Mary Lambert’s 1989 adaptation of Stephen King’s arguably bleakest novel, Pet Sematary, was fairly faithful to the source material. But it left out one crucial component from the novel. One that gives much deeper insight to what made the Micmac burial ground turn sour, remained an evil presence looming large over the entire story, and provided some of the most intense moments of horror – the Wendigo.
Though the latest trailer for the new adaptation of King’s beloved book marks some major departures from the original story, the trailer gives a little tease that the Wendigo will finally make an appearance in some capacity. But what exactly is the Wendigo, and why is its inclusion a big deal?
Obviously, novel spoilers from here on out.
In the novel, the journey past the children’s Pet Sematary to the stony Micmac burial ground is much farther and more harrowing than the ’89 film suggests. The dangerous deadfall Jud takes Louis Creed over is only the beginning as they walk three more miles through treacherous land the Micmacs referred to as Little God Swamp, a boggy place full of quicksand, strange lights, and creepy sounds, all while knee deep in thick fog. Part way through Little God Swamp, Jud stops Louis and listens to the sound of breaking branches as something ominously moves toward them.
“Now the thing out there seemed so close that Louis expected to see its shape at any moment, rising up on two legs, perhaps, blotting out the stars with some unthought-of, Immense and shaggy body.” Then, “a shrill, maniacal laugh came out of the darkness, rising and falling in hysterical cycles, loud, piercing, chilling” (p. 122-113).
Despite being frozen in fear at the massive thing closing in, Jud urges them on ahead to the burial ground, and dismisses what they saw as St. Elmo’s Fire and the cries of a loon. He explains that the burial ground was abandoned long ago once one of the Micmacs claimed to have seen a Wendigo there, though Louis doesn’t yet understand what that means.
It’s not until Ellie’s cat Church returns home from his burial there that Jud elaborates a bit more on the Wendigo – an evil spirit of folklore that Jud interpreted as a metaphor for the Micmacs’ need to turn toward cannibalism during a particularly harsh winter. The Wendigo would walk through their village while they slept, and whoever it touched would develop a taste for human flesh. The evil spirit cursed their burial ground, causing it to turn sour, and those buried there return from the dead touched by the Wendigo. Or rather, possessed by it.
While King’s novel is heavily themed around grief, the Wendigo manipulates that grief throughout the story. It’s the power of the Wendigo that drives Jud to bring Louis to the Micmac burial ground in the first place, against his better judgment. It’s also this power that causes the truck driver to run Gage down. It’s what continues to lure a man broken by grief to its lair, in hopes of receiving a new host. It’s what intervenes when Jud wants to stop Louis from making a drastic mistake in burying Gage in the Micmac burial ground, and what continues to throw obstacles in Rachel’s attempts to get home to Louis on that fateful night. As Louis, driven mad by what’s happened, makes one final trip to the Micmac burial ground, the Wendigo chillingly laughs in triumph.
“Then, from the deep woods behind the deadfall, woods so deep that the light looked green and tarnished even on the brightest days, a low chuckling laugh arose. The sound was huge. Steve could not even begin to image what sort of creature could have made such a sound” (p. 372).
The Wendigo is pure evil, and the chilling puppet master orchestrating every tragedy and mistake that befalls the characters in the story. While it remains to be seen just how much of a role the creature will play in the new film, its inclusion means a new layer of horror yet to be introduced in what was once a familiar story.