In 1989, Stephen King’s Pet Sematary shocked audiences with its depiction of supernatural terror in small-town Maine. Now, thirty years later, the original classic has been remastered in 4K Ultra HD with HDR lighting for maximum picture quality. The timeless classic has been given a fresh coat of paint, and just in time for the high-profile remake, which leverages the success of It and Castle Rock in an effort to continue the current Stephen King renaissance.
Screen Rant had the opportunity to speak with Mary Lambert, director of the 1989 film, regarding the new Blu-ray transfer, and the filmmaker shared her insights into the making of the movie, from casting then-toddler Miko Hughes in the film’s most pivotal role (spoiler alert), to exploring the subtle dynamic between Pascow and Judd, played by Brad Greenquist and the legendary Fred Gwynne, respectively.
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Lambert also shares her thoughts on the long-awaited remake, giving her stamp of approval to the project. Finally, the director dishes on Pet Sematary Two, a film which was sadly dismissed upon its original release back in 1992, but has since gained a passionate cult following and is considered by many to be equal to, if extremely different from, its predecessor.
Let’s talk about this Pet Sematary 30th anniversary 4K Ultra HD remaster! I was watching the Blu-ray last night, and it looks amazing. Can you tell me a little about how this project got off the ground and some of the work that went into making this new version?
Mary Lambert: First of all, I’m a huge fan of archiving things on 35 millimeter film. Film, if properly exposed and properly processed and everything, I think it’s the safest way to archive, because it keeps the original image, it doesn’t have to be reinterpreted by new technology every ten years. It’s just there. That negative was solid. It was a beautiful negative. I worked with Danielle Cantwell and Matt McFarland, and we went back to the negative and we scanned it into 4K Ultra HD with High Dynamic Range, and I just couldn’t believe the way it just leapt onto the screen. I couldn’t believe the range that we had to go back in to adjust and tweak and make things perfect. That was truly fun for me. I’m also a painter, and it was such a great experience.
Did you make any overt changes to the film for this anniversary edition?
Mary Lambert: One thing we were able to do was to go back into the scenes that had effects. At the time, they were all optical film effects. I can’t even tell you how difficult it is certain kinds of opticals on film, because you make a guess at what they’re going to look like, and then they take it back to the lab and they shoot it on a multipass stand, and then they composite it and then later, you see what your best guess was. If you don’t like it, you have to go through the whole process again. With digital effects, you can treat them like they’re in front of your face. We were able to go back into the effects and, not change them, because that would have been… But we were able to enhance them in a way I think looks really good.
Did you ever consider going in, like George Lucas on Star Wars, and completely redoing some of those effects?
Mary Lambert: No, but even at the time, I would have liked to do some more extensive work on the effects. There was more work planned, actually. To be honest, after the first few previews, it was previewing so well that Paramount just said, “we don’t think we need to work on the effects anymore; it’s working!” But I always felt like the VFX could have been better. If I could change anything in the movie, it would be some of the visual effects. They actually are better now.
Absolutely, but not totally reinvented. Got it. So, for me and my friends, when we were little little kids in the early to mid 1990s, Pet Sematary was one of the absolute scariest movies we could watch. It’s got this unsettling aura to begin with, but it’s not really violent until the very end. There’s some gore with Pascow’s wounds early on, but they’re almost sanitary because it’s in the hospital, right? But then, by the end, it just goes nuts when Gage is biting Fred Gwynne’s frikkin’ face off! It’s just horrifying!
Mary Lambert: (laughs)
It’s so many notches beyond what we’ve been prepared for by that point. It’s such a shock. Was it a challenge to hold back on the gore like that until the very last act? It’s so atypical for a horror movie, especially in 1989.
Mary Lambert: Actually, it was kind of refreshing to be able to do that. I think, a lot of people didn’t completely understand how we were going to make the baby, Gage, horrific. How was it going to be frightening to have the major villain be a baby boy? When I walked into the project, the understanding at Paramount was that we were going to probably have a dwarf actor or a puppet to play Gage when he’s resurrected. The feeling was that he would be so destroyed by being run over by a truck, he would be so squashed, that the character would have to be all sewn up in a horrible way and look like he had been run over by a truck. We thought we could never get a small child to sit in a makeup chair and do the prosthetic work that would be necessary. But I didn’t think it would be scary to have a dwarf of a puppet. I thought it would just draw attention to the fact that we had switched actors. Those kinds of prosthetics, when you see too much of them, aren’t very scary. They’re grotesque, like how Pascow wasn’t grotesque, but he wasn’t terrifying. I really wanted the end to be terrifying.
Then it must have been a miracle when you came across Miko Hughes!
Mary Lambert: I spent a lot of time casting Gage. I had to really convince the producers that it was okay to hire a single child and not twins. I just fell in love with Miko and I knew, I don’t know how I knew, but I just knew that he was going to deliver a terrifying performance. He wasn’t just gonna be a baby who walks around on camera; he was going to participate as an actor. And you know what? He truly did. I think that’s why the ending is so scary, because you know it’s a real baby and you know he’s doing these terrible things. The horror of that, of something you love so much, when Rachel Creed, played by Denise Crosby, when she opens the door, first she sees Zelda, and then Zelda turns into Gage, and her heart just melts with love for her baby, but he’s not her baby. He’s a monster. There’s a lot of that in Pet Sematary. The thing you think is the good angel, or the thing to cherish, turns out not to be.
