revealed that a total of five cats, all rescues, were cast to play Church, although ultimately one of them dropped out after getting scared on the set. The feline actors were accommodated in five trailers, along with their human trainers, although one had to be kept in a separate trailer from the others because it did not get along with its castmates. Millett noted, "The only good working cat is a happy cat...They were quite spoiled." The film crew even built an area near the trailers, nicknamed a "catio," where the hard-working kitties could play and relax between takes. The cats spent two months in training for the shoot, which took around 10 weeks. Aside from the one cranky cat, the rest reportedly got along well with each other and with the movie's human stars, including Jason Clarke and John Lithgow. The quintet of feline stars all found homes after the shoot was done: two were adopted by the movie's animal coordinator, Millett found homes for another two with friends, and kept one herself.
Multiple versions of the ending were written and a couple of them were shot. One of them was the original ending from the book, and when they showed both endings to test audiences, the new one got the best response, according to producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura. "A lot of times with endings, you kind of just let the audience tell you what they're feeling. We got to screen both of them to people and it just seemed like audiences really responded to that one."
In both endings, Louis Creed is served with the terrible consequences of his desperation to keep his family together at all costs, says Kölsch: "It was a different sequence of events that was also dark that was arriving at the same, or somewhat similar conclusion of the arc. It was just about finding the one we thought worked better to serve the theme." "We call it wrapping it up in a black ribbon," said Widmyer. "It is wrapped up, but not how you think it's going to be." "There are so many movies, even horror movies, that end in happy endings [where] somebody beats the bad guy," said Widmyer. "Films like 'Hereditary' or 'Rosemary's Baby' have these dark endings -- 'Rosemary's Baby' is a good example because it's a dark ending, but she's kind of happy that she has her kid. You get to leave the theater not exactly sure how you feel, which is always more interesting to me. Whenever you're able to do that, it's a victory for the genre."
Stephen King proposed an alternate ending, where Gage is walking up the middle of the road, dawn is approaching, and a truck is heard coming, "and think, 'Oh my God, he's gonna get greased in the road. That's how this is gonna end!'" King said. Then at the last second, this woman pulls him out of the road and rescues him, and says, 'Where's your mommy and daddy?' "And that's how you end the thing. But that isn't what they show." he stated.
In the 1989 version, Ellie Creed was played by twin girls, and in this, it's Gage who is played by twins, Lucas and Hugo Lavoie. In the original, filmmakers also wanted Gage to be played by twins, but director Mary Lambert lobbied for Miko Hughes.
Another detail absent from the new film in the interest of keeping its plot streamlined was the bad blood between Rachel's parents and Louis. "There's a small remnant of it where you can see the father-in-law give [Louis] the dirtiest look at the funeral, and that's a tip of the hat to the subject matter," said Di Bonaventura. "That's one thing I would have loved to put in the movie, but we didn't really have room for it."
Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer told Polygon they were concerned about how to approach depicting Zelda. "We were a little worried about [the character]," Widmyer said. "There was ideas of possibly not doing Zelda because we were so in awe of the actor from the first movie." Rather than backing away from the challenge, Kölsch and Widmyer took a different angle, one they felt better represented her depiction in the novel. "That whole idea of taunting the sister with your own sickness because you hate yourself, and you hate your sister because she's healthy and you're not," Widmyer said. "This is a very grounded, sad story, even if you strip out the supernatural aspects."
Producer Di Bonaventura notes that Kölsch and Widmyer gave King an early heads-up on the big twist. "We wanted to see if he had any objections, and he was more than cool with it," said the producer. "In some ways it's true to the book because in the book the conversations about death are with Ellie. In that respect we're following the book. We call it wrapping it up in a black ribbon," said co-director Widmyer. "It is wrapped up, but not how you think it's going to be."
