Mary Lambert on Making ‘Pet Sematary,’ Working with Stephen King & Fred Gwynne

MoMA in NYC hosted a massive horror retrospective this summer (on through September 5), and the guest for August 25, 2022, was director Mary Lambert, whose 1989 horror film Pet Sematary has a scary number of —you should pardon the expression — diehard fans.

After her Q&A, Mary was fully en-Gage-d (All images by Matthew Rettenmund, except as noted)

After a screening of the movie — which stars Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby, Brad Greenquist, Susan Blommaert, child actors Blaze Berdahl and Miko Hughes, and Fred Gwynne and is about a mystical cemetery where all things buried return to tortured life — Lambert spoke about the experience and gamely answered questions from audience members.

Watching the film, I was struck by the limited acting range on display, but Gwynne is marvelous in it. Lambert reminisced fondly about him, saying he had been the first person cast and the most eager: "This is a part I can slip on like overalls."

She also said he had to be aged with white hair, which makes sense. Playing a haunted old man, he was just about 62. (Sadly, he died very young — 66.)

Actually, Miko Hughes as Gage Creed is effervescent and effortlessly adorable, a doll, really, and so is perfect as a kid killed by one of the monster trucks that barrel down the road in front of the Creed residence, and who eventually comes back to life, with a desire to kill. Lambert talked about his performance, and also revealed (to at least some in the audience) that Zelda Goldman, a character meant to be an emaciated young woman suffering from spinal meningitis in flashbacks, was played by a boy (Andrew Hubatsek).

I cringed when one audience member brought up that the crowd had laughed during serious scenes, but loved Mary's response, which is that as a director "you pray for that," because that is key to horror, this unease and this pleasure at icky — but unreal — things.

Me at my most fannish! (Image by Charles Hovland)

Afterward, I was thrilled to meet Mary, who directed, four of Madonna's music videos: "Borderline" (1983), "Material Girl" (1985), "La Isla Bonita" (1987; this is now Madonna's most-watched video of all time on YouTube — by a lot) and "Like a Prayer" (1989). Since Pet Sematary came out at the same time as "Like a Prayer," I commented that 1989 was quite the blasphemous little year for her. She laughed and happily signed a Life spread I have had since 1985, saying she was "flattered" that fans were asking to pose with her.

Signing for fans

It's always a joy to watch a film that you've sat with a while — I paid to see this in the theater 33 years ago — and then hear what the filmmaker has to say about it.

Mary with look-alike sister Blanche Lincoln, the former U.S. senator

Here's Mary:

For context, here is a relatively recent chat with Dale Midkiff:

Here's a nine-year-old chat with Mary and Denise Crosby:

And then we have Miko three years ago:

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