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Pet Sematary filmmakers aim for ‘grounded’ and ‘psychologically horrific’ remake of Stephen King story

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Mar 16, 2021, 9:36 PM EDT (Updated)

The gloves may be off when it comes to the impending remake of Stephen King's novel Pet Sematary.

That's the vibe we're getting from screenwriter Jeff Buhler (The Midnight Meat Train), who has adapted King's tale — long considered one of his darkest and most frightening, not to mention tragic — for incoming directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch (Starry Eyes).

The 1989 film version of the story — about a doctor who discovers a burial ground with the power to raise the dead behind his house in rural Maine — has always garnered mixed reviews from fans: while faithful in many ways to the book (King penned the script), a pulpy approach by director Mary Lambert and a cast that is flat-out bad in spots lessened the impact of King's chilling rumination on death and what lies beyond.

In a new interview with Dread Central, Buhler says that he and the directors are interested in taking Pet Sematary back to the tone of King's novel:

“Dennis and Kevin and I really connected around the idea of bringing the story back to the source material, to find a modern telling of the book that really spoke to some of the big scenes and big moments that Stephen King had originally much as all of us are huge fans of the original film, there are moments that are larger than life and feel borderline campy. Our desire was to tell a really grounded, character driven and psychologically horrific version of Pet Sematary, which in my belief, is the scariest book that King ever wrote.”

Buhler adds that the reputation of the book — that it was the story King himself did not want to publish because he thought it was too horrific — makes it a challenging project to bring to the screen:

"I always remember hearing that it was the one book King chucked in the garbage, because it was too scary and dark, and it was his wife and his friend Peter Straub who were like, ‘You have to publish this.’ Now, as a father of a five year old and a nine year old, I really connected to this story of grief and loss and what it could do to a family in a different way, in that, how far would a parent go to return to their life prior to a tragic event? All of that feels so poignant and universal. It’s our desire to really reconnect to those elements of the story and bring them into a world that speaks to the modern horror audience.”

Buhler (who has also written a reboot of The Grudge and is showrunner for the upcoming George R.R. Martin series Nightflyers) does not delve into how much of King's story will be faithfully transferred to the screen, but does say, "If you love the book, you’ll love this movie...I think we’re on track to it make one of the scariest Stephen King adaptations ever! That’s our goal anyway.”

One thing is for certain: they've got a solid cast going into this one. Jason Clarke is a major upgrade from Dale Midkiff as Dr. Louis Creed, and while we love Fred Gwynne in the original, we also think John Lithgow will make for a splendid Jud Crandall, Louis' elderly next door neighbor who warns him that "sometimes dead is better."

We expect to hear more casting announcements soon as Pet Sematary shambles toward a June start of filming and an April 2019 release date. Do you think this could turn out as scary as Buhler promises?