The Creed family – Louis, Rachel, and their children Ellie and Gage – move from Chicago to Ludlow, Maine, where they end up befriending the elderly neighbor Jud Crandall, who takes them to an isolated pet cemetery hidden behind the Creeds' new home. While working at the University of Maine, Louis meets Victor Pascow, who is brought in with severe injuries from a car accident. He manages to warn Louis about the pet cemetery near his home before he dies, calling Louis by name, despite the fact they hadn't met before. After he dies, Victor comes to Louis in a dream to tell him about the dangers inherent at the cemetery. Louis awakens and assumes it was a dream, but notices his feet are covered in dirt, indicating he had gone to the cemetery. During Thanksgiving while the family is gone, Ellie's cat Church is run down on the highway by the house, Jud takes Louis beyond the cemetery and buries Church where he says the real burial ground is. Church comes back to life, though a shell of what he was before, he now appears more vicious. Sometime later, Gage is killed by a truck along the same highway.
When Louis questions Jud on whether humans had been buried in the cemetery before he recounts a story of a friend named Bill who had buried his son who had died in World War II at the site but he had come back changed. Realizing the horror that he brought to the townsfolk, Jud, Bill and some friends tried to destroy Timothy by burning him to death in the house, but Bill was attacked by Timothy in the process and both were killed.
Rachel and Ellie go on a trip and Louis remains home alone. Despite Jud's warnings and Victor's attempts to stop him, Louis exhumes his son's body from the cemetery he was at and buries him instead at the ritual site. Victor appears to Rachel and warns her that Louis has done something terrible. She tries to reach out to Louis, then to Jud, informing him that she is returning home. She hangs up before Jud can warn her not to return. That night, Gage returns home and steals a scalpel from his father's bag. He taunts Jud before slashing his Achilles tendon and kills him. Later, Rachel returns home and begins having visions of her disfigured sister Zelda before she had died, only to discover that it's Gage, holding a scalpel. In shock and disbelief, Rachel reaches down to hug her son and he kills her as well.
Waking up from his sleep, Louis notices Gage's footprints in the house and realizes his scalpel is missing. Getting a message from Gage that he has "played" with Jud and "Mommy" and wants to play with him now, he fills two syringes with morphine and heads to Jud's house. Encountering Church, who attacks him, he kills the cat with an injection. Gage taunts him further within Jud's house and Louis discovers Rachel's corpse, falling hanged from the attic before he is attacked by his son. After a brief battle, Louis kills Gage with the morphine injection. He then lights the house on fire, leaving it to burn as he carries Rachel from the fire. Despite Victor's continued insistence not to, Louis determines Rachel wasn't dead as long as Gage was, and that burying her would bring her back to him. Victor cries out in frustration and vanishes as Louis passes through him.
That night, playing solitaire alone, Rachel returns to the house and she and Louis kiss. Unknown to him, she takes a knife from the counter and as the screen goes dark, Rachel stabs Louis.
- Dale Midkiff as Louis Creed
- Fred Gwynne as Jud Crandall
- Denise Crosby as Rachel Creed
- Brad Greenquist as Victor Pascow
- Michael Lombard as Irwin Goldman
- Miko Hughes as Gage Creed
- Blaze Berdahl as Ellie Creed
- Susan Blommaert as Missy Dandridge
- Mara Clark as Marcy Charlton
- Kavi Raz as Steve Masterton
- Mary Louise Wilson as Dory Goldman
- Andrew Hubatsek as Zelda
- Lisa Stathoplos as Jud's mother
- Stephen King as Minister
- Chuck Courtney as Bill Baterman
- Peter Stader as Timmy Baterman
- Beau Berdahl as Ellie Creed II
The film rights were sold to George A. Romero in 1984 for $10,000. King had previously declined several other offers for a film adaptation. Romero eventually had to pull out of the production, as he was busy with Monkey Shines. Pet Sematary was shot in Maine, including Mount Hope Cemetery, at King's behest.
The Los Angeles Times wrote that the film "defied the critics and opened at blockbuster levels". The film grossed $57 million in North America. Released in 1989 by Paramount Home Video, Pet Sematary was a best-selling video. Paramount released it on DVD in 2006 and on Blu-ray in 2012.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 43% of 23 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating was 5.2/10. Variety called it "undead schlock dulled by a slasher-film mentality". Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that the film "has some effectively ghoulish moments" but "fails mostly because it doesn't trust the audience to do any of the work". Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Lambert goes for strong, succinct images and never stops to worry whether there's a lack of credibility or motivation." Richard Harrington of The Washington Post called it "bland, cliched, cheap". Harrington criticized Gage's actions as disturbing and the climax as "an ugly payoff to an inept setup". Bloody Disgusting rated it 4.5/5 stars and wrote, "The plot alone would make for a scary movie, but by injecting excellent atmosphere, capable acting and generally nightmarish scenes, Pet Semetery is a truly effective horror flick and well worth the price of admission." At Dread Central, Steve Barton rated it 4/5 stars and called it one of the best King adaptations; Jason Jenkins rated it 3.5/5 stars and called it "one of the better King adaptations of the period".