Four years after 2019’s successful adaptation of the Stephen King horror classic Pet Sematary, Paramount+ takes audiences back to the cursed earth of Ludlow, Maine, with its prequel film Pet Sematary: Bloodlines. Directed and co-written by Lindsey Anderson Beer in her feature directorial debut, the prequel adapts a tale in King’s original text of a young man rising from his grave in Ludlow’s unholy ground as something more lethally sinister. It falls on a young Jud Crandall to save his hometown from the undead menace as the bloody history of Pet Sematary comes to horrifying light.
In an exclusive interview with CBR, Pet Sematary: Bloodlines filmmaker Lindsey Anderson Beer explained how she expanded the world behind the iconic Stephen King story for the prequel, discussed some of the prequel’s deeper themes, and teased what audiences can expect as Pet Sematary: Bloodlines comes to Paramount+ just in time for the Halloween season.
CBR: Let’s start out with the most important question — how was it getting to work with the legend that is Pam Grier on this movie?
Lindsey Anderson Beer: The most amazing! Take how amazing you think it is, times that by even more amazing, and you get there. She’s so funny and has the most wonderful stories. She was actually on the set of the first Pet Sematary, just visiting Mary Lambert because they were friends, so this was a long time coming for her.
You first read Pet Sematary when you were 10. How does it stand with the rest of the King canon for you?
To me, it’s the most King of the King canon. It’s so King. It’s such a mish-mash of genres. There’s so much human drama, humor, and texture to the world and the characters that makes it all the scarier once it gets to the real scares because you care and know those characters so deeply.
Pet Sematary: Bloodlines runs at a tight 87 minutes. How was it figuring out the pacing and escalation with that runtime in mind?
It was a tightrope and a constant question because I was trying to find that right balance of the tone, finding that right balance between action, drama, and some moments of levity. I kept saying that I wanted it to feel like the pace of war because it’s very much Jud’s war. The pace of war is not just action, action, action. There are moments of bonding with your fellow soldiers, moments of tense stalking, and moments of frenetic action. I built the pace thinking of it like that.
This movie is punctuated by jump scares, which are a hallmark of any Pet Sematary story. How did you want to use jump scares in this movie?
I felt like you have to use jump scares in a Pet Sematary movie, and perhaps in most horror movies, but I wanted to make sure that they were peppered throughout and not constant because I think you can get numb from any one thing, whether it’s a jump scare or a kill. [I wanted] to make sure there was enough constant dread and attention, so when those moments happen, you feel them.
I wanted to talk about the Manny character. The idea of the Mi’kmaq burial ground is something of a product of its time, and having indigenous characters like Manny gives a sort of agency and commentary that other iterations of Pet Sematary lacked.
That was a really big piece of coming on board for me. The trope of the mystical indigenous, the Wendigo, and the cursed land is, as you said, a product of its time. I felt like, if I was going to be involved with this, I could only do it if I said, “We’re subverting that mythology. Forget what you know. That was either an outright cover-up or a lie or it was superstitions that got passed down. Here’s the real story. This is an evil that’s existed since the beginning of time.”
To be able to tell that story, I thought it was incredibly important to have Native American characters who weren’t just sidekicks but who were the real heroes of the film.
The 1969 sequence is about three pages in Stephen King’s original Pet Sematary novel. How did you want to expand that into a feature film as Pet Sematary: Bloodlines?
I think it speaks to how powerful that character is. It is only a few pages, but so many people love that little portion of the book. I just kept re-reading that passage and other places of the books, and there were a few things that stood out to me to expand. One, was the characterization of Timmy, who came back from the war and knew everybody’s darkest secrets and taunted people with them. He was clearly enjoying just playing with his food in that way.
There was also this notion that he didn’t seem like a boy who was fully possessed all the time. He also came in and out of himself, which I thought was the basis for such an interesting, tragic villain who isn’t just a zombie serial killer that’s just kill, kill, kill, but somebody who is a little more tragic than that and has more vulnerability at times.
I was surprised by how much time we spend with the undead in Pet Sematary: Bloodlines. How was working with Jack Mulhern to navigate that?
We did a lot of rehearsal, and we were so on the same page about the portrayal of this villain as someone very human at its center, but rotting — not just bodily — from the evil that’s possessing him. It’s that fine line because you have to be scary, but we didn’t want it to feel one-note.
You’re working within the architecture of the 2019 Pet Sematary. How did you want to reflect that while leaving your own mark on the story?
