Stephen King’s horror tragedy Pet Sematary has a new movie adaptation from directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, but the story has some major changes from the original novel and Mary Lambert’s 1989 film adaptation. While the first half of the movie mostly sticks to plot beats from the book, things take a sharp right turn into new territory after a horrifying death at the movie’s midpoint.
Pet Sematary stars Jason Clark as Louis Creed, a doctor who moves his family from Boston to rural Maine, buying a house with property that extends into the woods behind it. Those woods include a pet cemetery maintained by the children of the town, who have an unnerving ritual of wearing animal masks and walking in procession to the cemetery when one of their pets dies.
Related: Read Screen Rant’s Review of Pet Sematary
Together with his wife, Rachel (Amy Seimetz), their two children, Ellie (Jeté Laurence) and Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie), and the family cat, Church, Louis tries to relax into his new life. However, when Church is hit by a truck and Louis’ neighbor, Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), takes him to a strange burial ground beyond the pet cemetery, it marks the downfall of the Creed family. Here’s how the 2019 take on Pet Sematary differs from King’s novel and Lambert’s film.
- This Page: Changes to Jud Crandall’s Role in Pet Sematary
- Page 2: Changes to Zelda’s Death, Church’s Return, and Which Child Dies
- Page 3: Changes to the Ending of Pet Sematary
In the 2019 adaptation of Pet Sematary, Jud says that he felt compelled to take Louis up to the burial ground to bring Church back because he felt sorry for Ellie, and also because the dark power of the place compelled him to share its secret. While these reasons are also present in the book, there was originally another major reason why Jud helped Louis with his dead cat problem: as a way to repay him for saving his wife. In King’s novel, Norma Crandall is still alive and suffers a heart attack that she survives thanks to Louis’ quick actions. Later, Jud blames himself for starting the chain of events that led to Gage’s death, lamenting, “You saved Norma’s life, and I wanted to do something for you, and that place turned my good wish to its own evil purpose.” Norma dies later in the novel, but (most likely for the purposes of trimming down the story), she’s already dead at the start of both the movie adaptations.
There’s one major change to Jud Crandall’s backstory in Kölsch and Widmyer’s book that casts his later actions in a much more unfavorable light. After Church comes back to life, filthy and mean, Louis demands to know more about the burial ground. Jud reveals that it has been used many times over the years, and that when he was a boy he took his own dog up there after it died from an infected barbed wire wound. Jud explains that his dog came back bad, and that his father was forced to kill it again after it attacked Jud’s mother.
In the book, ud’s decision to take Louis up to the burial ground makes more sense, because the dog that Jud brought back to life as a boy didn’t turn violent. That’s not to say that it came back exactly the same; Jud admits that the dog was never the same after its resurrection and behaved stupid and slow, without the same spark of life as before. However, the dog never attacked anyone and lived on for years after its resurrection, before eventually dying of old age. Jud also reveals that many other people have buried their pets there over the years, and that only one – a bull called Hanratty, who is referenced in newspaper clippings in the movie – ever turned mean. In Lambert’s film, the dog comes back snapping, growling, and “not quite the same,” but still lives a full life before eventually dying peacefully in the night.
Page 2: Changes to Zelda’s Death, Church’s Return, and Which Child Dies
Rachel Creed’s traumatic experience with her sister, Zelda (Alyssa Levine), is a core part of Pet Sematary‘s story, but the 2019 movie makes Zelda’s death more violent than in the book or Lambert’s movie. Zelda suffered from spinal meningitis, which twisted her body, caused her great pain, and prevented her from getting out of bed, and Rachel explains that the great suffering the illness inflicted upon her ended up poisoning her mind too, making her bitter and resentful. Young Rachel was frequently left at home alone to look after her sister, and was secretly disgusted by her and wished for her death. In the original story, Zelda one day goes into convulsions and starts choking while Rachel is alone in the house, and then dies.
However, in the new movie Zelda dies in a much more bizarre manner. Rachel explains that she used a dumb waiter to send food up to Zelda’s room, even though she wasn’t supposed to use it because it didn’t always work. After she sends the food up she hears a scraping noise overhead as Zelda drags herself over to the dumb waiter, and then there’s a crashing noise. Rachel opens the dumb waiter to find that the elevator and its tray of food has fallen down. Then suddenly Zelda herself comes crashing down on top of it, her body gruesomely twisted to fit into the small space. It certainly adds an extra horror element, but it raises questions of how a girl who was bedridden with advanced spinal meningitis could have dragged herself across the room, and both how and why she then climbed into the dumb waiter and fell.
