By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Lindsey Anderson Beer was already well-versed in franchise filmmaking before she was tapped to direct PET SEMATARY: BLOODLINES. She had become a much-sought-after screenwriter, working on the STAR TREK and TRANSFORMERS franchises and penning a remake of BAMBI and a HELLO KITTY movie. But her first time at the helm took place on much darker property.
PET SEMATARY: BLOODLINES, premiering exclusively on Paramount+ this Friday, October 6, digs deeper into a small section of Stephen King’s SEMATARY novel in which Ludlow, Maine native Jud Crandall recounts the story of Timmy Baterman. A young soldier killed in action, he was buried by his father in the resuscitative burial grounds behind the titular graveyard, but his “homecoming” proved horrific and tragic. Expanding on this cautionary tale, BLOODLINES (scripted by Jeff Buhler, who wrote the 2019 SEMATARY film, and Beer) is set during the Vietnam War and stars Jackson White as the younger Jud, Natalie Alyn Lynd as his girlfriend Norma and Jack Mulhern as the revived Timmy, with a solid genre supporting cast including David Duchovny (THE X FILES) as Timmy’s dad Bill, Henry Thomas (DOCTOR SLEEP) and Samantha Mathis (UNDER THE DOME) as Jud’s parents Dan and Kathy and Pam Grier as Ludlow resident Marjorie Washburn. Beer also discusses PET SEMATARY: BLOODLINES in RUE MORGUE #214, now on sale.
Are you a longtime horror fan? Is this a genre that has always intrigued you?
Yeah, absolutely. I loved horror movies as a kid; it was probably my favorite genre for a lot of my life. Then there was a whole period where horror movies got really bad, but now I feel like we’re in a blessed era, a renaissance for genre content, where there’s so much more sophisticated stuff and you can really take a lot of risks. It’s a genre that I was very excited to return to.
You’ve had a lot of high-profile scripting gigs in the last few years; how did that lead to you directing PET SEMATARY: BLOODLINES?
Actually, rather directly. I had worked a bunch with Mark [Vahradian] and Lorenzo [Di Bonaventura], the producers, on the TRANSFORMERS movies, and we had a really good working relationship. Mark and I had a meeting just to catch up, and I told him I was really focusing on directing next, and he said that whatever I directed first, he wanted to be the producer. And I just thought, you know, people in Hollywood say things with the best of intentions. But maybe two or three weeks later, he texted me and said, “Would you ever be interested in PET SEMATARY?” I said, “Yes, that was my favorite Stephen King book as a kid, send me the script.” I read the Buhler script and immediately engaged with it, had about 10 million meetings with Paramount and ultimately emerged with the job.
What was it about PET SEMATARY that made it your favorite of King’s novels?
A lot of things. For me, it is the scariest, and the book is so different, to me, from the movie adaptations. There’s a really interesting contrast in having this almost absurdist premise of bringing a pet back to life be kind of a shoe in the door to this incredibly serious and dramatic piece about a man bringing his son back. It really is a meditation on loss and grief, and an interesting psychological study, but it also has this almost BIRDMAN-style absurdist humor running throughout, in the form of Louis’ inner monologue. That contrast, the specificity of the tone–I just thought it was staggeringly wonderful.
What are your thoughts on the previous film versions?
As I said, I think they’re really different from the book, but they each bring something really nice to the table. The 2019 film is very atmospheric, and it was an intriguing decision to switch to Ellie [being revived]. I certainly think that the little girl made for a more haunting poster, and also maybe subverted the expectations of people watching, who thought they knew what was going to happen, so that was a smart choice.
What changes did you make to the existing screenplay once you came on board?
I made a lot of changes! The original script did focus on Timmy Baterman, and Jeff Buhler had a really cool idea to focus on that chapter of the book. It only takes up a couple of pages, and it’s almost like a throwaway line that explains why the evil is after Jud Crandall in the present. It was a very smart way into the prequel that felt like we hadn’t seen it explored on film yet. I never want to take on something that feels like, oh, this is just a rehash of what we’ve already seen.
But in his version, Timmy and Bill Baterman were, I would say, very straight villains, and to me it was important to make Timmy a kind of sympathetic and complicated character. The…I don’t even know what to call them, they’re not exactly zombies, they’re different from zombies in other films, and that’s what I like about them. They retain some of their human elements, they retain some of their memories, and I wanted that to come through. I wanted to address the PTSD of the war, the predicament of Timmy and his father kind of being outsiders in this small town, and really the fact that Bill does what he does out of love and desperation, not because he’s a bad guy. And I wanted to show, more than anything, the effect this kind of evil has on everybody in the town. You see and feel the weight of it, whether it’s seducing parents into bringing their children back to life, or the older characters who have borne the burden of having to fight this evil the entire lives, and what that does to a community.
How did you approach making BLOODLINES your own while also honoring the movies that came before, as well as King’s book?