I actually really didn’t at all! I didn’t rewatch the movies. I just kept re-reading the book and felt very free to do my own thing because it is a prequel. One of the things, when I was pitching to direct, that I talked a lot about was doing a movie that was visually different from a lot of horror movies. We’re used to seeing darker and colder palettes [and] a lot of blues, and I wanted to see hippie sunshine and Maine in all its pastoral beauty. I wanted to see all these things that we associate with happiness — and then I wanted to stab it in the fucking heart and pervert it. [laughs]
A lot of the look of that was something that we talked about from the very beginning. I talked with a few cinematographers when I was interviewing people, and Ben [Nielsen] totally got it and was on board for something that felt a little more unconventional and cinematic. I told him that one of my reference points was Apocalypse Now, in terms of the yellows and how I wanted to build up the swamp sequences, in particular. He got really excited by that, and from the very beginning, we were totally on the same page.
To build off that, the sequences in the sunflower field are some of my favorite moments in the film. There’s also a hospital bathed in white that you know is going to run red by the end. How was it juxtaposing beautiful visuals with the nightmarishly violent?
That was one of the things that I was the most excited by, and one of the things I talked to Paramount [about] from the very beginning because my vision for this is that it’s all about contrasting that beauty, naïveté, and simplicity of youth and the ’60s, and then splattering it with blood. It’s really a visual metaphor for the times. In the late ’60s, there was so much disillusionment. We’re coming out of so much innocence into a point of counter-culture and rebellion that, to me, felt like a sister decade for what we’re going through now as a country.
One of the reasons I love Pet Sematary so much is because it is so many things. It’s a comedy, a drama, [and] a horror book. It’s all those things. I loved the fact that I could bring in both. It’s not just a dark palette. And life is both. It’s the yin and yang, and that’s what makes it the most interesting and scary.
My favorite shot in the film is of Jud’s father, Dan, sitting on the front porch and silently lighting up as the man Jud will someday become. How was it working with Henry Thomas in such a calming, fatherly role for the film?
Henry is so wonderful. He’s such a naturally gifted actor, and he does have that calming, steady dad presence. Thank you for calling out that shot. I love that shot, too. He’s so good in it and doesn’t have to say a word. You just get it. I loved working with him!
Pet Sematary has always been a story about fathers, and you’ve got two fathers here, with Bill Baterman and Dan Crandall encompassing different aspects of that dynamic. How did you want to explore that theme?
That’s a very poignant way of putting it. When I first started to talk to Paramount and the producers about my version of the story, I talked a lot about these two fathers and how they represent the theme in different ways, about what you’d do for somebody you love, what would you do for your child. We’ve got Bill Baterman, who resurrects Timmy, and on the flip side, we’ve got the “heroes’ side” of Dan Crandall, who’s lying to his son, trying to push him out of town to protect him. Neither of those are particularly good choices, to lie to protect your child or resurrect your son with evil land. [laughs]
But the fathers, as far apart as they are, have that in common. That’s why I love that scene between them, when Dan goes to confront Bill and ultimately comes out of it like, “Let me help you.” Even though they’re on opposite sides of this war, there’s a commonality in terms of fathers and what would you do. I think Dan Crandall absolutely understands where [Bill] came from and why he did it.
Had you been in touch with Stephen King at all during the production, and if so, did he offer any words of wisdom?
I have not been in personal contact with him. At each critical step of the way, for instance, when we had our shooting script, we wanted to get his approval. He read it, gave us the thumbs-up, and said he really liked it, so that was a big relief. He tweeted a couple of weeks ago that he gave his thumbs-up to the film as well, and he’s very vocal when he doesn’t like things. [laughs] I’m glad that it didn’t go another way!
A common theme in Stephen King’s books, from Salem’s Lot and It to Pet Sematary, is the dissolution of Small Town America. How did you want to reflect that in Pet Sematary: Bloodlines?
I very much tried to make Ludlow its own character in this. I consider this to be a Ludlow origin story as much as it is a Jud origin story. Crafting the texture of that town was really important, and I think it’s important to see the community, how the community cares for each other, what the community knows about each other, and the impact of this curse and its burden on these people in the entire town.
Pet Sematary: Bloodlines is kicking off the Halloween season as launched on Paramount+ at the start of October. What do you hope audiences get from checking out your horror movie?
I hope they love it and that they, like [me], wanted more answers and that they get more answers that I wanted too. I hope they see that a film can be even scarier because it has time for drama and human characterization. I also hope that they take the themes to heart about the responsibility of taking care of our community and each other.
Directed and co-written by Lindsey Anderson Beer, Pet Sematary: Bloodlines is available to stream on Paramount+ on Oct. 6.
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