The filmmakers had three ideas for endings that were ranked by 'darkness', and they chose the darkest one for the theatrical release. They never intended for Pet Sematary to have a happy ending, and screenwriter Jeff Buhler said it gave the film an extra punch. "It felt right to have an ending that had a little punch to it and was kind of a wink. Like, 'We're in a horror movie people, it's Friday night, you're out with your friends, have some fun."
At one point a sign is shown that reads, "D. Torrance Realty." a reference to Danny Torrance from King's other novel "The Shining", which was also adapted to film; The Shining (1980).
In the novel, when Louis considers bringing Gage back by burying him in the burial ground, Jud tells Louis the gruesome story of Timmy Bateman, the last person who was resurrected by the burial ground. However, the story of Timmy was not included in the film. In the film while Louis is doing research on the burial ground after Church is resurrected he comes across an article about a Vietnam Veteran who is spotted after his funeral. His name is Timmy Bateman.
The film also does not specify the illness that befell Rachel's late sister. "It's Rachel's memory, but we never say what she has," said Widmyer.
"It's not only about modern sensitivities, but we thought it was interesting if this is one of those places where something supernatural happens that can't be explained," said Kölsch. "You think of all these places, like the Mystery Spot, Stonehenge and Easter Island -- it's the way we think about a lot of stories or religions, that these are people's ways of explaining phenomena." "Or coping." added Widmyer.
According to Kevin Kölsch, "Ellie is the one who has the self-awareness to know what is happening to her and she has the vocabulary to ask questions about it."
For the five cat's makeup, egg whites and Cherry Knoll chalk block was used to make their fur look matted, then leaves, pieces of dried grass, and light dirt were stuck on. To create a fake blood effect they used corn syrup mixed with organic food coloring. The cats did not appear stressed, rather they ate food and treats, drank water, and even used the litter box, while getting their makeup applied.
While the movie ends ambiguously regarding the fate of Gage, the beginning shows us the aftermath of the final scene, namely a small bloody handprint on the car window with a trail of blood leading up to the front porch.
King decided Norma Crandall, Jud's wife, wasn't vital to the story when adapting his own book for the 1989 movie because she doesn't appear at all. She shows up briefly in this version to torment Jud.
In the novel and 1989 film, the name of Jud's dog is "Spot". In this version it's "Biffer".
Before starting his new job, Louis mentions that his previous occupation was working the "Graveyard Shift", at the emergency room, a nod to the Stephen King novel and 1990 movie of the same name.
The novel stated that most animals revived just come back 'off' rather than explicitly bad, Jud explicitly states that everything he's heard of that was brought back to life came back mean and cruel, and also acknowledges that the place has the power to twist minds so that they tell themselves it might work out better this time. This is explicitly demonstrated in Church, who far from the stinking, slightly dull cat of the novel or the hissing glow-eyed feline of the 1989 film, is actively malicious. It's implied that Church lured Ellie out into the path of the truck in revenge for Louis abandoning him outside of town.
Gone is the specific reference to the Micmac tribe that King wrote into his novel as Jud's explanation of the place's origins. Widmyer and Kölsch chose a more culturally sensitive explanation. Instead, it's explained that indigenous people also encountered the grounds but fled after discovering its power.
All of the changes from the novel were driven by the desire to find a new angle on a familiar story. "When you're making an adaptation, you want to do as much new, fresh things that you can because there's already an existing movie," said Kölsch. "But at the same time, you want to make sure that you're staying true to the essence of the book so that people still feel like they're getting Stephen King's Pet Sematary."
Ellie no longer wants Church in her room because he scratched her while she was brushing him. In the book and 1989 film it's the cat's smell that causes her to banish him from her room. She does, however, comment on his bad smell right before getting scratched.
In the original, Church was a British shorthair, in this he's a brown tabby Maine Coon.
Unlike the 1989 version, Jud provides a hint at what this being is when he explains to Louis what he has learned about that secret burial ground. Jud's home is full of books about Native American lore, part of a lifetime of research about the woods. As Louis flips through one book, he sees the same warning markings that he spotted on the trees, then an illustration of a towering figure with the antlers of a deer or demon.
