Nothing’s scarier than a book that opens with “Death is a mystery and burial is a secret.” Or a movie with the tagline, “They don’t come back the same.”

Pet Sematary,” the latest adaptation of Stephen King’s book of the same name, arrived in theaters April 5.

A 1983 bestseller (and what book by him isn’t?), Pet Sematary (Doubleday) scared even its author. After King wrote the first draft, he put it in a drawer, intending never to let it see the light of print.

At the time, however, King was changing publishers, and owed one more book to the first before he could move to the second. Ever practical, his wife, Tabitha, encouraged him to send it in, and thus Pet Sematary was unleashed upon the world. It was nominated for a World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1986.

The book was inspired by King’s year as writer-in-residence at the University of Maine, when he and his family lived in a house beside a very busy road. Nearby was an actual “pet sematary,” the final resting place for the many animals killed by speeding traffic. Of course, King and his wife worried about the safety of their children, the youngest only two, especially after his daughter’s cat was fatally hit. 

In King’s masterful telling, a lonely country village, a deadly road, local legends, odd characters, fragile lives and tragic deaths all add up to one thing: a very chilling story.

In the book, it’s the family of a doctor, Louis Creed, who moves into the house beside the road. Louis and his wife, Rachel, have two young children: Ellie and baby Gage. Their elderly neighbor across the street, Jud Crandall, quickly becomes a friend. A few weeks later, Jud takes the Creed family on a hike to the pet cemetery, which had “a charm that was not Christian but pagan.”

The place open’s young Ellie’s eyes to the reality of death, and brings up bad memories for Rachel, who is still mourning the loss of her sister Zelda.

Louis is a doctor who has been hired by the nearby university’s campus health service. He should have known better than to fool with mother nature, but after Ellie’s cat, Church is run over, Louis buries it in the ancient Indian burial grounds beyond the pet graveyard, as directed by Jud. The cat comes back, but is… different. He smells bad, he tortures birds and small animals, and he has a demonic light in his eyes. He isn’t just a cat anymore.

Why did Jud take Louis and the dead cat to the Indian burial ground? “Maybe I did it because kids need to know that sometimes dead is better,” he tells Louis. But Church is only the first of the bodies that Louis buries, all with horrific results.

The book’s first film adaptation was released in 1989, followed by a sequel, “Pet Sematary II,” in 1992. The new adaptation, starring Jason Clark, John Lithgow and Amy Seimetz, is directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, known for some very suspenseful movies. Their “Pet Sematary” has a few plot changes, one of them major, but all the better to scare you, my dear.

Pet Sematary is now available for purchase.

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ABOUT STEPHEN KING:

Courtesy of Stephen King’s Twitter

Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes The Bill Hodges Trilogy, Revival, and Doctor Sleep. His novel 11/22/63 was named one of the Top Ten Books of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller as well as the Best Hardcover Book Award from the International Thriller Writers Association. He is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.