This Pet Sematary article contains major spoilers.
With its debut in April, Pet Sematary becomes one of the few works by Stephen King to receive multiple adaptations. Paramount, which first adapted the brutal book in 1989, brings a new vision of terror to Maine with a remake we quite enjoyed for the most part (especially the terrifying cat).
As Constant Readers already know, Pet Sematary is just one in a web of interconnected stories that make King’s version of Maine one of the most horrible places to live. The movie pays tribute to that legacy by including many easter eggs and references to not only the original book but the 1989 movie and the larger King universe. It also features a few nods to real-life sights and events in Maine’s history.
Den of Geek has taken up the task of finding all of these easter eggs and references and collecting them in one helpful guide. This is still a work-in-progress, which means that you’re welcome to call out easter eggs and references in the movie that I might have missed. Just hit me up on Twitter or in the comments below.
Here’s what we’ve found so far!
Pet Sematary Movie and Book References
– Pet Sematary was first adapted to the big screen in 1989 by Paramount. The movie was directed by Mary Lambert, who was chosen by King himself. King also wrote the screenplay. It was a financial success despite its tepid critical reception.
– At that point, King had only adapted two of his other stories to the big screen: Cycle of the Werewolf, which became Silver Bullet, and “Trucks,” which became Maximum Overdrive. The latter was directed by the writer and is infamously terrible.
– Lambert went on to direct a sequel, Pet Sematary Two, in 1992. It stars a young Edward Furlong just a year his star-making turn in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Unfortunately, the movie didn’t do so hot. King even had his name removed from the film before its release.
– Fun fact: the film rights to Pet Sematary were originally sold to legendary horror director George A. Romero for $10,000. The director had previously collaborated with King on the excellent 1982 horror anthology film, Creepshow. Romero later had to pull out of Pet Sematary in order to work on 1988 horror movie, Monkey Shines.
The director did one more King film, 1992’s The Dark Half, which is coincidentally also set in Ludlow, Maine. Spooky.
– King made a cameo in the 1989 movie as the minister presiding over little Gage’s funeral. We do not get a similar cameo this time around, unfortunately.
– The biggest change to the story in the 2019 movie is the fate of Ellie. In the book and the 1989 movie, it’s little Gage who gets hit by the Orinco truck and is later resurrected by Louis. Gage then goes on a murder spree, killing Rachel and Jud.
In the movie, it’s Ellie who gets hit by the truck and is buried in the pet sematary. She comes back and kills Jud and Rachel, and after resurrecting her mother, gets Louis to join her happy undead family. At the end of the movie, only poor Gage remains, locked in the family car but not for long…
– The movie plays with your expectations at different points in the story. For example, we totally expect undead Ellie to slash through Jud’s Achilles tendon from under the bed at the Crandall house as Gage did in the 1989 movie, but that’s a fake out. Jud kicks the bed to the side to reveal that no one’s hiding under the bed. The audience has barely breathed a sigh of relief before Ellie strikes from below the stairs, sending Jud flying down the staircase with a swift stroke of her father’s scalpel.
– In one scene, Louis plans to kill undead Church with a lethal injection but then backs down. This is actually how Louis sent Gage back to the grave in the book and the 1989 movie. Louis never really has the chance to do the same with Ellie in 2019.
– Louis’ fate is left unclear in the book, which ends with his wife returning from the dead and putting a cold hand on his shoulder while he plays solitaire. You assume things went south from there, even as Louis theorized that burying Rachel in the ancient cemetery faster than he did Gage would mean that she’d come back normal and not as a bloodthirsty psychopath.
The 1989 movie makes it much more clear that Rachel returned to murder her husband, as she grabs a knife while a relieved Louis hugs her. Then we hear Louis scream.
– Rachel DEFINITELY kills Louis in the 2019 movie and Ellie is still around to see it. In the other versions, Gage is already dead at that point.
– King must have 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 2019 to torment John Lithgow.
