‘Pet Sematary’: Stephen King on the Real-Life Inspiration for His Acclaimed Horror Story
Pet Sematary is one of Stephen King‘s most beloved horror tales, and it almost never came to be. Because of a combination of “too close to home” story elements and some rather prickly contract negotiations, in an alternate universe, Pet Sematary could still be locked up in one of King’s desk drawers at this point. Instead, the 1983 novel was adapted as a TV movie in 1989 and is due to arrive on the big screen this April through Paramount Pictures.
In a chat with EW, King talked about the hype surrounding Pet Sematary, both the original novel and its surprising road to publication, and the upcoming adaptation. The candid chat doesn’t delve into spoiler territory too much, but if you haven’t experienced the story so far and want to see the film as cold as possible, it might be best to avoid the following snippets.
There is some truth to the tale of Pet Sematary, as befits the best fiction writing:
We moved to this little town called Orrington, because I got a job as writer in residence at the University of Maine. We rented this nice house on the river, and a pet cemetery was in back of it. There was a path that went up there that kids kept mowed. They didn’t wear any of those funny masks — you know, with the hooked noses and stuff. [Laughs] But it was there, and it was really a nice place … My daughter’s cat died. And we buried it in the pet cemetery. That was Smucky. She made a little cross that said “Smucky — he was obedient.” And I mean, he was a cat. [Laughs] He wasn’t f—ing obedient! But she loved that cat… That night, after we buried it, we heard her out in the garage. She was jumping up and down on those popper things that they wrap fragile stuff in. She was shouting, “God can’t have my cat. That cat is my cat!… Let him have his own cat.” And I put all that in the book, and yeah, we were in the field, and there really was a busy road there [when Owen wandered too close]. Everything in the book up to the point of the supernatural stuff is true.
Turns out that old Jud Crandall had roots in reality, too:
There was a guy right across the road, and he was the one. The kids were away somewhere, and he was the one who came over, and said, “You got a problem here with your daughter’s cat.” And we went over, and we looked at Smucky, who was on the side of the road. And he hadn’t been splattered or anything, he looked okay. He just was… dead.
And though the story obviously veers into the supernatural from there, King believes it’s more meaningful than a simple scarefest:
It does have a meaning. I mean, that line “Sometimes dead is better,” that’s not about suicide or anything liked that. It’s about anybody who’s ever had to deal with a lingering illness or a relative that won’t let go. Sometimes the desire to live is just a biological thing, and it’s better when it’s over. Everybody — everybody’s dealt with that, you know? You deal with your parents, your grandparents, and at some point, you just have to let go, that’s all … That’s the other thing about Pet Sematary. When I read it over, I thought, “There’s such grief in this book.” Just awful.
King also goes into detail about the publishing deal for Pet Semataryand all the drama that came with it, a must-read for any King fan and wannabe writer out there. The better news for King fans is that, in his own words, he’s in a seller’s market. His current adaptation deals are either expiring soon or already in production to see the light of day, so the hunger for more stories on more platforms means more King to come in the near future.
For more on Pet Sematary, be sure to get caught up with these recent write-ups:
From Starry Eyes filmmakers Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, directing from a screenplay by Jeff Buhler (Nightflyers), Pet Sematary stars Jason Clarke,John Lithgow, Amy Seimetz, Jeté Laurence and Hugo & Lucas Lavoie. Pet Sematarywill scare up theaters starting on April 5th.