Fans of the original Pet Sematary may have noticed a big difference in the updated version that hit theatres this week. No, we’re not talking about the shocking (Stephen King approved!) change that is definitely a major spoiler alert. We’re talking about the change to Zelda, the sister of Rachel Creed, the mother of the family at the center of the film.
Warning: minor spoilers ahead for the Pet Sematary remake.
In the original, the 10-year-old Zelda is living with spinal meningitis and the trauma of her illness and her death terrorizes Rachel as an adult. Fans of the original probably remember the few scenes featuring Zelda as some of the film’s most terrifying. But in the 1989 version, Zelda is played, not by a 10-year-old girl, but by 21-year-old Andrew Hubatsek, in drag.
Director Mary Lambert has said that she originally auditioned young girls for the part, but that she cast Hubatsek in the role because the image of a grown man was more terrifying than that of a young girl.
Thanks to the magic of CGI, the role of Zelda is played by a young actress in Pet Sematary, which means that, while the film is more accurate, it also loses a bit of its bizarre queer camp value.
Of course, the larger issue is the continuation of the genre’s over-reliance on disability as a menacing trait. Zelda’s character is one on a long list of characters whose disability either make them menacing or magical. But that’s a subject for another day. For now, let’s pour one out for the loss of a very special queer camp moment. Or pop in your Pet Sematary VHS and go for a rewatch, whatever you prefer.