It’s nearly impossible to walk out of Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s Pet Sematary without feeling gut-punched by that brutal ending. Fans of the book will no-doubt feel accosted by some of the adaptation’s major changes, but none is so ruthless as the final note, which sees the majority of the Creed family – father Louis, mother Rachel, and daughter Ellie – as resurrected, demonic versions of their former selves. In fact, it’s a near complete inverse from the book and 1989 film, when Gage is the source of evil. In this film, he is the only survivor, trapped in the family car as his undead parents and sister approach, coming for him next.
The ending is one of the film’s many grand departures from Stephen King’s novel, but the one we see in the film wasn’t the original scripted ending. In fact, when I sat down with Kölsch and Widmyer after the film’s premiere at the SXSW film festival, they referred to it as the “alternate ending,” or the one that was filmed just in case. Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura went further, explaining to me the gist of the scripted finale. In the original version, Lou Creed isn’t killed by his wife and daughter, but returns to the house after Rachel’s death, where he sits at the kitchen table holding Gage. Then, the undead versions of Ellie, Rachel, and Church the cat enter to join Lou, as the camera slowly pans away, a macabre portrait of the family’s new identity.
That ending is more in step with the book, which ends with Lou burying Rachel in the cemetery after Gage kills her, and her resurrected form returning to the house in the final moments. But Kölsch, Widmyer, di Bonaventura, and screenwriter Jeff Buhler all agreed that it was a little too morbid for the story they were telling, which needed to end with more of a visceral thrill.
“I think it really came down to is – is there a way to have our cake and eat it too?” Widmyer explained. “To have a movie that ends where people are having a fun time with it, and they don’t leave the theater with like a, ‘Woof, Jesus Christ’?”
But the original scripted ending and the one that’s actually in the film weren’t the only iterations. According to Buhler, they actually had many different versions that they toyed with. The one that made it to the film came out of a roundtable discussion with a bunch of people who worked on the film and had seen an early cut. Someone else pitched the idea of Gage in the car, with his undead family coming for him, and Buhler latched onto it. “I went off and crafted it, and we had a couple different endings ready to go,” Buhler said. “We screened some of them, and this one… Once we put it up on screen, we were like, ‘That’s the way to go.'”
“Once you saw the film and you saw what a ride you were going on, emotionally and visually, you needed to top it,” added di Bonaventura, who called the ending that made it to screen the “darkest” of the many conceived possibilities.
Fans anxious to see the original ending needn’t worry, as Widmyer and di Bonaventura both strongly suggested it will make it to the Blu-ray. In fact, Widmyer even imagines it could even be worked into an alternate cut of the film. The good news is that all parties seemed just as proud of both endings, and just as happy to have both of them see the light.
“We got to have a bleak ending, but we also got to have fun doing it, and still tell the movie we’re telling,” Widmyer said. “The other ending is a sadder ending, but they’re both messed up. It’s cool to have them both, they’re both exciting. We weren’t like, ‘We want this one and not that one!’ We love them both. That’s a good place to be in.”
Images: Paramount Pictures