Fred Gwynne did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Jud Crandall in Pet Sematary.
Well when a film has a questionable or inconsistent tone it becomes kinda a game of tones for the actors as you wait to see who, if anyone, who find a way to make the material work. Well that sounds like a job for one man or should I say one Munster....?(Feel free to boo as loudly as you like at that). Well anyway that's Fred Gwynne best known for playing the comic Herman Munster in the sitcom the Munsters, but from what I've seen as character actor he always manages to offers a rather unique presence. Now Pet Sematary seems like perhaps it should have gone for a tone similair to An American Werewolf in London, after all both have a zombie who shows up from time to time as a moral guide for the protagonists. That being one which certainly does not shy from the horror, but has a sense of humor in regards to the absurdity of the plot. Well Fred Gwynne seems to be playing for something like this with his choice of making sure to do a rural Maine accent, but this is not Gwynne exactly trying to realistically depict a man from a rural part of Maine, rather a man from Stephen's King's rural Maine.
Gwynne's accent really is a stroke of brilliance because it most definitely is funny and is quite enjoyable just to hear him speak in the role. That alone might be good but what's remarkable is that even though it is an entertaining choice Gwynne's choice does not feel wrong for the horror aspect of the film. Gwynne somehow manages to make the accent go beyond being something simply to enjoyed. Of course if this accent was used in a serious drama it would seem quite out of place, but Gwynne seems to know the sort of film Pet Sematary is or at least should be. Gwynne plays into the certain absurdity of the material, but he does not let his performance be just absurd so to speak. Gwynne's accent manages to also carry this certain well mythic quality to it, it feels like the voice of a man whose had a long history involving the supernatural elements of the film, in his voice you can feel the sort of chill the story should have. Gwynne creates such a palatable atmosphere simply within this unusual though very effective approach as old Jud Crandall. You can sense the evil of the place because Gwynne presents a man who has already seen the secrets of the land.
Gwynne's whole performance is so fitting for this sort of spooky story. I love one of his first scenes where he introduces himself to his new neighbors and remarks on some things he'll show them in the future. The look Gwynne gives out towards the path which leads to the titular cemetery is simply marvelous as it brings such an eerie quality to the proceedings. Gwynne's work here is such a fantastic example of an actor finding the tone of the film when the film fails to discover it as any moment you see Gwynne the film suddenly seems as though it's actually good. Gwynne finds just the right balance in his performance as he gives the story a humor of sorts through that manner that seems excessively fitting for a story one would tell around the campfire, which should be scary though that has humor within in the the general idea too. Gwynne does this so well that he manages to make the story come to life in a way that the film in itself falters in its attempts to do so. Whenever Gwynne is onscreen the film actually seems to work, even though this is often in scenes with Dale Midkiff who seems to be doing his very best to ensure that the film does not.
Now there's something even weirder about this performance. Much of the cast takes a very serious approach to the material, or at least I assume Midkiff was trying to be serious, even though story is filled with ridiculous moments. The film does seem to attempt to also have its genuinely dramatic moments within the story, but the actors who brings the most weight to these scenes is also Fred Gwynne. Gwynne is haunting in the moments where he describes the real nature of what they have done by even using the cemetery with his particularly memorable delivery of "Sometimes dead is better". Gwynne though goes past simply giving some gravity to the idea of raising someone from the dead, but also in less otherworldly concept of death itself. Even when Midkiff is the one suppose to be portrayal insurmountable grief over a certain death it is Gwynne is the one who is heartbreaking in portraying the sadness in Jud for having introduced the cemetery. Gwynne is incredibly moving as he realizes the terrible guilt in Jud who blames himself for everything that has happened. It is amazing that Gwynne is somehow the most entertaining performance and the most poignant performance in the film. He succeeds in finding exactly the right approach to handle the material and manages to elevate it to something quite memorable. He does not quite save the film, I still would not recommend it at least without some severe hesitation. He does give it an element that's well worth watching, which quite honestly shows how the rest of the film should have been.