Two days into Shocktober and I’ve already broken my own rule. All of the films selected were supposed to be available on Netflix at the time of review. Yet Cujo was taken off yesterday. What evil force is working against me to talk about the story of a sweet young boy and a dog with rabies? Luckily, I watched the film before those Netflix fat cats ripped it from my cold bloody paws.
Based on the Stephen King novel, that he wrote while he was drunk 24/7, Cujo is a simple story. Much like Jaws, Cujo is a “people vs. a big scary animal movie.” In this case, it’s a St. Bernard–like everybody’s favorite slob Beethoven–who gets rabies after a bat bites him. Not sure if that happened in a Beethoven movie. One of the later ones, maybe.
The film stars a talented Dee Wallace as Donna (E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial) enjoying family life in a small town while hiding an affair with her old flame Steve (Chuck Norris lookalike Christopher Stone). Her husband is Vic (Daniel Hugh-Kelly), a forgettable advertising executive with a shitty car in constant need of repair. Since Vic is too impatient to use a not crazy mechanic, he drives his car to the outskirts of town where a shifty redneck named Joe Camber (Ed Lauter) tunes it up. Camber is also the owner of Cujo.
First off, the animal acting in this film is impressive. You can attribute this to quality animal wrangling or training, but no, I’m going with animal acting. The five St. Bernards, one rottweiler, one mechanical dog head and one guy in a dog costume who play Cujo give a Saturn Award worthy performance. Even King himself has said this has the scariest scene in any movie adapted from one of his novels, and you better believe it’s because of the dog.
The subplots are boring. I couldn’t care less about Donna’s affair, or her son Tad’s (Danny Pintauro) fear of a monster living in his closet. I don’t care because they don’t matter. We know the threat. The dog should have been one hundred percent of the focus. Monster movies should be about monsters. Take Jaws for example.
In the book version of Jaws, there’s an affair, hell, there’s even a subplot with the mafia. Yet when it came to adapting the film to the screen, Carl Gottlieb wisely cut out those subplots so every subplot in the film revolved around the shark. Cujo is more of an afterthought until the midpoint of the film. Which is too bad because all of the Cujo scenes are scary as hell.
If I haven’t alread iterated this enough, “BIG DOGGOS ARE SCARY!!!” They are scary because they are real. We’ve all encountered a pissed off pooch at least once in our lifetime. It gives you such a feeling of hopelessness. You can’t outrun it, or beat it in a fight, or reason with it. If this didn’t make the film damaging enough, take into the account this pupper doesn’t want to hurt anyone. That’s sad and it makes me uncomfortable, but horror movies should never be comfortable.
The last half of the film is set entirely within Donna’s car. Along with Tad, the two must struggle in the adverse heat, in the middle of nowhere, with a raging monster watching them at all times. It goes on long but it’s tense, it’s unpredictable and well acted. Even six-year-old Danny Pintauro gives a convincing performance.
The film ends on a sad note, as about 99% of movies that feature dogs do, but it’s an effective ending. Maybe not one of the more memorable King adaptations, but it’s not one of the more memorable King novels either. Remember, King was super wasted. Or maybe a bit rabid? I’m sorry. These are so hard to end.
P.S. According to Wikipedia, in 2015, Sunn Classic Pictures announced they would develop a remake titled C.U.J.O., which stands for “Canine Unit Joint Operations.” Still waiting for that one.