You point out on the commentary track that Judd, who appears good, is actually the harbinger of the bad events of the movie, and Pascow, who appears bad, is trying to save them from doom.
Mary Lambert: I always thought Pascow was the good angel, and Fred Gwynne, Judd Crandall, was the bad angel. But Louis saw it the other way around; he was afraid of Pascow because he was ghoulish in appearance and came back from the dead to speak to Louis, so he immediately assumes that’s a bad thing. But Pascow is actually giving him good advice, and the sweet, kindly old man next door who tells him story about the neighborhood and drinks beer with him in the evenings, you think, that’s the good angel, but no, Fred Gwynne is the one who leads him on the path to the Pet Sematary and to his ultimate destruction. I really like that motif. What you see is not always the truth.
That’s so great. Until I listened to the commentary track, I really hadn’t thought of Judd in that light before. But it’s almost like he wants to see how things play out with this family and this supernatural force.
Mary Lambert: Well, it happened to him. I think, sometimes, people go to that place of, “I had to go through it, so he has to go through it. I did it and I suffered, so if he does it…” Sometimes, especially as people get older, they can have a vindictive attitude in that way.
I want to ask you about Pet Sematary Two, which I think is an awesome movie.
Mary Lambert: (laughs) Thank you! We should have gotten a little more attention, I really liked it, too.
It just blows up everything from this first movie and takes it to a whole other place. The first movie was written by Stephen King, and part two is much more of an original idea. Could you talk a little bit about being attached to the sequel and how things played out differently than the original?
Mary Lambert: First of all, it’s not really a sequel. It’s another story about the Pet Sematary, basically. I’ve always wanted to do a real sequel about Ellie, since she’s the one who lives, and she’s the one who should have come back. At the time, there was a feeling, which is changing, that a woman, especially a young girl, couldn’t carry a whole movie. There was a lot of resistance. In my whole career, there’s been a lot of resistance. I always want to have strong female protagonists, and I’ve tried to sell a number of films with women as protagonists or villainous protagonists. People are interested, but the people who finance them ultimately go, “we won’t be able to get a big enough star,” and “a woman can’t carry a movie like this,” so it was decided to do a new story about the Pet Sematary.
That’s terrible, but then you obviously got a spark of inspiration with this new direction, not to mention a completely fresh cast of characters.
Mary Lambert: But then, I got really into this new idea, because I felt it could be extremely irreverent and it would be more about dark humor. What is worse that having your mother remarry a dickhead who’s the sheriff of the town who makes your life miserable? Well, what could be worse is you bury him in the Pet Sematary and he comes back as a crazy zombie. When you’re a teenager, you always think things can’t get any worse. You go down that path, and guess what? Things can get worse. I also really really love teenagers. Most of my work tends to be about them or for them. I think arrested development is slightly an issue for me, personally, so I got the idea of making this movie from their point of view. Pet 1 is Louis Creed’s point of view. It’s about his interior life, the things that happened because of the inner monologue he has with himself. Pet 2 is really about seeing the whole thing from a teenage boy’s point of view. As we all know, teenage boys do not have the best judgment in the whole world. That part of their brain is still developing, so that’s the way I approached it once we settled on the basic plot and story. Then it was just a matter of finding great actors to do it!
Edward Furlong, Clancy Brown, they’re both great!
Mary Lambert: They were a dream cast. Clancy Brown as the dickhead sheriff who comes back as a zombie, he was so brilliant. Clancy was such a great villain, and he’s such a good actor. He has so much physical grace. Those scenes where he’s chasing Eddie and his friend in the different action scenes, I think they’re terrifying because you don’t want him to catch you, you know he’s gonna whoop ass! He’s so graceful and so good at what he does. He’s so technically proficient as an actor. I’ve loved him since he starred in Highlander.
Oh yeah, he was great in that, too!
Mary Lambert: But, he also scared those little boys! He was like, we were getting ready to shoot, especially that scene where he’s chasing him through the house, Eddie would look back at him, and Clancy would say, “I’m gonna get you. You’d better run.” And, boy, Eddie took off, man! Eddie Furlong is a doll to work with, too, and Anthony Edwards. Anthony is such an incredible actor. It was great to watch Furlong working with those two actors who were stretching his technique and his abilities and not just doing a horror movie, but really acting with Anthony and Clancy.
So, Pet Sematary 2019, the remake, have you seen it?
Mary Lambert: I had the opportunity, the privilege of seeing it, and it’s really good, you’ve gotta go see it! It’s very similar in some ways to the first one, but it’s also very different. There’s several things in it, several places where the filmmakers, Kevin and Dennis, do something that I’m like, “Wow, I wish I had thought of that!” One thing they do is they give more agency to Ellie in moving the plot forward. In the novel, she’s the force behind Louis’ decision to bring Church back to life. She’s the one who galvanizes him.
She made him promise.
Mary Lambert: Yeah, she made him promise!
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Pet Sematary: 30th Anniversary Edition is out on 4K Blu-ray now, and the Pet Sematary remake hits theaters on April 5.