Exclusive: Jeff Buhler On PET SEMATARY, THE GRUDGE Remakes; Slash’s THE HELL WITHIN; and More!
It’s been a while since we spoke with Midnight Meat Train writer and Insanitarium filmmaker turned Syfy & Netflix Nightflyers series showrunner Jeff Buhler, so we thought it time to catch up with the prolific screenwriter, who updated us on the status of three horror features he’s penned: Paramount’s forthcoming Pet Sematary retool, Ghost House Pictures’ The Grudge re-launch, and rocker Slash’s horror property The Hell Within (now retitled Black River).
Of Pet Sematary, a remake of the original 1989 Mary Lambert-directed feature film adaptation of the 1983 Stephen King novel of the same name, Buhler confirmed of the status of his scripted re-imagining (which is being produced for Paramount by Lorenzo DiBonaventura, Mark Varhadian and Steven Schnieder, with Starry Eyes directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch set to helm, in lieu of the originally attached Juan Carlos Fresnadillo), “(Actor) Jason Clarke has come on board (in the role of ‘Louis Creed’), and casting is active at the moment. Paramount is really excited about the script.”
Of the change in directors, “When we first started our conversations, Dennis and Kevin and I really connected around the idea of bringing the story back to the source material, to find a modern telling of the book that really spoke to some of the big scenes and big moments that Stephen King had originally written,” said Buhler of the story, which centers around a hidden, rural cemetery in which those buried are reanimated, “and as much as all of us are huge fans of the original film, there are moments that are larger than life and feel borderline campy. Our desire was to tell a really grounded, character driven and psychologically horrific version of Pet Sematary, which in my belief, is the scariest book that King ever wrote.”
“It fucked me when I read it in high school,” the writer continued, “and I always remember hearing that it was the one book King chucked in the garbage, because it was too scary and dark, and it was his wife and his friend Peter Straub who were like, ‘You have to publish this.’ Now, as a father of a five year old and a nine year old, I really connected to this story of grief and loss and what it could do to a family in a different way, in that, how far would a parent go to return to their life prior to a tragic event? All of that feels so poignant and universal. It’s our desire to really reconnect to those elements of the story and bring them into a world that speaks to the modern horror audience.”
As for whether viewers may expect the return of the original’s fav-favorite, rotting apparition Victor Pascow, Buhler said, “There may be Victor, there may be some Zelda, and there will definitely be some Louis and Rachel and Gage and Ellie. I will say this, if you love the book, you’ll love this movie. (Directors) Dennis and Kevin are both such visionaries in terms of how they’ve approached it, from not only a horror standpoint but also a character standpoint, and it’s been really gratifying to work with those guys. I think we’re on track to it make one of the scariest Stephen King adaptations ever! That’s our goal anyway.”
Pet Sematary goes before cameras this June in Montreal, Canada, with a US theatrical release date set for April 19, 2019.
As for Ghost House Pictures’ re-launch of The Grudge series, the new film will be directed by Nicolas Pesce and produced by horror legend Sam Raimi along with Rob Tapert and Taka Ichise. Roy Lee, Doug Davison, Joe Drake and Nathan Kahane executive produce.
A re-imagining of the mythology originally set forth in director Takashi Shimizu’s 2002 J-horror flick Ju-on: The Grudge and in his 2004 American remake of the same and subsequent 2006 sequel (with a third in the series coming from director Toby Wilkins in 2009), Buhler said, “The idea that I brought to Sam (Raimi) was always is that in the phenomenon of a grudge, was an anger so great that it would allow the supernatural realm to push through into the physical. I thought that was such a fascinating thing, and there had been a whole series of shorts and movies that had tracked the wonderful ghost that Takashi Shimizu has put forth, but one thing that I still had a question about was, ‘Couldn’t that phenomenon happen anywhere?’ Since it feels like an occurrence that could happen again and again, and I wondered what it would look like if there was a grudge in the United States, and what it would it look like if it happened to people that were closer to my experience.”
Of Pesce, who has come on board to direct the feature (merely his third, following 2016’s The Eyes of My Mother and 2018’s Piercing), “He’s really brought his vision to it, and it’s really become his movie,” offered Buhler. “He’s an auteur, and his films are so very specific and beautiful, and that’s what he is bringing to the table.”
With casting underway, those previously announced include Andrea Riseborough (Black Mirror), John Cho (of Star Trek and Harold & Kumar fame), Demián Bichir (The Hateful Eight) and Insidious star Lin Shaye, of which Buhler said, “You know what’s funny, is that Lin worked with Angus Sampson, who is one of the stars of ‘Nightflyers’ on the Insidious films, so Angus and I have had many conversations about Lin and about what a presence she is in those films, and I could not be more excited to have her involved in The Grudge… I just feel like every now and then, there are iconic personalities that come into the genre, and they stay there, because people want to see more of them, and they live in this ecosystem, and Lin Shaye is one of the personalities.”
As for whether or not its narrative will warrant an R rating, “I will shocked if I am involved with a PG-13 movie ever,” laughed Buhler. “It’s not by choice, but even if you cut out gore, there are often conceptual ideas or psychological ideas that are not appropriate for children in certain storytelling, and that tends for me to be the place in which I live.”
Of that place, the SlashFiction produced and Buhler scripted horror feature The Hell Within, now titled Black River (which revolves around a woman from New York on a quest into the heart of the Brazilian jungle in order to save a missing girl) is still in development and on the search for a new director.
V for Vendetta and The Invasion director “James McTeigue was attached until earlier this year,” offered Buhler, “when he had to go off to do another project. We’ve done some script revisions, and we are currently looking to attach a new director, which is in active development.”
Of the property, which has already seen FX and creature development by KNB, “It’s set in Rio de Janeiro and in the rural jungles along the border of Brazil and Columbia,” said the writer, “and it’s slated to shoot in South America. That’s a huge part of this film, is being in that remote and tropical location. The village where the story takes place is essentially a pit stop for narco traffic and a dead end for humans who have no home. It’s a place that’s out of reach of modern civilization and has its own rules and laws, and there’s a heavy supernatural and religious element to what’s going on there. So it’s a wonderful environment that is super rich with culture with this fabric of magic, which is what Brazil and much of South America exudes. It’s also a great environment to tell a ‘fish out of water’ story that almost has an Apocalypse Now vibe to it.”
As for his famous partner on Black River, “Slash has been a fan of this project since the beginning,” concluded Buhler, “and even though for the past two years much of his energy has been consumed with traveling and bringing this massive Guns N’ Roses show to fans worldwide, his passion has not ebbed for this project, and I feel truly honored to have a partner like that.”