pet sematary ground

The Passage of Time

King’s novel spans almost an entire year, and he takes us through the seasons – spring, summer, fall, winter. Lambert’s film has a few tricks to show these transitions – Ellie takes down a Halloween decoration to put up a Thanksgiving decoration – but the story doesn’t unfold over the same length of time as King’s book.

As for the 2019 film, it seems as if everything happens in the span of a month or two, which is one of the (few) complaints I have. I wish the film spent a little more time showing us…well, time.

pet sematary remake directors interview

The Death of Church

“Hey, when is the zombie stuff gonna start?!” you might be wondering right about now. After the Pascow experience – which Louis chalks up as a dream – the really supernatural shit hits the fan when Church is killed on that damn highway. In all three incarnations, Church is struck and killed, be it by a car or truck, we’re never really sure. And in all three versions, Jud is the one who first finds the dead cat, and then comes up with a plan for what to do with it.

King’s book, and Lambert’s film, has this event unfold over the course of Thanksgiving weekend. Louis is alone in the house, while Rachel and the kids have gone back to Chicago to be with Rachel’s parents (more on that later). King wants it so that Louis’ following actions can remain unnoticed by his family.

It’s in this scenario that 2019’s Pet Sematary makes its first major change. Instead of shuffling Rachel and the kids out of town when Church dies, Kölsch and Widmyer keep everyone at home. Louis still keeps Church’s death a secret at first, but later tells Rachel.


The Micmac Burial Ground and the Wendigo

After Church dies, all three takes on the tale have Jud bringing Louis beyond the pet sematary, and beyond the deadfall, deep into the woods. They eventually climb a set of stone steps, and find a Native American burial ground. King’s book, and the ’89 film, has Jud declare that the burial ground belonged to “Micmac Indians.” The 2019 doesn’t mention the tribal name.

Of course, this is no normal burial ground. It has the power to raise the dead – although Jud doesn’t tell Louis that. In the book, a part of Louis knows this entire excursion is crazy, but a part of him feels great doing it, almost as if he’s being drugged, or hypnotized. Lambert’s movie doesn’t touch on this at all, but Kölsch and Widmyer have a moment where Louis comments on how good he feels as the scene unfolds. This is one of the key elements that is strangely absent from Lambert’s movie, even though King himself wrote the script. The land itself – the burial ground, and beyond – has a kind of supernatural power that can force things to happen. King mentions it time and time again, and the 2019 film represents it by making it seem as if the Creed house itself is haunted.

King also adds a sort of big-bad controlling it all: the Wendigo, an evil spirit that can turn humans into cannibals. The Wendigo is suspiciously absent from the ’89 flick, but it does get name-dropped in 2019 – and pops-up as a drawing in a book.

Church Rises

Church rises from the dead, and strolls back home. But he’s no longer the chill kitty he was before his untimely demise. He’s weird, creepy, and maybe even a little evil. Stephen King adds that the cat is a bit stupid, and sluggish now – stumbling about without grace. In the book, and the first movie adaptation, only Louis and Jud are aware of Church’s undead state. Louis convinces himself Church was only stunned by the car, and buried alive. In the back of his head, though, he knows the truth.

Since the new Sematary keeps Rachel at home during this sequence, she, too, is aware of Church’s return. This results in one of the funniest moments in the film. Still thinking Church is buried in the woods, Rachel and Louis attempt to tell Ellie that the cat ran away. But Ellis cheerfully tells them Church is here – and he is, hiding in the closet like a creep. “Good thing you’re not a fucking vet,” Rachel says out of the side of her mouth to Louis.

jud's dog

Jud’s Dog

After Church returns, Louis marches over to Jud for some answers. The book and the original movie has Jud relay a story from his youth, when he buried his dog Spot in the Micmac Burial Ground. The book adds a ton of detail to the story – how Jud found out about the burial ground, how he got there, and so on. When Spot returns from the dead, he’s no longer the dog Jud remembers. He’s not mean, and he doesn’t attack anyone. He’s just kind of lifeless, like a piece of meat. Eventually, Spot dies of old age…which I suppose suggests the resurrected dogs (and people) in this story aren’t immortal. Imagine that – coming back from the dead, and then dying of old age? Bummer.

The ’89 movie cuts down most of this story, but does show us a brief flashback. Here, the Spot that returns a vicious, snarling monster flecked with gore. Once again, though, Jud stresses that Spot eventually died again of natural causes.

You’ve no doubt noticed a pattern here, in that the new movie keeps changing things up. Even the story of Jud’s dog doesn’t go unaltered. For one thing, the dog’s name is changed – to Biffer. Biffer is the name of another dog in King’s book, mentioned in passing on one of the tombstones in the Pet Sematary. I’m not 100% sure why the new movie felt the need to change the dog’s name from Spot to Biffer. Perhaps they thought Spot was too generic of a name. In any case, the 2019 movie doesn’t give us a flashback, instead relying entirely on John Lithgow‘s acting prowess to let the story unfold (it works).

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