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John Lithgow has some big shoes to fill as Jud Crandall

by Manic Exorcism
John Lithgow has some big shoes to fill as Jud Crandall

When I first heard they were remaking Pet Sematary my initial thought was how impossible it would be to replace the iconic role of Jud Crandall. Originally brought to life by the one and only Fred Gwynne, the kindly old man serves as the story’s backbone.

In a true shamanistic fashion, Jud Crandall is our guide down the weathered path leading to the enigmatic Pet Sematary, and he walks about each grave somehow knowing the story behind every one of them. He’s a man who has spent his entire life close to the mysteries surrounding that silent graveyard, and he is one of the very few who still remembers the insidious secrets of what lies beyond its deadfall.

Jud’s character adds a very human touch to the story. He quickly takes to the story’s protagonist, Lois Creed, and feels protective of the whole Creed family who have just moved in across from him. He’s the grandfatherly kind of guy, the one you can trust and confide in. He knows the area like the back of his weathered hand – both the good and the bad. When the Creed family cat dies, Jud Crandall takes it on himself to share the area’s darkest secret with Louis and leads him to the old forsaken Micmac burial ground that lies uneasily beyond the barrier of the Pet Sematary.

image via IMDB, courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Jud later regrets this action and sets in motion dark forces that have set themselves against the Creeds. Jud Crandall is absolutely essential to the story’s success.

The role was masterfully played by the gentle Fred Gwynne, and, honestly, I felt as if no one could ever live up to his high standard. That’s the deal with remakes though: the originals are so firmly rooted in our nostalgia that to imagine anyone else filling in those already-beloved roles is somewhat a heresy.

Then they announced the one and only John Lithgow would be taking over the role and I was hooked. Many people may remember Lithgow from his comedic role on 3rd Rock From the Sun, a fun and lively sitcom where Lithgow stole every single scene he was in.

Me, on the other hand, think of Dexter Season 4 when it comes to John Lithgow. In that season Lithgow played the overarching villain who captivates Dexter’s attention. Lithgow plays the vicious Trinity Killer and is excellent in the role. No, that’s not quite it. Is there a better word for it? It seems like ‘excellent’ is inadequate a word to fully describe the man’s legendary performance. He by far dominated the show by it.

And he was scary as Hell! I mean that. We had already seen a few maniacs on Dexter, but there was something way more to the character John Lithgow played. It was nothing short of sinister. To look at him you would never expect he was capable of such heinous crimes. The guy was a pillar of the community, well respected, and was a family man who lived right next door. That all lent to the terror of his performance.

So they couldn’t have picked a better actor to take on the role of Jud Crandall, one of Stephen King’s most beloved characters. We’ll be there this weekend ready to get chills as we listen to Lithgow/Crandall explain to us why dead is sometimes better.

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