– Cat trivia time! The Pet Sematary remake’s very creepy Church the Cat is a Maine Coon. Directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer told us at a screening of the movie in early April that they wanted to use a Maine Coon because it resembled the cat on the book’s original cover by Linda Fennimore. It’s a very good choice because Fennimore’s cover is absolutely the greatest:
Angry ass cats aside, EW wrote a great piece about how Fennimore came up with this cover. According to the interview, Fennimore couldn’t find any references for snarling cats in the New York Public Library (no Google back in the ’80s), so she used pictures of lions and tigers to create the iconic image of Church shrieking.
– Interestingly enough, the Lambert movie made Church a gray British Shorthair. You can decide which breed is creepier.
– Last cat fact: Church was played by five different cats in the 2019 movie. One of them is named Tonic and I met him. He is a handsome boy who, according to his trainer Melissa Millett, is very “food motivated.” I’m shocked. SHOCKED.
– I lied: another small furry actor responsible for bringing Church to the big screen is named Leo. I did not meet him and I’m pretty heartbroken about it.
– While Church is found dead on Halloween in 2019, he’s actually killed on Thanksgiving Day in the book.
– In the movie, Ellie no longer wants Church in her room because he scratched her while she was brushing him, but in the book, it’s the cat’s smell that makes the little girl banish him from her room. Death apparently smells bad.
– Ellie informs Jud that the name “Church” is actually short for Winston Churchill. If you don’t know who that is, go sit in a corner and think about your choices.
– While we don’t get a Timmy Baterman flashback in this movie, there are hints of him while Louis is researching the history of the pet sematary. He finds a newspaper clip about a Vietnam veteran disappearing from his grave. In the book, Timmy was a World War II veteran who was buried in the sematary and returned to terrorize the town. He was eventually re-killed by his father, who then shot himself in the head. No, nothing good happens in this book.
Larger Stephen King Universe
– 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.
– 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 enjoyable Hulu series, Castle Rock.
– There’s a sign for Derry, Maine on the road to Ludlow. Derry, of course, is the setting of one of King’s most famous novels, It. It’s also the setting of Insomnia, Bag of Bones, Dreamcatcher, and 11/22/63. The town has also been referenced in plenty of other King novels and stories.
– Co-director Kevin Kolsch told Slash Film that the movie almost featured a big reference to The Shining. At some point, audiences would’ve been treated to a sign that read, “D. Torrance Realty.” Yes, Danny Torrance was almost a real estate agent in the Pet Sematary universe. I can only assume the Creeds would’ve bought their house from this Torrance-owned realty. Either way, the directors chose not to include this easter egg in the movie.
You’ll find out what Danny has actually been up to since his terrifying stay at the Overlook Hotel in November’s Doctor Sleep, the big-screen adaptation of King’s book.
– Ludlow is a real town in Maine, about two hours north of King’s hometown of Bangor.
– Pet Sematary is actually based on true events King experienced in 1978 in Orrington, Maine. According to the writer in his introduction to the book, his daughter Naomi’s cat, Smucky, was hit on a busy road opposite the house King was renting while teaching at the University of Maine in Orono. His son Owen almost fell victim to that dangerous road, as well.
King wrote Pet Sematary as a “what if?” scenario to these experiences. What if Owen had been hit by a truck? What would King do to get his son back? Thus, the dark novel was born, although the manuscript sat in a drawer for years because King thought the book was too dark — even for him.
– What happened to poor little Smucky after he was hit? He was buried in the REAL-LIFE pet cemetery by King’s house in Orrington! According to King, the neighborhood kids had created it as a resting place for all of the pets that died on that awful road. As far as we know, Smucky is still resting in peace…
– Correct me if I’m wrong but the cemetery the Creeds pass on their way to their new home, and where Ellie is later buried, is actually real-life Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor, Maine. If so, this cemetery also appeared in the 1989 movie.
This cemetery has actually been an inspiration for King throughout the years. He used to go on walks through this cemetery while breaking stories and also used the names on the tombstones to name his own characters. You know, totally normal behavior.
– The Orinco truck that hits Ellie is actually based on a Cianbro truck, according to King. Cianbro is a construction company based in Maine.