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Film

Filmmakers Trace Making of Cult Movie

Written by  Jacqueline Weaver Monday, November 05, 2012 at 11:50 am

HANCOCK — Locals enjoyed chatting with the late actor Fred Gwynne during the 1988 filming of “Pet Sematary” in Hancock, but found his Downeast accent in the movie left much to be desired.

“It was way over the top,” said Hancock resident Sandy Phippen, a writer and retired English professor at the University of Maine. “He was friendly and fun, but he had an atrocious Maine accent.”

Phippen was contacted months ago by filmmakers John Campopiano and Justin White, who are so smitten with the cult movie that they are creating a documentary about the making of the 1989 hit based on the Stephen King 1983 horror novel.

“Pet Sematary” is about the Creed family of Chicago, who move to Maine in search of a wholesome place to raise their two children. They discover a pet cemetery behind their house. And then the horror begins.

The inspiration for the book came when King and his wife rented a house in Orrington near a pet cemetery. The misspelling King used was the authentic work of Orrington children.

Campopiano, an archivist at the New England Conservatory in Boston, said the “Pet Sematary” fever struck when he met surviving cast members at a horror film convention in Cherry Hill, N.J.

“Upon returning I recounted my dreamlike experience to Justin, a close friend,” he said. “We talked about how interesting it would be to spend a day in Maine hunting down the film locations that were used on camera.”

That trip a year ago turned into several return visits. And the project grew from a small one for two Stephen King fans to something much more comprehensive. The documentary covers not only the making of the movie, but also how it affected small towns in Maine.

Over the past year, Campopiano and White, a camera operator and video editor at WPRI-TV in Providence, R.I., have interviewed more than 200 people in Ellsworth, Bangor, Bucksport, Hancock, Sedgwick, West Franklin, North Brooklin, Orrington, Mount Desert and Acadia National Park.

They contacted Maine libraries, archives and historical societies searching for any news stories and television news clips about the making of the film.

They also interviewed surviving actors, crew members and Maine residents who were hired as extras, among them Alan Baker, publisher of The Ellsworth American.

Baker and other members of the Ellsworth Rotary Club were invited by the “Pet Sematary” filmmakers to be extras at a cocktail party filmed at what is now the Barncastle Inn in Blue Hill.

“You’ll be amused to know that my legs may have appeared in the film,” Baker told Campopiano and White. “I recall spending two or three evenings standing around, being arrayed along a stairway providing live bodies, signing away our rights to sue for a piece of the action. Stephen King never surfaced, but the principals were there — and did all the talking. The pay was a buffet line; no drinks, as I recall.”

“The participating locals soon got bored with the standing around, but were remarkably good natured and patient,” Baker added.

The yellow, clapboard house the Creed family buys in the film is on Hancock Point Road and is owned by Charles and Betty Lewis.

The couple said they were paid $10,000 for what was supposed to be three weeks use of their home, but the filming actually extended over three months.

The production company built an elaborate façade 6 feet in front of the Lewises’ much smaller winter house across the road, which was where Fred Gwynne lived as the character Jud Crandall.

The façade later was professionally set on fire for the film.

The Lewises say curiosity seekers frequently drive by the house and take photos from their cars. Others knock on the door.

Betty said she didn’t see the premiere in Bangor because she stayed home to babysit grandchildren.

Charles went and enjoyed it.

“I think it’s terrible, but it’s entertaining if that’s what you’re looking for,” he said.

Campopiano said “Pet Sematary” might be considered a bit campy by today’s standards, but it is “uniquely dark” and has achieved a certain status in film circles.

“It had, for that time period, an unconventional approach to telling a ‘horror’ story, which is most definitely a contributing factor to it being considered a ‘cult’ favorite,” he said.

The two expect to finish the documentary in 2013 and hope it will include an interview with Stephen King.

A web address for the film is: https://www.facebook.com/UnearthedandUntold

For more arts & entertainment news, pick up a copy of The Ellsworth American.

Jacqueline Weaver

Jacqueline Weaver

Jacqueline Weaver covers the eastern Hancock County towns of Lamoine through Gouldsboro as well as Steuben in Washington County. A New Hampshire native, she has vacationed in Maine for 25 years and has been with The American for three.

Website: ellsworthamerican.com
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