ONTD Original: The Women Behind Stephen King's Filmography, Part One


Stephen King and director Mary Lambert on the set of 'Pet Sematary' (1989).


When it comes to Stephen King's filmography, there may be plenty of monsters on screen, but the true horror is the absence of women behind it.

Of the forty-some (and counting) theatrically released adaptations of King's work, only two have been directed by women, and only two have been co-written by women.

No King movie has been solely written by a woman.

Seventeen theatrical adaptations of King's work are in pre-production on which writers and directors have been announced, and not a single woman is among them, despite many bearing female protagonists (Rose Madder and The Gingerbread Girl, among others).

As it's the 30th anniversary of the original Pet Sematary (and its remake hit theaters this weekend), it felt fitting to begin with Mary Lambert, not only the first female director to tackle King's work, but also the record-holder for the highest grossing horror film directed by a woman.






Madonna in 'Like a Prayer' (1989).

Lambert attended art school and began her career in film as a music video director.

Just a few of the artists she's worked with include Janet Jackson ('Nasty' and 'Control'), Sting ('We'll Be Together'), and Tom Tom Club ('As Above, So Below'), but perhaps her most famous collaboration is with Madonna - Lambert directed 'Borderline', 'Like a Virgin', 'Material Girl', 'La Isla Bonita', and faced a flood of controversy from the Catholic church over 1989's 'Like a Prayer', which Lambert brainstormed with Madonna.

Lambert, on the 'Like a Prayer' controversy:
"In the Catholic Church it has to go through the priest: You can't even pray directly to God, you have to go through the priest and the priest prays for you. It's all very patriarchal.... God talks to the priest, the priest talks to the man, and the man tells his wife what to do. The women are right at the very bottom, down there with animals in terms of any kind of freedom of speech or expression."


Denise Crosby as Rachel Creed in 'Pet Sematary'.
Crosby and Lambert collaborated earlier on Tom Tom Club's 'As Above, So Below' music video.


Lambert had to meet Stephen King to garner approval before the studio hired her as director. King also wrote the screenplay and made it conditional that filming take place in Maine. It remains of the few adaptations of his work to actually film there.

King was often on set and any changes or additions Lambert wanted to make went through King first.

Made on a budget of $11.5 million, Pet Sematary (1989) would open at number one and earn $57.5 million. It remains the sixth most successful theatrical Stephen King adaptation.


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Brad Greenquist and Dale Midkiff in Pascow's first visitation scene, before and after reshoots.


The scene where Victor Pascow's ghost first visits Louis Creed had to be reshot. Why?

Because, as his character did in the novel, star Dale Midkiff appeared shirtless - and Paramount execs found it "too sexy".

(No word on their opinion of the countless instances of gratuitous female nudity in their other productions.)



Dale Midkiff and Denise Crosby as the Creeds.


Lambert fought to keep in the funeral scene, in which Rachel's father and Louis disrupt the service with a physical brawl that knocks over Gage's coffin. Execs found the scene too realistic and horrifying. Lambert persisted, and won.

(In the 2019 remake... [SPOILER!]the scene is absent.)



Fred Gwynne as Jud Crandall.



Lambert fought to cast Fred Gwynne as Jud Crandall, the Creeds' kindly yet ominous neighbor. Despite Gwynne's illustrious career both on stage and screen, Paramount execs had trouble disconnecting him from his infamous role of Herman Munster.



Miko Hughes (Gage) and Brad Greenquist (Pascow) out of makeup on the set of 'Pet Sematary'.


Lambert also fought the studio over the casting of Miko Hughes as arguably one of the film's most iconic roles - Gage Creed. Paramount wanted twins for the role in order to make filming more cost efficient. Lambert stood firm and Hughes was eventually cast. (Paramount would eventually get their way, as twins play the role in the 2019 remake.)



Joey Ramone in the 'Pet Sematary' music video.


The Ramones' infamous title song was not the result of the band approaching King as fans, as the rumor goes, but rather due to Lambert's close friendship with Dee Dee Ramone. Lambert suggested the band write a song for the film and Ramone immediately agreed.



Edward Furlong in 'Pet Sematary Two' (1992).


When the success of the first film became self-evident and a sequel was greenlit, Lambert wanted to center it around the sole surviving character, Ellie. Paramount said no, telling Lambert that a film centered around a preteen girl was unmarketable.

She would also direct the sequel, which has since become a cult classic in its own right. Who is it centered around? A preteen boy.

Lambert, on battling studios to make female-centered projects:
"My career is really littered with the projects I wanted to do that were about women. They all got thrown back at me because most of the time it was like, 'We can't do this with a female protagonist.'"


'Pet Sematary' was shot on location in Maine - one of the few King adaptations to do so.


Development executive Lindsay Doran championed Pet Sematary since its infancy. Doran loved the finished script and she advocated for its production after becoming vice president of production in 1985.

Doran's other development projects for Paramount include Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Pretty In Pink, Ghost, and Dead Again.



Denise Crosby's Rachel gets ready for her close-up.


Despite Pet Sematary staking claim as one of Paramount's most successful projects of the '80s, Lambert was still not given a wide berth regarding work after the money rolled in. She says that there are many horror movies she's tried to get made without success over the past thirty years.

Lambert, on male gatekeeping in the horror community:
"I had the great honor and joy to have made this movie that was successful and that everyone seems to like. I'm proud of it, but I've had to fight every step of the way to be trusted with other horror movies. The obvious answer is that men are protecting what is seen as their territory and they don’t want to give it up.

"If someone could tell me why more women aren't given a chance to direct a horror movie it would be a release for me, I might understand, but I don't."






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What's your favorite horror movie directed and/or written by a woman, ONTD?