Louis mentions that he had to treat "four bloody noses" on his first day, a reference to the novel in which University students would flunk out of their exams with nosebleeds.
The name of the cat in the movie is Church. Named after Winston Churchill. When Ellie explains this to Jud (played by John Lithgow) he says "I know who Winston Churchill was." Lithgow played Winston Churchill in The Crown.
When Louis does research on his MacBook about reanimation incidents in Ludlow, he comes across articles about Hanratty the bull and a WWII veteran; Timmy Baterman. In this remake Baterman is updated to a Vietnam Veteran, due to being set in current era rather than the '80s, in which the book and original film were set).
It took ten minutes to apply the undead makeup per cat, to get the makeup on animal trainer Melissa Millett would get the kitties all excited. "There was a fine line you wanted to make sure the kitties were happy during makeup but still hungry enough that they wanted to work during scenes. We had to control the amount of treats we were offering, we had to ration their treats. We'd break those Temptations into the tiniest pieces possible so that we still had hungry cats. That was a real challenge."
Church is found dead on Halloween in this version. In the book and 1989 film version he is killed on Thanksgiving Day.
While five cats were used throughout the film, it was primarily Leo and Tonic who played Church in the key moments, with Tonic playing the role of a living Church and Leo taking over whenever Church was required to be undead. As trainer Melissa Millett explained to AV Club: "We did end up using Leo for almost all of the undead stuff. Tonic did some action for him, and Tonic was the family pet, because their looks went together so perfectly. We also trained cats as backups for the two main cats: Tonic was an action cat, and Jaeger was an action cat. JD excels at quiet staring, and Leo excels at quiet staring." Fellow trainer Kirk Jarrett added in the same must-read interview, "Leo is a confident sit-stay cat. His role is as the undead Church; that was his whole purpose, to be the poster child. The cat you see all across the different platforms, and in the trailer, almost any time he's in in the undead makeup--that was Leo." After filming wrapped, Jarrett adopted Leo and Millett adopted Tonic, and both trainers are had fun with their newly adopted stars by giving them their own Instagram accounts
After Louis has a nightmare about Victor's warnings, Gage appears to pretend to scare Louis in a monster pose to wake him up in the morning, a nod to Gage having become an actual monster in the original book and 1989 film.
Andy Muschietti, who directed another adaptation of Stephen King's work (It (2017)) expressed interest in directing this film.
Ludlow, the main setting of the book and movies, is also where King's novel The Dark Half takes place. Interestingly enough, both novels deal with how the main character's darker side gets those around him killed.
Louis is shown wearing a Cape Cod shirt when they first arrive at their new home, showing that they're from Boston instead of Chicago.
When speaking in a interview shortly after the films release, directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer talked about a lot of material that was cut from Pet Sematary's final cut. Amidst remarks about deleted content that fleshed out the relationships between Louis and Jud, as well as Louis and his daughter Ellie, an entire alternate ending was shot for the film; an ending that, according to Dennis Widmyer's remarks below, was pretty hard to cut: "That [alternate] ending we shot first, and then we decided, you know, to have this other ending, so the studio could test two different endings we [edited] them both and both endings [test] scored pretty equally. They're both disturbing and dark. [But] I would say that the current ending [in the final film] sends off the audience with a smile on its face, while at the same time though, [they're saying] 'That was that was messed up!' Whereas the other one, I don't think anyone would be smiling. The other one has more of a bleak, kind of sad tone to it."
According to the cat groomer Tanya, It took almost two months of training to get the five cats fully comfortable with the makeup. "We used a protocol with desensitization to really get them used to that. We started out with just doing a cat in a dry tub having catnip parties. That was a lot of fun. Then we did the cats enjoying the dry tub with lots of treats, so they got some pâté and kitty treats. Then we started doing a little bit of water each time, slowly increasing the amount of water each time just to make sure they were comfortable with that process. We did it so progressively that the cats were comfortable with the bathing and comfortable with the makeup. We knew that if we didn't acclimate the cats to the makeup, they're licking it off."
