Exclusive: Jeff Buhler Talks Pet Sematary Reboot and Takes Us Into the Zombie Underworld
We caught up recently with Insanitarium filmmaker and Midnight Meat Train screenwriter Jeff Buhler, who offered us an exclusive update on director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s upcoming reboot of the 1989 horror feature Pet Sematary for Paramount, as well as the first news on Fox’s Into the Zombie Underworld, a feature which he’s developing with Fresnadillo.
A remake of the original 1989 horror classic, which was directed by Mary Lambert and based on the novel of the same name by horror legend Stephen King, Buhler said of the status of his scripted re-imagining of Pet Sematary, “Since last we spoke [see our previous coverage here], director Juan Carlos and I literally spent another three months going over the script and fine-tuning the horror to the place where it needed to be.”
Buhler expounded of the reboot, which is being produced for Paramount by Lorenzo DiBonaventura and Mark Varhadian, “The characters in this script make some tragic decisions, and the horror is about the ramifications of those decisions. There are still the supernatural aspects of the book, with the pet cemetery and the burial ground from which things come back from the dead, but the real horror is, ‘What do these things do to the family? What does it do to a person to see their child killed, but then to know that they can bring them back? How do you tussle with that idea? And if and when you make that choice, what does that do to you? Will that child be the same? How can life ever return to normal?’”
He continued of their take, “This is pretty far from the 1980’s film, which I adore for certain things that are very intrinsic to that time period in terms of the genre, like a truck driver smoking a joint to a Ramones song. But when a little kid comes back with a scalpel and is like, ‘I want to play with you,’ it kind of becomes Chucky. With this one, we really wanted to get into the emotional aspects of it. There’s still plenty of visceral horror that’s explored, but I’ve always felt that if you lean more into the characters and into their emotional lives, when the visceral shit hits the fan, it’s ten times more scary.”
As for an intended start date of principal photography, Buhler said, “Right now the film’s budget is up for approval at the studio. We have the new script [completed] and will be ready to go when Juan Carlos returns from New York in August. He’s currently there shooting a pilot called ‘Falling Water’ for Gale Anne Hurd’s company, so hopefully things will be up and running in terms of production by the end of the year.”
Not one to rest on his laurels (Buhler’s also got a reboot of The Grudge set up at Ghost House Pictures, a remake of Jacob’s Ladder at LD Entertainment, the original feature The Hell Within with guitarist/producer Slash, and the feature Descendant; you can read about the latter here), while polishing Pet Sematary with Fresnadillo, the pair also commenced work on yet another feature script/project, this one for Fox, entitled Into the Zombie Underworld.
“We are working on the script right now,” offered Buhler. “It’s based on this article about a guy who went to Haiti when his wife was part of the UN peacekeeping mission there, just before the earthquake. The article had some parallels to The Serpent and the Rainbow, in that he started digging into the secret voodoo world that exists there. He embarked on this mystery, learned how neurotoxins work, and of the hidden zombie world, which is a very real thing. The article was fascinating, and we’re adapting it now as a feature.”
Of their take, Buhler stated, “I love zombie movies, but I feel that the supernatural version of zombies that we’ve seen in television and cinema has really been explored in every different possible way recently. This was a chance to take a step back and to explore the roots of the mythology [because] the idea of people coming back ‘from the dead’ is a very real thing. They are poisoned and paralyzed and buried, and it’s real. It’s been documented by numerous sources. These people are not monsters. They’re victims. Essentially they’re being trafficked. There’s a whole underground market for people that have been turned into brain-dead slaves from neurotoxins and brainwashing, and it’s really crazy and incredibly scary.”
“Another element I find interesting is that from a Western perspective we always think, ‘As Americans, we are here to help. We are going to come to your country and fix it.’ And it’s like, ‘Hey, we don’t want you to. This is part of our culture. Haiti has zombies.’ I think somewhere I read a quote that said, ‘In Haiti ninety percent of the country is Catholic, and one hundred percent believes in voodoo.’ It is just part of their fabric of life, and you can’t reset a culture, especially one that has no interest in changing. In fact, chances are better that it changes you, and that’s interesting to me.”
Stick around for Buhler’s exclusive updates on The Grudge reboot, The Hell Within, and more in the coming days.