For every faithful Stephen King adaptation, there is an equal and opposite abomination or mostly unrelated sequel. The Pet Sematary franchise – at least as it existed before the 2019 remake – got to do both. The faithful 1989 feature is based on King’s own screenplay and actually filmed around half an hour from his home. The entirely original 1992 sequel – in which a newly widowed Anthony Edwards moves his son Edward Furlong to Ludlow, Maine and instantly comes across a mysterious cemetery – so displeased King he declined to even finish the screenplay.
Mary Lambert, however, directed both movies, and her original idea for Pet Sematary 2 should sound familiar to anyone who has seen the new remake: what if the story was about the daughter instead of the son? That…didn’t happen. Obviously. Keep reading to find out why.
1. Why Stephen King Walked Away
Pet Sematary’s was the most lucrative Stephen King film to that point. A sequel was not a matter of “if” but “how soon.” Neither King nor producer Richard Rubinstein wanted anything to do with it, opting to instead accept payouts from Paramount to walk away. So, Ralph S. Singleton, who had served as an associate producer on the first film, established a new company called Columbia Circle for the sole purpose of producing the lower-budget sequel for Paramount.
Lambert was invited to return as director, and by the time they started filming she was five months pregnant and working from a script by Richard Outten, who had just completed rewrites on Gremlins 2: The New Batch and would later serve on the writing staff for the cult classic TV series Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.
His approach: “This is a real Stand By Me-type of movie. The other movie was about the parents; it was from their point of view. This film is told much more from the kids’ point of view.”
King didn’t really see the distinction. While promoting the film, Singleton admitted he wasn’t even see sure if King had even seen the script. So, Fangoria went to the source to find out. He’s what King said:
“I read the script – or as much of it as I could stand – and I read enough to realize that it was exactly like the first Pet Sematary with different characters.”
Rather than participate in what he clearly saw as a cut-and-paste sequel, King simply washed his hands of the whole thing.
2. Mary Lambert: Let’s Make It About the Girl / Paramount: Have You Seen Terminator 2?
Lambert could have followed King’s lead. After all, to this day she remains adamant that Pet Sematary’s success comes down to being the first Stephen King adaptation to truly collaborate with the author and even leave the set open for his regular visits and consultations. Without him, why return for the sequel?
“I thought I could make a really good movie,” she told Fangoria at the time. “This one’s a little more fun. It’s just more lively. It’s funnier and scarier.”
Her original instinct was to pick up the story where they left off and explore what life would be like for poor Ellie Creed after losing her little brother, father, and mother in the span of a few days. Paramount disagreed.
According to SciFiNow, “Lambert wanted to center the story on the first film’s sole survivor, little Ellie Creed but Paramount was wary of a teenage female lead and secured a then sought-after Edward Furlong to headline instead.”
So, Outten’s script focused on entire new kid characters played by Furlong (as the new kid in town) and Jason McGuire (as the town sheriff’s stepson). That meant Paramount became the first studio to get to say “Starring Terminator 2’s Edward Furlong.” Based on the film’s eventual meager box office, that wasn’t quite the marketing hook they were hoping for.
3. From The Ramones to Traci Lords
Every Pet Sematary movie needs a catchy rock song. The first film turned to The Ramones; the sequel went with a more surprising choice: Traci Lords:
She starred in over 70 movies before she was 18. How impressive!
Every one of those movies was a porno. How scandalous!
The notorious underage pornstar has had a wide and varied career ever since, successfully transitioning into B-movie stardom and flirting with even bigger mainstream success – such as finishing second to Sharon Stone for the lead female role in Casino or coming this close to having a major role in both Blade and Blade II – on more than one occasion. Along the way, she’s authored a best-selling autobiography and even recorded an album. Her brief stint as an aspiring pop star, however, began with Pet Sematary 2.
She got her song “Love Never Dies” on the soundtrack…
…which then netted her a record deal with Radioactive Records. Three years later, her techno-leaning debut album 1000 Fires was release, though, sadly, right before the world was ready for that kind of thing.
Looking back on it now in a 2019 interview with UK Magazine The Dark Side, Lords mused:
“I had written some of the lyrics back when I was 16 and 17, still picking up the pieces, you know? It was my whole life on there. I worked with great people and am happy with the album, it was slightly ahead of the techno music breaking in America. I have to say, though, it was a one-off. I don’t have a record label, I love music – but I’m not Shirley Manson from Garbage. That is her thing – and it is not that music is not my thing, but I am an actress and not a singer.“
Can’t blame her for giving it a shot. Shirley Manson did the same thing in the opposite distraction, lest we forget her turn as an actress on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
4. The Native Americans Want Their Name Back, Thank You Very Much
Production on the sequel relocated from Maine to Georgia due to preferable weather, but the relocation meant they had to create an entirely new pet sematary, which they accomplished by filming on an endangered plants reserve as well as on a soundstage. Production designer Michelle Minch worked extra hard to ensure the circular Micmac burial ground looked more authentic this time, but the actual Micmac Native American tribe still objected. King referenced them in the book and again in the 1989 film, but they hadn’t exactly been comfortable being so closely associated with the Indian Burial Ground trope.
For the sequel, the Micmac successfully requested to have their name removed from the script. “I don’t think King meant any harm to the Micmac Indians,” Singleton told Cinefantastique. “I know we certainly didn’t.”
5. The Fake Animals Were Real Enough to Fool the Locals
While the first film brought back a zombie cat the sequel opted to bring back a dog, a more traditional choice in the “which animal is easier to train” filmmaking rulebook. Two Alaskan Huskies were trained and used in the film, but a collection of canine puppets and radio-controlled and cable-controlled heads were used for more vicious close-ups.
A local artist named Bill “Splat” Johnson was hired to create dead animal effects, but he was a little too good at his job. According to Creepshows: The Illustrated Stephen King Movie Guide, “His mutilated creatures – constructed from scratch – were so realistic that someone reported the production to the Humane Society, claiming that animals were being killed on set.”
6. Congratulations-Your Film’s a Hit! Now, Here’s Less Money and Fewer Days to Make the Sequel
In the world of exploitation filmmaking, success doesn’t always lead to more money and freedom; often, it means simply getting to continue working. Thus it was that Mary Lambert scored Stephen King’s most lucrative film adaptation to that point and returned for a sequel which was made for less money and on a much tighter schedule.
Specifically, the budget was reduced from $10.5 million to $8 million and the shoot length shortened from a little over 60 days to just 40. They ended up running 6 days long, but it left Paramount with less financial exposure when the film came out and turned into a box office dud, earning – at $17m – less than a third of the first film’s $60m total.
Where to Stream Pet Sematary 2 As of This Writing: Amazon Prime
Sources: Creepshows: The Illustrated Stephen King Movie Guide, Stephen King Films FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the King of Horror, SciFi Now: Issue 145, The Dark Side: Issue 199