Welcome to the seven key locations of Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch’s Pet Sematary – a masterclass in ominous set design and foreboding fine detail that marks their Stephen King adaptation out as the horror to watch in 2019
The Pet Sematary
- As in Stephen King’s novel, in this movie the pet cemetery has a sign made, and misspelled, by a child long ago, marking its entrance.
- Inside are concentric circles of approximately 80 child-made gravestones that get progressively older and more weatherworn as they curl inward.
- In an eerie but beautiful detail, this movie’s pet cemetery location features an array of personal headstones dedicated to the beloved lost childhood pets of the movie’s cast and crew, alongside those headstones featured in the novel.
- “We wanted to give it that personal touch, to make it feel like a part of all of us,” says director Dennis Widmeyer. “The Devil is in the detail, right?”
- In tribute, Smucky (the King family cat) has her own headstone in the new movie.
The Creed House
- Like many of Stephen King’s other novels, like Carrie, It and Salem’s Lot, Pet Sematary takes place in Maine. For the filmmakers, it was crucial to find a location that not just looked but felt like Maine.
- “That was very important to us,” says producer Mark Vahradian. “With the Creed House we wanted something you’d see in Maine – a certain architecture.”
- Into this house will move Louis and Rachel Creed (Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz), their two kids Ellie (played by Jete Laurence) and Gage (played by real-life twins Hugo and Lucas Lavoie) and Ellie’s cat, Church (played by no less than six increasingly fearsome felines).
- And, as an incredible and unsettling bonus, the location the filmmakers found was a farm in Montreal – one that came with its own pet cemetery out the back.
The Crandall House
- “We happened to find Jud’s house just down the street. Literally 500 yards [from the Creed House],” says Vahradian. “It’s a really unusual situation, because most of our shoot is here, on this [twin] location.”
- Just as in the novel, Jud – here played by the legendary John Lithgow – has lived in this house all his life, for many years with his now-deceased, loving wife, Norma.
- Inside its weatherworn white panels are dusty pieces of Norma’s china and piles of old magazines. Outside is a porch, perfect for chatting on.
- Of Lithgow’s scenes on the porch with Jason Clarke’s Louis Creed, he says theirs is a father-son dynamic that’s like an emotional chess game.
- “When we were looking at locations for the houses, we also knew we needed something with a road out front,” says Vahradian. “Because the story goes there…”
- The horrifying inspiration for Pet Sematary hit Stephen King in 1979, when his daughter Naomi’s pet cat, Smucky, was run over on the road in front of their rented house.
- Soon after, King had to rescue his two-year-old son, Owen, from a similar fate, grabbing him just five seconds before he was hit by a tanker on the same road. Little wonder the finished novel scared him so much.
- Owen is now 41, and an author – like his father, mother, sister and older brother, Joe Hill.
- When scouting locations for their Pet Sematary, the crew looked everywhere from New Zealand to Atlanta, Louisiana, Connecticut, Toronto and Vancouver. But none of them had the right kind of trees.
- The all-important Creed House in the novel and movie has dense woods behind it. Venture into those and you’ll come to the Pet Sematary hidden within.
- “We wanted this sense that the woods were encroaching in on the house, pressing in on it,” says Vahradian. “One of the big, heavy themes [of the movie] is nature. People coming from the city into the country, wanting to live that idyllic life – which is a dream a lot of people have – but not necessarily understanding the power of nature. The danger of nature.”
- In the trailer we see both the woods and that theme in play, as sinister masked children venture down the path and into the foliage, heading to the cemetery lurking within, and maybe even the dark power beyond it.
- For producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, what happens when the Deadfall is crossed made him realise that Widmyer and Kolsch were his perfect directors. “The Deadfall is the start of a really creepy and mentally challenging sequence. I felt they’d be a tremendous asset,” he says.
- The movie that made him feel that way was Starry Eyes, Widmyer and Kolsch’s savage evisceration of Hollywood greed and ruthlessness. “It is ironic,” says Kolsch, “that it was that movie that got us in meetings!”
- In King’s novel and in this adaptation, the Deadfall is the boundary that, once crossed, means things can never be the same again.
- “Once you go past it,” says di Bonaventura, “things get really weird and creepy. What I loved about Starry Eyes was that Dennis and Kevin really embraced that surreal quality of horror.”
The Burial Ground
- For Widmyer and Kolsch – who are both die-hard Stephen King fans – the journey to the burial ground in his novel is the single greatest chapter the author has ever written.
- “Our pitch was, ‘We’ve got to make that whole thing a set-piece in our movie,’” says Widmyer. “It’s going to be a big standout in the film.”
- The Burial Ground is accessed via a hidden staircase hewn into the mountain rock, leading up to a plateau above the trees. To access the staircase, one must pass through the habitat of the terrifying Wendigo.
- The Wendigo is an ancient demon whose hunting grounds over thousands of years has often been woods and forests. It has reportedly been responsible for many massacres and loses of human life.