When Gage repeatedly says, "Pascow" is very similar to how Danny Torrance says "Redrum" in The Shining.
"Ever hungry, they craved human flesh, which is the only substance that could sustain them," wrote Ojibwe storyteller Basil Johnston in The Manitous. "The irony is that having eaten human flesh, the Weendigoes grew in size, so their hunger and craving remained in proportion to their size; thus they were eternally starving." Eventually, after wandering the woods of Canada and Minnesota, the ever-starving Wendigo made its way to Ludlow. Jud, Louis's neighbor, sheds some light on the history of the Wendigo and Ludlow. A lifetime resident of Ludlow, Jud knows well enough not to venture into the burial ground too often. Judging by the the archives that Louis pulls up on his computer, the burial ground's powers seem to be common knowledge in Ludlow. Residents have been using the burial ground's powers for decades as someone once brought back a bull and a dog.
In the novel, the family discovers the Pet Sematary when Jud tells them what is on the path near their new home. In the film, Rachel and Ellie discover the cemetery on their own.
When Louis follows Pascow to the deadfall barrier and Pascoe grabs his arm when he tries to cross it, this is a reference to the ending of Stephen King's Carrie (1976).
Cat's Eye (1985) is also stealth referenced during the scene where Church attempts to suffocate Gage. Cats stealing breath was a plot point in one of the segments of that film - only in that case the cat was trying to prevent it.
According to King lore, Ludlow is about an hour drive from a fictional Maine haunt: Castle Rock, the setting of quite a few works by the writer, including The Dead Zone, Cujo, The Dark Half, and Needful Things. It's also the setting of the Hulu series, Castle Rock.
The film was also released during the month of Easter, which is all about resurrection.
This is the second time composer Christopher Young, who is most known for scoring horror movies, has worked on an adaptation of a King story. The first was The Dark Half (1993).
Rachel sees blood coming from the mirror that she sees as the dumbwaiter in which she sent food up to Zelda. This is similar to a scene in The Shining (1980).
John Lithgow and Jason Clarke have both been in installments of the Planet of the Apes franchise. Lithgow in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and Clarke in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014).
Principal photography commenced on June 18, 2018, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Filming wrapped on August 11, 2018.
On October 30, 2017, it was announced that Paramount Pictures had officially greenlit the film which was expected to be directed by Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch from a screenplay by Jeff Buhler and David Kajganich (the latter went uncredited). Producers were slated to include Di Bonaventura, Schneider, and Mark Vahradian.
On April 16, 2018, it was announced that Jason Clarke had been cast in the lead role of Louis Creed. On May 4, 2018, it was reported John Lithgow had joined the cast in the role of Jud Crandall. In June 2018, it was announced that Amy Seimetz had been cast in the lead female role as Rachel Creed, that Jeté Laurence had been cast as the Creed's daughter Ellie, and that twins Hugo and Lucas Lavoie had been cast as Creed's son Gage. In October 2018, it was reported that Obssa Ahmed had been cast as college student Victor Pascow and Alyssa Brooke Levine was cast to play Zelda Goldman. Zelda was previously portrayed by stuntman Andrew Hubatsek in the 1989 film.
This is the first Pet Sematary movie to be shot digitally and in the widescreen 2.39:1 "scope" aspect ratio, unlike its original, which was shot on 35mm film, and in the taller 1.85:1 ratio.
The Zelda flashback sequence includes a near-subliminal flash-frame of Andrew Hubatsek's Zelda from the 1989 film - visible towards the bottom right of the screen, similar to the technique used in The Exorcist.
Released alongside Shazam! and The Best of Enemies, and is projected to gross $25-30 million in its opening weekend.