During the recent Flashback Weekend in Chicago, this writer had the extreme pleasure of moderating the Pet Sematary reunion panel alongside the film’s stars Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby, Miko Hughes and Brad Greenquist.
During our time on stage, the Pet Sematary stars chatted about their experiences working on the film, collaborating with both director Mary Lambert and writer Stephen King as well as their beloved co-star Fred Gwynne, who passed away 20 years ago this July, and much more.
Read on to hear more from the Pet Sematary cast, and look for more Flashback Weekend panel coverage coming soon!
Question: What were your first impressions of the script when you came on board Pet Sematary and how familiar were you with Stephen’s (King) novel before that?
Denise Crosby: Well, I had read a number of Stephen King’s novels by this point and I was a fan of his work too. I re-read Pet Sematary when I got the role and I think because Stephen wrote the screenplay too, I saw that this was a really good and faithful adaptation of his work. I was grateful for that.
Dale Midkiff: I think the fans’ responses over the years really says everything about this movie; they love that we were faithful to the material. I also think that’s why Pet Sematary was one of the biggest King movies of all time and why it’s still a movie that people continue to want to talk about even after all these years.
Brad Greenquist: I’d actually read the book to Miko on the set just so he could understand what was going on (laughs). But as far as I was concerned- at the time I had heard of the book but hadn’t read the book until I was cast. I kept the book with me on the set all the time just so I could go back to it anytime I needed to.
One thing that was in the book with Victor Pascow that we couldn’t do in the movie was something with the make-up; in the book it describes that Victor has a collarbone jutting out of his skin, but at the time there was just no way we could do it and still have me be able to move at the same time.
Question: Because you were so young, Miko, how much do you remember from making Pet Sematary? Do you remember gnawing at Fred Gwynne’s throat at all?
Miko Hughes: Well I don’t remember anything else about being two, but I think because it has become such a big part of my life that it feels like I have these memories that are continually being reinforced. So I don’t know exactly how accurate my memories really are- they could be memories of memories by now- but I do remember a lot of it considering how young I was and the conditions under which we made the film.
Denise Crosby: Another thing I want to add to that is the way that Mary Lambert directed the film; she really tried to shoot as much as she could in sequence to really try and protect Miko so that over time he would get more comfortable and trusting of us. By the time the end of the film comes and he has to do those fairly violent acts, it was more like playing or, “Okay, what do I get to do today?” for him.
Miko Hughes: It was really nice of her to do that at my request, being a method actor and all (laughs).
Question: When I was revisiting Pet Sematary last night, it really struck me as to how much of this movie is fueled by the relationships- and it wasn’t just about the family relationships either, even though that was a huge part of it. Did Mary give you a lot of time before production to work on establishing those relationships at all?
Dale Midkiff: We had something like two weeks of rehearsal–
Denise Crosby: Yeah, it was about two weeks before we started shooting; Stephen was there too. We had this rehearsal space in Maine where we’d go every day and just sit around this table with everyone, including Fred, to break down the script and those key moments in the film. It was just this wonderful gift to have Stephen King sitting there the whole time too, being involved with the entire process.
Dale Midkiff: Oh, he was involved but he’d also sit there sometimes and just read aloud to us from the obituaries. I don’t know if he was doing it just because of the part he was playing but it was amusing. He was a very funny man. And very helpful.
Denise Crosby: He’d also drink a ton of Jolt Cola; he was so addicted to it and I remember he was always wearing this big skull buckle too. He was also pretty crazy.
Question: You mentioned Fred earlier and I know we chatted about him a bit last night but I thought you might want to share some stories now from your experiences working with him on Pet Sematary?
Dale Midkiff: Fred was a wonderful guy; I became quite close to Fred actually. I would go to dinner at his place with Debra all the time. After we were done making the movie- and me being from Maryland- Fred actually bought a farm in Maryland and I would go there all the time to visit him. We began calling ourselves the “Maryland Country Gentlemen” (laughs). He was just one of the loveliest people I’ve ever known, so decent and kind, I just loved the man.
Denise Crosby: He was also the most experienced actor in Pet Sematary too; I think he really set the bar for all of us so again, watching him last night on the big screen and seeing his work, it’s just such a ‘complete’ performance from him in making Jud who he is. You just don’t see any acting from him; it’s just organic and it’s all him in that role. I just really enjoyed working with him, actor to actor. To me, acting is just like playing tennis, and when you play with someone who’s better than you or who knows more, it raises your game.
Question: Brad, you talked about prosthetics before; what was that process like for you? Your make-up was pretty incredible throughout the movie.
Brad Greenquist: Well, I’d only have to work a day or two at a time so I actually had it pretty easy. But when I did work, the make-up would take forever; I think generally it took about five hours to get on and then about two hours for the removal process. The basis for the make-up wasn’t only from what Stephen had written in the book, but also the make-up guys had all these photos of people who had been in these horrific accidents hanging everywhere as inspiration. It was kind of nasty stuff but completely remarkable too.
Question: Miko, because you were so young as you were coming up in both the industry and the horror genre, were you aware of all the impact that these movies- like Pet Sematary or New Nightmare or even Kindergarten Cop- had on the fans who would see them?
Miko Hughes: I think I slowly figured out as I got older what the industry was and what the business of making movies was all about. Because it was such a big part of my life at such a young age, I didn’t really think anything different about it. It didn’t really feel all that special at the time so it took some time for me to be able to look back and have an appreciation for that time in my life because back then it was all I knew. I just thought this was what every kid did (laughs).
Question: Hopefully I’m remembering this correctly, but I think I had seen an episode of a VH1 show where they talked about how your family bought the playground from New Nightmare; do you guys still have it then?
Miko Hughes: We did actually; it was like the old-school metal playground and it was in this park in Glendale. The city wanted to update the park and it was good timing for them because it was right after the movie had come out so they were worried about copycats, making the playground a total liability just in case anyone wanted to climb it and recreate that scene from New Nightmare.
Luckily, we had the room in our backyard and so my parents talked to the village about taking it away and just paying it to haul it themselves because Glendale was just going to take it to the dump. So yeah, it’s still in the backyard; it needs a new paint job though (laughs).
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