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SYFY WIRE Pet Sematary

Stephen King reacts to that big Pet Sematary plot change

By Matthew Jackson
Pet Sematary 2019 John Lithgow

The new adaptation of Stephen King's Pet Sematary is in theaters just one week from now, but even though the film hasn't been released yet fans are already arguing about its major deviation from the classic novel. Now, King himself has weighed in on the change.

Pet Sematary is the story of a family that moves into a new home near two things: A road frequented by dangerous trucks and a pet cemetery established by local children to bury all the pets killed by said trucks. When Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) and his neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) bury the family cat in a burial ground near the cemetery, Louis discovers the ground has the frightening ability to resurrect things, but at a terrible cost. Then, when one of his children is also claimed by the deadly road, Louis decides that cost might be worth it.

Of course, as anyone who's read King's novel or seen Mary Lambert's 1989 film adaptation knows, the child killed in the road and resurrected as a monstrous creature is Gage, the Creeds' young son who's still a toddler at the time of his death. The second trailer for Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer's new adaptation revealed that their film is taking a different path, killing and reanimating the Creeds' older daughter Ellie (played by Jete Laurence in this version) instead. 

It's a major deviation, even if it doesn't change the film's thematic and emotional arcs. The filmmakers themselves have explained the change as something that allows them to do more active horror work with an older, more physically capable child, as well as something that allows them to get a little bit darker. Star Jason Clarke has even mentioned in interviews that King didn't seem to mind the plot change. 

Now King himself has actually weighed in. In a new interview with Entertainment Weekly, the horror master had nothing but praise for the film, and called the decision to kill Ellie instead of Gage a simple matter of taking a different route to get to the same destination.

"It’s something different. They did a good job," King said. "Boy, I saw all the stuff that came online when people realized that it was Ellie rather than Gage that got run over in the road, and I’m thinking like, 'Man, these people…' It’s so nuts. You can take Route 301 and go to Tampa, or you could take Route 17 and go to Tampa. But both times, you’re gonna come out at Tampa! [Laughs] You know what I’m saying? It didn’t change anything for me. I thought, 'Okay, I understand why they did it, because it’s maybe easier to work with a zombie when she’s a little girl, [rather] than a toddler.'”

The battle between source material and film adaptation is always going to exist, particularly in online spaces where fans who cling to their beloved books are always going to find some detail that they see as crucial. For King, who's been seeing film adaptation of his own work for more than 40 years now, the approach to such things has become very simple.

"I’m really kind of mercenary about all this," he said. "My idea is, 'If it works, it’s golden. If it doesn’t work, you know, Jesus Christ, why did you change it?' I mean, I’ve seen changes in stuff that’s been done to my work where I just throw up my hands and I say, 'Why? Why did you do that? You had a book. You had a blueprint you could’ve gone by.'"

Pet Sematary is in theaters April 5.