My goal was to be true to the pathos of the novel, and to its themes. But in terms of making it my own, I wanted to explore new relationships. The dynamics are more broadly examined between fathers and sons and parents and children, and what we do to protect the people we love–and how we hurt them unknowingly trying to do that. Stylistically, I think this movie is pretty different from the others, and I’d say there’s a little bit more dramedy in there than in the others. But all in all, we went for something a little bit scarier. PET SEMATARY is a tricky one for movie adaptation, because so much of it is a drama, and then it becomes a horror story at the end, in the book and in some of the adaptations. So I wanted to make sure this felt like a true, chilling piece from beginning to end.
And then, just adding to the mythology of PET SEMATARY. It’s such an amazing title and an amazing universe, but there were certain things that were left unexplained, like: What does the pet cemetery have to do with anything? In the book, you would think that because it’s named PET SEMATARY, that’s the place you bury your pet and it comes back to life, but it’s not. It’s kind of next door to the burial ground that brings things back to life. So I wanted to think about, why is this IP called PET SEMATARY? What’s the significance of that place? And give a little bit of depth and meaning to that.
There was some sensitivity when the previous film was made about dealing with the Native American element, and not making that the evil force, and BLOODLINES takes this idea further. Can you discuss your approach to that?
That was one of the things that drew me to the project. I met with a lot of consultants, and had conversations about depictions of Native Americans as the mystical indigenous, and what effect that’s had on that community, and how we can now use genre filmmaking to kind of undo those wrongs and tell a different narrative. That was important to me, as well as making sure that Manny was not just some side character. He’s really, in a lot of ways, the hero of the movie, he’s very much on equal footing with Jud and he has an important arc from somebody who feels like there’s nowhere for him to go to understanding, through his relationship with his sister, really, that he has to get out of Ludlow and make something of himself.
How did you find the right young actor to play Jud Crandall? Were you looking for someone who might echo the previous screen Juds, or someone completely different?
I wasn’t looking for anybody who echoed the previous Juds at all. What I was looking for was, since we only know Jud as a much older man in those incarnations, somebody who you could see that old-soul feeling in, even though he’s young. I auditioned a lot of very talented young actors; so many great people raised their hands for this, but Jackson White had a soulfulness and a knowingness to him that stood out to me.
How about all the great genre people you have in the cast?
Well, we don’t get too much screen time with all of the adult characters, so I needed people who immediately communicated a sense of gravitas–that they’re the people who’ve been there forever, in Ludlow protecting the town. And these were the people who came to mind immediately. Henry Thomas just has so much…dadness in him [laughs]. I could just see him sitting on that porch smoking a cigarette, and he was the first person we offered it to, and he accepted and I was so excited. Same with Pam Grier; she was the first person we went to, and I was honestly surprised when she said yes so quickly, because you dream of somebody in a role, and she’s such a personal hero of mine, even more so now that I know her really well; she’s the coolest lady.
I submitted it to Duchovny because I thought that based on his work in CALIFORNICATION, he could bring that emotional, fatherly quality that I was talking about, where he’s not just a villain; he’s somebody who loved his son and made a bad decision. Without reading the script, he said no because he had just done something genre [THE CRAFT: LEGACY]. Paramount and my casting director were like, “Well, do you want to move on?” and I was like, “No, actually! I want to go back to him and say, ‘Will you read the script and have a meeting with me?’” And he did read the script and we met up, and he loved the script and we had a great meeting, and he signed on.
I think it was my casting director who suggested Samantha Mathis, and I was looking for somebody who could say what she was saying without saying it, you know? It was more about what she didn’t say than what she said. She has such a physical way of acting, and we had a great chat; I didn’t exactly audition her for the role, we just had a great talk about what Kathy really means to Jud and to the script, and her importance to the story, and we really aligned on that.
I have to say that when we first see Henry Thomas as Dan, he looked to me like he had been styled after Stephen King himself. Was that intentional?
Yes [laughs]! A little bit of a nod there, for sure.
You shot in the Montreal area; did you go back to the locations of the previous movie?
We did, yeah, and some others. We didn’t use the same house they used, but we found something that looked pretty similar. We got so much great production value out of Montreal, and it did double very well for Maine at the time.
Did you make any changes to the layout of the pet cemetery itself?
One thing that was important to me for the movie was the iconography of the spiral, and building it into the set design and cinematography. So while we definitely borrowed a lot from the previous versions to make sure there was continuity, you’ll see if you pay really close attention that the burial ground and the pet cemetery in our version are modeled the same way, after a spiral.
And the obvious question is, has there been any talk of further PET SEMATARY movies, and your involvement in them?
There has been, yes, but nothing official, and especially with the writers’ strike, nobody has been talking very seriously about anything! I definitely wouldn’t count it out; I believe there are many chapters left to be told, and more to explain. It’s clearly a mysterious town full of mysterious happenings, and as long as there’s a real reason to tell another side of the story, Paramount would be silly not to keep exploring the PET SEMATARY world.