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Cujo (1983)

4 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Reportedly, Stephen King was drinking rather heavily when he wrote his novel “Cujo,” about a rabid killer dog, and apparently has no recollection of writing it. I don’t know what mood he was in when he wrote the novel, but he must’ve had it pretty bad, for him to drink so much. What other excuse would there be for Stephen King to create such an uncomfortable story? I realize the point of horror stories is to unnerve and scare, but “Cujo” goes too far by basically taking a friendly, gentle dog and turning it into a vicious killing machine. Being a dog lover myself, I speak only from a personal standpoint. And that’s pretty much how this review of the film adaptation of the same name is going to be. If you think you’re going to be annoyed by my objections, I suggest you stop reading.

I can’t necessarily knock the novel, as I haven’t read it. But I can knock the movie instead. The idea for this story is one of the cruelest for a horror story, possibly worse than a story about a psychotic killer child. It begins in a cruel way, as the lovable 200-pound St. Bernard named Cujo (what kind of name is that, anyway?) playfully chases a rabbit across a field behind his owner’s house, at the end of a dead-end road. Next thing he knows, he gets his head stuck in a small cave full of bats and actually getting himself bitten by one of them.

Cujo isn’t feeling very well and hasn’t gotten his rabies shots. As days go by, he seems to get worse and worse. And here’s one of the problems with logic in the movie—neither Cujo’s young owner nor his parents seem to notice the nasty bat bite on the poor dog’s nose. If they did, Cujo wouldn’t get rabies and we wouldn’t have a story. And surely enough, Cujo becomes rabid and vicious. He kills the man of the house, mechanic Joe Camber (Ed Lauter), and a friend (Mills Watson). This leads us to the second half of “Cujo,” in which Donna Trenton (Dee Wallace, giving the best performance in the movie) and her five-year-old son Tad (Danny Pintauro) drive out to the house, in the middle of nowhere, in a faulty Ford Pinto. Surely enough, they are trapped in the car by the newly-formed beast, because the car’s alternator dies.

This is actually the part of the movie that is admittedly suspenseful. I consider myself a sucker for movies that feature characters limited to one spot—the claustrophobia and vulnerability aspects make for effective terror. Donna and Tad are trapped for days, knowing that Cujo will somehow make his way into the car to get them. The owner is dead, the others have left, the mailman isn’t coming around anytime soon (because mail is supposed to be on hold for a while), and no one knows where they are…except Cujo. This is a convincing setup and has some tense, frightening moments. It’s just too bad we had to see this formerly cute dog transformed into a monster in order for it to come about.

What does “Cujo” really amount to? Is it telling us to make sure that our dogs have all of their shots? Well, that’s effective enough, but you’d think that that would have happened already. Basically, “Cujo” requires its characters to be idiots for all of this to happen in the first place, and even the protagonists aren’t all that bright, as Donna just continues to stand around while trying to escape, even after given enough time to see if the coast is clear.

As hard as it is to admit, the dog isn’t consistently convincing. Sometimes it’s vicious enough, but other times it just looks like a dog playing around with snarling-dog sound effects. It doesn’t matter how bad they make the dog look after it transforms into the killer dog, drenching him with blood and foam (speaking of which, I felt sorry for the dog having to go through all of that). Whatever Stephen King was thinking when he wrote “Cujo” and inspired this movie, I can only say that this deserves to be put down.