Spoiler Warning: Though I haven’t seen the film and can only make postulations, this article includes spoilers for both the novel Pet Sematary and the 1989 film adaptation directed by Mary Lambert. If you plan on seeing Pet Sematary 2019 knowing as little as possible, bookmark this page and come back in a few weeks.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Pet Sematary, the novel by Stephen King and Mary Lambert’s 1989 film adaptation, is that it’s a story without a central villain. Sure, the book and movie are full of scary characters – Pascow, Zelda, Gage, and that goddam cat for example – but there isn’t a single antagonist for us to blame the story’s atrocities on. No one is blatantly evil, but several good characters do questionable things.
Regular readers of Dread Central know that I was lucky enough to participate in a set visit for the upcoming remake of Pet Sematary. Directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer (Starry Eyes), the hotly-anticipated horror movie will enjoy its world premiere on the closing night of SXSW (this Saturday, March 16th) before hitting US theaters nationwide on April 5th. If you missed Part 1 of my Pet Sematary set visit recap, you can catch up by reading it here.
Today, I’m continuing my Pet Sematary set visit report with an analytical eye on a specific character: Jud Crandall, played by John Lithgow in the upcoming iteration. By examining statements Lithgow made when journalists grilled him during a roundtable interview, along with information provided by Pet Sematary producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, I’ll be presenting a somewhat controversial postulation: What if Jud Crandall is the overarching villain the novel and previous film never had?
It’s almost sacrilegious to imagine, as Jud Crandall in Lambert’s Pet Sematary was good as gold. Played by Fred Gwynne in a performance that became iconic, the character’s thick Maine accent, soulful eyes, and affinity towards children immediately endeared him to both the Creed family and readers/audiences alike. So how could Jud possibly be a bad guy?
First, it’s important to remember that there will be many significant differences between Lambert’s Pet Sematary and Pet Sematary 2019. Trailers have already revealed that it’s Ellie (played by Jeté Laurence), not Gage, who gets hit by a truck and reanimated. We’ve also seen hints of a Wendigo, a creature from Native American folklore that featured prominently in King’s novel, but was absent from Pet Sematary 1989. So, it’s prudent to assume that Lithgow’s Jud Crandall will be different in many respects to Gwynne’s portrayal of the same character. And as someone who was able to interview Lithgow on set, I can confirm the differences are indeed profound.
For starters, Jud Crandall 2019 won’t have the signature Maine accent that made Jud Crandall 1989 something of a tender counterbalance to the scenes of intense terror.
“We all talked about [the accent],” Lithgow told us, “and we even tried it different ways. I did a whole reading with a Maine accent. I personally felt that even people who are from Maine, even actors who get it absolutely right – an accent like that kind of takes you out of the story. I myself think that, especially how they have reimagined this script, which is changed from the book and the first film, it has evolved and Jud has become a more serious character, in a sense. He is a character in the pull of a kind of deep, deep regret, deep guilt, great longing, great feelings of loss, love. And because of that, I just felt he had to be a very genuine person. Listen, I have Boston roots. My father was born there, all my uncles and aunts were from there, I went to Harvard and I know Boston well. I can do an accent. But as soon as I start, that’s all you’re listening to.”
Indeed, Lithgow’s Crandall doesn’t evoke the warm fuzzies of his predecessor, Gwynne (whose turn as Herman Munster may also have added to his “gentle giant” vibe, if only on a subconscious level). Lithgow’s Crandall is gruff, prickly, tobacco stained—and, frankly, intimidating! You might not realize it unless you’re in the same room (or in my case, trailer) with him, but Lithgow is a big, tall man. In costume, and in character, he’s a far cry from Gwynne’s portrayal of the exact same character.
This isn’t an accident. In an earlier interview, producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura explained how the Jud character was given intense attention during the Pet Sematary’s development stage.
“The one thing that I always struggled with in the book and in the movie was Jud’s reasoning behind telling Louis about the burial ground, or taking him to the burial ground,” di Bonaventura told us. “It was an interesting process to go through the development of it because we kept trying to find a rational reason – this is why Jud would do it,” di Bonaventura continues. “But what we ended up on, which I think is an incredibly satisfying result – which is an evolution, I’ll say from the book – is that Jud is this lonely man who suddenly has a family that moves in who touches his heart. So, it’s an emotional decision he makes, not a rational decision.”
It’s not hard to read between the lines. In Lambert’s Pet Sematary, Jud’s motivations for telling Louis about the cursed burial grounds beyond the branches and brambles is never explicitly discussed, but he seems to have come from a place of genuine caring and, later on, seems to genuinely regret his decision. So, we accepted it when Gwynne’s Crandall sums it up succinctly, explaining he was only thinking of Ellie and how sad she’d be over the death of her cat, Church.
This makes di Bonaventura’s statements incredibly intriguing. We can at least begin to suspect that Jud Crandall 2019 has an agenda, unlike Crandall 1989. But what could it be? If Crandall knows about the burial ground’s “sour” properties, why would he get the Creed family entangled in its curse? “It’s an emotional decision he makes, not a rational decision,” remember. And what could possibly stir more emotions in a man than his wife of forty-some odd
Yes, Jud Crandall has a wife. Mrs. Crandall never appeared in Lambert’s film adaptation, but she was present in Stephen King’s novel, though often in the background. In the early stages of their friendship, Jud tells Louis about her chronic arthritis and the terrible suffering she endures on a daily basis. We don’t know for certain if Mrs. Crandall will appear in 2019’s Pet Sematary, but I did notice an old woman in the film’s first trailer, someone I hypothesized could be Jud’s wife. Check her out in the link below.
Related Article: Is This Jud Crandall’s Wife in the New PET SEMATARY Remake?
Whoever this woman is, she’s in a chair that might have wheels, and she’s definitely wringing her hands, as though her fingers are in pain.
So, here’s my theory: Jud Crandall has been emotionally wrecked watching his beloved wife deteriorate. He’s heard legends of the burial ground’s ability to reanimate the dead, as well as the warnings that those who come back aren’t the same. Still, he fantasizes about ending his wife’s pain (killing her) and resurrecting her (hopefully) without the pain that made her life unbearable. When the Creed family endures an unthinkable tragedy, he sees an opportunity to use them as guinea pigs, essentially.
He manipulates Louis (played by Jason Clarke in 2019) into burying Ellie to see what might happen if he did the same for his wife. “It’s an emotional decision he makes, not a rational decision,” after all. Of course, there’s always the possibility that he’s under the control of the Wendigo, and that the creature is the true villain of Pet Sematary, pulling all the strings by exerting supernatural influences.
Those attending SXSW will learn the truth behind Jud’s motivations before the rest of us, and my hypothesis may actually be disproven. Still, it’s something the majority of us can think about as we continue our march towards April 5th. I’ll be posting my final set visit recap in the day’s leading up to Pet Sematary’s theatrical release date. In the meantime, there’s plenty to ponder.
Dr. Louis Creed and his wife, Rachel, relocate from Boston to rural Maine with their two young children. The couple soon discover a mysterious burial ground hidden deep in the woods near their new home. When tragedy strikes, Louis turns to his neighbour Jud Crandall, setting off a perilous chain reaction that unleashes an unspeakable evil with horrific consequences.
What do you think of my theory that Jud Crandall will be the main villain of Pet Sematary 2019? Are you excited to see the film when it hits theaters next month? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!