As a young boy, I remember watching Pet Sematary at the theater with my mom. While the movie didn’t really evolve well as I grew older, there was one scene that stuck with me—and still sticks with me, even now. That’s the Zelda scene.
When I heard that they were doing a remake of Pet Sematary, that scene was the first image that popped back into my head. I went straight to YouTube to relive the nightmare. It had nowhere near the same impact that it had on me as a child, and I wondered what it was that about that scene that bothered me in the first place. The makeup isn’t all that scary. Zelda herself is just sort of sickly looking. Yet if you ask most people what the scariest part of that movie was, I’ll bet it’s that scene that they recall.
I started thinking about that question and made an offhand joke that they should have just built a script around Zelda when it occurred to me that I could do that. Obviously, you don’t want to rip off the entire idea, so I wanted to focus on what really worked there.
To me, it was the fact that this young girl was cloistered in with her ill sister. The illness had turned her into a monster. She wasn’t a threat to anyone, and yet she was more terrifying than any other aspect of that movie. There are several theories on why this is, but one of the more interesting ones gets into the idea that we are intrinsically afraid of those with disabilities.
There were a couple of motifs that I wanted to adapt when writing The Revulsion of Angel Walker that I felt worked really well in the original film adaptation of Pet Sematary. I wanted to channel the sense of claustrophobia pairing it with a child’s sense of dread and the fear of otherness. Of course, this approach isn’t without problems. You don’t want to demonize the disabled or those with facial deformities, so I decided to make my character, Angel, into something that was within the realm of possibility but sufficiently other so that it didn’t impact the lives of real people in a negative way. I paired that with the claustrophobia of living directly next to the object of fear, separating the protagonists and their sister by only a thin wall in a small apartment. That way there was no escape. They could hear her, they could feel her, and when they passed her room, they could even smell her and making it terrifying for a young child growing up in that environment.
That, in essence, is what I really think worked about the scene and why it stuck with me all these years.