Why PET SEMATARY’S Church Is the Best Cat In Horror

This post contains spoilers for Pet Sematary

Cats are, in a way, the arbiters of evil. It’s in their glowing eyes, that know too much. It’s in their graceful movements, their ghostlike ability to be there one second and gone the next. They see things we don’t. They know things we don’t. They’re sly and terrifying – and they’re perfect horror movie characters.

“They’re fascinating because they don’t give a shit about you,” says Amy Seimetz, who plays Rachel Creed in Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s Pet Sematary, the new adaptation of Stephen King’s famous 1983 novel. “They seem like they’re up to something all the time, and when they leave the room, you’re like, “What did you do all day?” It’s almost like a lover that’s cheating on you.”

That’s certainly true of Church, the mangy feline at the (un-beating) heart of the new film. The family cat turned malicious evil-doer after he’s killed on the road and reanimated by the titular burial ground, he’s been a huge part of the film’s marketing, and for good reason: He’s a scene stealer through and through, arguably the best – and certainly the most notable – cat to appear in a modern horror film.

This is Church’s second time on the big screen; he was also brought to life in Mary Lambert’s 1989 film, where he was played by a British shorthair. That cat is a horror icon in his own right, but the new version gives Church even more room to shine. He’s an integral part of the film’s plot, and the root cause of its most devastating inversion. He’s also got a different look this time, one that adheres to vintage King.

“We looked at the original hardcover, and that amazing artwork, and we said, ‘Well, the movie takes place in Maine, it looks like a Maine coon on the cover, so let’s do that,'” Widmyer told me about the decision to change the breed for his and Kölsch’s film. He’s referring to the book’s first-edition cover art by artist Linda Fennimore, which indeed looks like a Maine coon. The film is also set in King’s native Maine, so the breed works as a double reference to the horror legend.

And while cats are often a misunderstood species – and unfairly maligned in pop culture – feline fans needn’t worry; Widmyer and Kölsch are both big-time cat people, and each own several of their own furry friends. That love bleeds into the film, when even at his meanest and hissiest, Church still oozes charisma (among other things).

That solid representation is largely thanks to the film’s animal trainers, Melissa Millett and Kirk Jarrett, who trained five different rescue cats for the role, although it was two standouts – named Leo and Tonic – who did most of the work. The cats were so special to the trainers, they adopted them after filming wrapped. They even have their own Instagram accounts!

Tonic also made a big splash on social media this week when he showed up to the film’s premiere at the Brooklyn Horror Fest in a tie.

It’s a big year for cat lovers – Captain Marvel‘s Goose stole his own movie just last month – and we’re absolutely here for it. It’s about time more creators delved into the mystic layers of these strange, unknowable creatures. They may be hard to train, but it’s worth it for what they bring to the screen. In Church’s case, it’s a layer of intrigue, menace, and plain old evil cuteness – the epitome of any good cat.

Images: Paramount Pictures

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