Stephen King submitted a termination notice for the Pet Sematary movie rights, then Paramount Pictures moved quickly to produce a remake, which has caused some confusion over who owns the rights now. The entertainment industry relies a lot on preexisting intellectual property, as seen in recent years with the ongoing wave of remakes and adaptations of books, comics, and more, but rights to this content can be messy sometimes. One of the latest cases on this is that of King’s Pet Sematary, which went through a second adaptation by the hands of Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer. This new version of King’s horror novel was released in April 2019, and it wasn’t as well received as they expected.
Pet Sematary is a story of grief, following Dr. Louis Creed and his family who move to the small town of Ludlow when Louis gets a job at the University of Maine’s campus health service. Through his neighbor, Jud, Louis discovers a mysterious graveyard in the woods behind their new home. After tragedy hits the Creeds, Louis goes back to the graveyard, unable to deal with grief, and that’s where the horrors are unleashed. The novel was first adapted to the big screen in 1989 thanks to director Mary Lambert and with a script by Stephen King (which is why it’s more loyal to the source material than the second adaptation). The latest version of Pet Sematary was announced in 2010 and officially greenlit in 2017, with the studio rushing through production as the rights to the story were about to go back to King.
Some months after the remake released, it was revealed that Paramount rushed their Pet Sematary adaptation as they received a notice from King stating that he would be taking the rights back in two years. A feature in the U.S. copyright law allows authors to get the rights back from studios once 35 years have passed after original publication. Authors have to give at least two years notice of the termination, which in Paramount’s case meant blazing through production of Pet Sematary or not making it at all. The novel was published in 1983, meaning that by 2018 the rights could go back to Stephen King. According to THR, King followed the process meticulously and sent a notice to Paramount in 2016, but there’s no word on whether he got the rights back or not.
In theory, the rights to Pet Sematary should have gone back to King in 2018, unless he reached a new deal with Paramount, which is also unknown. King reportedly sent termination notices in 2016 regarding other titles, such as Cat’s Eye, Children of the Corn, Creepshow, Cujo, The Dead Zone, and Firestarter. All projects already in development prior to the termination are still good to go, though it’s worth noting that Creepshow recently got a new TV adaptation on Shudder with Greg Nicotero as producer. Creepshow was announced in 2018, and the original film was released in 1982 – King should have gotten the rights back in 2017, meaning that Nicotero and company had to ask for the author’s consent.
The current home of Pet Sematary’s rights is unknown, but they should be back into Stephen King’s hands by now. King getting back the rights to some of his works is not as tragic as some might believe, as adaptations can still happen, though not as easy as before. Pet Sematary’s case is just one of many, and fans should expect King (and other authors) to be looking to claim the rights back to some of their works in the coming years.