On April 5th, prepare to enter the terrifying world of Horror master Stephen King when Paramount Pictures releases the adaptation of his 1983 novel, Pet Sematary. Considered one of King’s most chilling books (and that’s saying something), Pet Sematary is the story of Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) who moves from Boston to the rural outskirts of Maine with his wife (Amy Seimetz) and their two children. It doesn’t take long for the Creed family to discover an ominous burial ground located behind their new home. After a tragic accident, and ignoring the warnings of their neighbor, Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), Pet Sematary takes a left turn into a dark and evil realm.
In addition to the amazing human actors, you might have guessed that Pet Sematary features some wonderful animal players as well. We’re happy to report that not only were American Humane Certified Animals Safety Representatives on set working closely with the animals’ trainers to ensure their safety, but that the cast and crew of Pet Sematary were beyond cooperative and a joy to work with. The most prominent animals in the film played the Creed family cat, played by both Tonic and Leo. With their ominous stares and broken postures, Tonic and Leo were masterful in creating some bone-chilling scenes. Of course, the cats didn’t achieve these performances on their own. They had help from their trainers and, of course, the architects of the movies, director-team, Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer. Veterans in the Horror world themselves with films such as Starry Eyes and Mama 2 to their credits, Kolsch and Widmyer brought their own sinister spin on the classic King tale. American Humane was lucky enough to talk to one half of the director duo, Dennis Widmyer, about Pet Sematary, working with the creepy cat and their take on American Humane’s Film/TV unit!
American Humane: As one of the the directors of Pet Sematary, how difficult was it to get certain shots of the animals? The cat’s reactions in particular were amazing.
Dennis Widmyer: The cats were a dream to work with. The trainers were amazing at getting reactions from the cats. They all gave us great performances.
American Humane: Do you have a say in casting an animal in your film? Is it important for you to get the “right” animal? Behavior, look, etc?
Dennis Widmyer: We absolutely had a say. We based the look of the cat(s) off the original drawing of Church from the first hardcover edition of Pet Sematary. As for behavior, each cat specialized in its own talents. Hissing. Staring. Jumping.
American Humane: In your new film the animals work closely with actors. What are the challenges of shooting a scene with an actor interacting with the animal? Do the actor and the animal have to get acquainted off-camera prior to shooting the film?
Dennis Widmyer: Yes, we always got the animals acclimated to the environment before they were on camera. This meant clearing out the crew and making it nice and private so they could walk around and sniff everything, getting comfortable. We’d then let them bond with the actors they were to perform with. And in-between shooting scenes, we’d always have the actors visit the cats in their private cat village and hang out with them, to help further those bonds.
American Humane: What is your view of animal protection on a production in general?
Dennis Widmyer: As cat owners ourselves, we treat this very seriously and were thrilled by the level of professionalism on set with the animals. Their care and protection was at our utmost concern and in the end, they were the divas on the set. Everyone worshipped them… (and we think they knew it!).