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One detail from the two previous versions of Pet Sematary that’s left out of the 2019 movie is Church the cat’s testicles. When the family first move to the new house, Church is not neutered and has a bold and feisty personality. Louis privately has an aversion to getting Church neutered because he hates the idea of the cat turning lazy and mellow. However, due to the close proximity of the dangerous road, he ultimately takes Church to the vet to have the operation in the hopes that it will prevent the cat from wandering to his death. Obviously this doesn’t work, but the personality change that Church undergoes after having his testicles removed is foreshadowing for the more dramatic change that happens after he’s brought back from the dead.
Ellie’s death results from another significant change from the novel: Louis’ treatment of Church. In both the book and the 1989, Louis kills Church towards the end of the story with a lethal injection, putting the cat to sleep for book. However, in the new movie Louis attempts to put Church down early on, but cannot bring himself to do it. Instead he drives Church out to the middle of nowhere and abandons him. Church finds his way home, and when Ellie sees him walking down the road she runs out to greet him. The story changes radically from there, and by the end of the movie Church is still alive.
Now we come to the biggest change in the new adaptation of Pet Sematary: which of the Creed children dies. In both King’s novel and Lambert’s movie, it’s poor little Gage. Gage takes off running towards the road while his parents are distracted, and although Louis gives chase and comes very close to catching him, he isn’t able to stop his son from running into the path of an Orinco truck. In the new movie Gage does run towards the road and comes very close to being hit by the truck, but Louis grabs him and pulls him back just in time. However, Ellie isn’t so lucky. The Orinco truck swerves to avoid Louis and Gage, but its cargo comes loose and carries on down the road towards Ellie, killing her instantly.
Page 3: Changes to the Ending of Pet Sematary
From Ellie’s death onwards, the ending of Pet Sematary changes drastically. One element that remains the same is Rachel taking her surviving child to her parents’ house, and Louis staying behind with plans to resurrect the remaining child. Rachel also returns in all three versions of the story, but it’s only in the 2019 Pet Sematary that she brings the surviving child back with her. In both the book and the 1989 movie, Ellie stays behind at her grandparents’ house. Another plot point that’s more or less the same is the resurrected child killing Jud with Louis’ scalpel, and the 2019 movie even includes a detail that was missing from Lambert’s film: Gage (or in this case, Ellie) impersonating Norma Crandall in order to taunt Jud before killing him. That’s where the similarities end.
In King and Lambert’s versions, Louis is the last person to see his returned child again. The resurrected Gage first goes to Jud’s house and kills the old man. Rachel, upon returning, goes to Jud’s house instead of going straight home and is lured upstairs by the sound of groaning. There she has a terrible vision of her dead sister, Zelda, but then the vision goes away and she sees her returned son standing in front of her. Rachel is overjoyed and immediately hugs little Gage… giving him the perfect opportunity to stab her to death with the scalpel.
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Louis, upon waking up and upon seeing small muddy footprints and discovering that his scalpel is missing, realizes that Gage must have taken it and that his son has come back bad. He makes the decision to put both Church and Gage to rest again with a lethal injection and, as mentioned earlier, successfully kills Church. He finds Rachel’s dead body and is attacked by Gage, and after a struggle succeeds in injecting Gage with the contents of the needle. An utterly distraught Louis watches his son die a second time, but convinces himself that he can bring Rachel back because her death is more recent than Gage’s was. He takes Rachel up to the burial ground, buries her, then waits for her to come home. The book and movie end with Rachel returning to her husband, with the implication that she then kills him.
In Pet Sematary 2019, Ellie comes home to Louis before killing anyone. He gives her a bath and fresh clothes and puts her to bed, and they have a talk in which Ellie makes it clear that she knows she died and was brought back. Louis is unnerved by her strange behavior and disturbed when he finds the staples in the back of her head while washing her, but convinces himself that it’s worth it to have his daughter back. The next day, Ellie goes over to Jud’s house and kills him. Rachel returns, and instead of being overjoyed to see her daughter again, is horrified by her and knows instinctively that whatever came back is not really Ellie.
Louis goes over to Jud’s house and finds his dead body. Meanwhile, Rachel runs upstairs with Gage and barricades herself in her room. When Ellie manages to get through the door, Rachel lowers Gage out of the window and drops him into Louis’ arms. While Louis takes Gage to the car and locks him in, telling him not to open the door for anyone except himself, Ellie kills Rachel. She knocks Louis out and drags her mother up to the burial ground.
After waking up, Louis runs to the pet sematary, where he is attacked by Ellie. The two of them fight and Louis is close to killing Ellie when suddenly he’s impaled from behind by the resurrected Rachel. Louis himself is then taken up to the burial ground and resurrected, the movie ends with the three undead members of the Creed family slowly approaching the car where Gage is waiting. Louis tells Gage to unlock the car door, which he does, and then the credits roll.
More: Pet Sematary 2019 Resurrections & Ending Explained