Behind The Scenes Saturday: Pet Sematary (1989)

Welcome back to Behind The Scenes Saturday! I wanted to discuss the original Pet Sematary film this week because I recently saw the remake, which I loved! It didn’t steal my heart quite like the original film did, but I thought it was beautifully made and creepy as hell! I highly recommend it!

(Trivia provided by IMDb.com)

(GRAPHIC PICTURES BELOW AND SPOILER ALERT!!)

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  • The role of Louis Creed almost went to Bruce Campbell.
  • Being a big fan of The Ramones, Stephen King referenced a few of their songs in the Pet Sematary novel. The Ramones ended up performing a song called Pet Sematary. As we all know, that song is played during the film’s end credits.
  • Brad Greenquist (Victor Pascow) stated in an interview that when he was in his horrid makeup, no one wanted to sit next to him while the cast and crew had lunch. 
  • Church was actually played by seven different blue British Shorthair cats, with each one trained to perform a specific act for the camera.
  • Stephen King originally shelved his manuscript for Pet Sematary, with no intention of publishing it. His wife, Tabitha, read it and convinced him to take it to his publisher. If it wasn’t for her, we probably would’ve never read this masterpiece. Yes, I’m calling it a masterpiece.

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  • One of the ideas for this story came up when Smuckey, Stephen King’s daughter’s cat, was killed on the highway outside of their home. You can actually see Smuckey’s name on one of the gravestones in both the film. His name is also mentioned in the novel.
  • For the Micmac burial ground, bulldozers had to be brought in to build the stone mounds. The burial ground was constructed on an actual mountain top.
  • When Louis (Dale Midkiff) had to kill Church, the needle he was using was rigged to look like he was sticking it into the cat. In reality, the cat was sedated by a veterinarian with a representative of American Humane present. They were able to shoot the scene with no problems and the cat made a full recovery.
  • For younger characters, twins are usually cast to play them as a more cost-effective option. For Ellie Creed, twins Beau and Blaze Berdahl were cast, and executives also wanted twins for the role of Gage. However, director Mary Lambert was very impressed with 3-year-old  Miko Hughes and made the decision to cast him instead.
  • During the opening shots of the pet cemetery, we hear children reciting epitaphs for their deceased pets. One of the voices we hear belonged to the late Johnathan Brandis. A lot of horror fans know Brandis as Bill Denbrough in It (1990).

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  • Mary Lambert saw Victor Pascow and Jud (Fred Gwynne) as polar opposites. She saw Victor as the good angel and Jud as the bad angel. Jud is the friendly old man who Louis SHOULD be ignoring and Victor is the terrifying ghost that is actually trying to help Louis.
  • For a scene where Ellie had to cry, Mary Lambert suggested to one of the Berdahl twins that she should think about something in her life that was really sad. When Berdahl couldn’t think of anything, Lambert instead offered her more money to cry.
  • Before filming, Lambert and King searched all summer for the perfect house with a tree in front of it. They found the perfect tree in a field and had it dug up and replanted at the house they were filming. It was the tree that Ellie swings on in the beginning of the film.
  • During filming of Louis’ nightmare with Pascow, Louis was actually sleeping shirtless. The filmmakers thought that Dale Midkiff looked too sexy, so they decided to reshoot the scene with him fully clothed.
  • It was actually in King’s contract that Pet Sematary had to be filmed in Maine. Lambert said that the landscape had “iconographic quality and archetypal resonance”. So, in the end, everything worked out beautifully.

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  • For the role of Rachel’s dying sister, Zelda, Mary Lambert didn’t believe that an actual 13-year-old girl could frighten audiences the way that was required of Zelda. She ended up casting a man, Andrew Hubatsek, for the role.
  • There are many elements in the novel that were derived from King’s real life. Many of Ellie Creed’s emotional outbursts came from King’s own daughter after her cat, Smuckey, was killed. His youngest son was also nearly hit by a truck on the road, much like Gage in the film. Jud Crandall was also based on an elderly man who lived across the street from King. There was even a real pet cemetery in the woods behind King’s house!
  • For the scene where Louis discovers Jud’s body, the shot of his body is so brief because a sculpture of Fred Gwynne’s head was used instead of the actor himself.
  • According to Mary Lambert, one of the hardest things to accomplish was getting one of the cats to eat the pork chop for Church’s second death scene.
  • It’s said that “horror movies deal with the taboos that society doesn’t want discussed in a polite way”, with death being the chief topic among them. Death is obviously at the core of the story. One of the prime examples is when Rachel Creed (Denise Crosby) tries to avoid the topic in front of her children. Also, Louis is not able to deal with death so he decides to resurrect Gage instead of letting Gage rest. The film’s main quote, “Sometimes dead is better” brings a very valid point, especially in this case.

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