John Lithgow explores the dark side in Pet Sematary


John Lithgow is no stranger to horror. In 1992, he played several roles in Brian DePalma’s terrifying portrait of multiple personality disorder, Raising Cain. He had a memorable turn on Dexter as the Trinity Killer. Now, he stars as Jud Crandall in the upcoming remake of Pet Sematary.


John Lithgow is a master thespian. Yes, he starred in a very famous Saturday Night Live skit with Jon Lovitz of the same name but his body of film and stage work supports that moniker. A versatile performer, he moves with ease between a variety of genres.

Although he is known for his comedic fare, Lithgow isn’t afraid to delve into his darker side. He has played a sufferer of multiple personality disorder, a serial killer, a psychopath and the nervous plane passenger (reprising William Shatner’s role) in Twilight Zone: The Movie.

Now, he is preparing to explore that realm again with his take on Fred Gwynne’s role of Jud Crandall in the remake of Pet Sematary. It is always hard to step into someone else’s shoes but this time around Crandall’s portrayal in the  Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer directed version is going to be very different from Gwynne’s elder statesmen New Englander.

In a recent chat with Entertainment Weekly, Lithgow discussed his view of Jud Crandall:

"“He’s a loner, and he’s chosen to be alone, His life changed. He was a man whose entire life was wrapped up with his marriage, his wife. And they didn’t have children, but they wanted children. In the script there’s this very simple and sweet line, ‘It didn’t work out for Norma and me. We wanted to keep ourselves to ourselves.’ And the loss of that relationship has defined his life ever since.”"

Caretaker of Yore

In this incarnation of Pet Sematary, John Lithgow’s Crandall appears to be more of a caretaker of local legend and yore. Even when he shows Ellie the famed cemetery, it is a teaching moment and not one destined to be creepy or anxiety ridden. He merely wants her to understand that when  you go to visit your pet, it is because you want to remember them. To be in their company for just one more moment in time.

As the actor sees it, the scene with Ellie is the beginning of a bond between the two characters. In his words:

"“He really cares about this little girl. It gives a very genuine and human motivation to everything that happens in this genre horror film. When you really care about these people and you really believe in what motivates them, then the stakes go way, way up.”"

The Likeability Factor

See, John Lithgow, at the heart of every role that he plays is likeable. Yes, hard to believe but when he played the Trinity Killer on Dexter, he was a pillar of the community and a leader in his church. Outwardly, he is that always ready to help and armed with a smile type of guy.

Maybe it his open countenance or the twinkle in his eye but it is that quotient that draws the audience in. It is also what works for him in the horror genre. That affable nature can effectively mask a darker soul with even less than ideal intentions.

A while back at 1428 Elm, we took a look at the character of Crandall to see if he was a friend or foe. After learning more about Lithgow’s interpretation of King’s kindly old salt of the earth fellow, I think he is wanting to reach out and connect with the Creeds.

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It is a chance for him to feel useful again and perhaps needed in some capacity. Knowing John Lithgow, he will bring a certain human element to Jud Crandall and that will make this version of Pet Sematary even more tragic and horrifying. And that my friends, is proof positive that Lithgow is indeed, a master thespian.

Get ready for this King adaptation to hit theaters on April 5, 2019.

Are you looking forward to Pet Sematary? What is your favorite John Lithgow performance? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. We want to hear from you.