Saturday, August 6, 2011

Deadly Dogs Week: Cujo (1983)

You didn't think I'd leave out the mother of all killer dog movies, did you? Of course not! It's a simple but well told story and came from the brilliant mind of my God, Stephen King (although even he admits that he was high as a fucking kite at the time and doesn't remember writing the book). Over 20 years since its release, Cujo still packs a pretty good punch.

Hopefully you don't need much of a synopsis for this one but it's become part of the format for my posts so here's a very short one: Donna and her young son Tad become stranded in their broken down Pinto by a rabid Saint Bernard. My review here is going to be less about the movie as a whole but rather some specific elements of it that I've always thought were intriguing.

Watching the movie again, there is a long setup until we get to the Camber house and all hell breaks loose with Cujo and poor Donna and Tad in the middle of it. This setup is necessary though to make the situation seem realistic and believable. We have to know that Joe Camber was planning to go out of town and stopped his mail. We have to know about Charity wanting to get her and her son away from Joe for a while so that no one knew something was wrong with Cujo until it was too late. We have to know about Vic's also going out of town and Donna's extramarital affair so that Vic thinks there's another possible reason for Donna's absence when he comes back home.

As the book mentions several times, there are a lot of factors that come into play that make this unique situation possible. Otherwise, you'd have people saying "Well why didn't they do this..." all through the movie. So the prolonged setup here in the movie is important both story-wise and in building suspense. But then I guess the biggest question of all is why didn't Donna call Joe Camber to make sure he'd be at his house before she took that piece of car way out there in the first place???

I actually love the earlier scenes where Cujo is just beginning to feel his sickness and you can tell that it is really hurting him. The little movements that they got the dog to do totally portrayed the progression of the rabies infection. Hopefully it also makes you feel a little sorry for Cujo, as well, because he is very much the victim of the story along with being the villain.

A word about Danny Pintauro as Tad Trenton. This kid absolutely KILLS in this movie. When I see a child acting as real and amazing as little Danny does in Cujo, I'm of the mind that maybe kids make better actors than adults overall. When he's all gaunt and pale-looking and crouched in the back of the Pinto screaming his head off while Cujo attacks his mother? Forget about it. It is his acting that sells most of the scenes in the car and he is perhaps the catalyst for Donna's actions. She might have given up or done something stupid a lot sooner if she didn't have her son to think about. Plus, his being brought back from the brink of death sort of becomes the redemptive factor for Donna and Vic's relationship.

Oh, the poor Pinto. Often known for being pretty much the worst car ever made, it is also gloriously immortalized as Donna and Tad's other captor in Cujo. The car is the reason they become stranded and does absolutely nothing to alleviate their situation, as it becomes an oven baking them in the heat and increasingly smaller and more uncomfortable. There is a great 360 degree dizzying shot of the inside of the Pinto after Donna has first been attacked by Cujo. The camera turns from Donna to Tad screaming and then back to Donna and then back to Tad, spinning faster and faster until the shot is a blur. 

I've always had mixed feelings about Stephen King's choice of a Saint Bernard for the rabid dog in Cujo. On the one hand, it's a good choice because even though giving any kind of dog rabies will make them a believable foe, Saint Bernards are very large and strong. On the other hand, Saint Bernards are also known for being a relatively gentle and loyal breed, and people often say they are the best dogs for families because they are so good with children. So it kinda sucks that they're given such a bad rap in this movie. Oh well, I guess Beethoven makes up for the damage done in Cujo.

So despite any of the usual problems with older movies - aging and whatnot - I think Cujo is one that can still affect people on the visceral level and continue to wear the hat of the first and probably the best of movies that make the family pet our worst nightmare.

Alright, this concludes Deadly Dogs Week! There was another movie I wanted to do for this called Play Dead but Netflix said it was going to be a "very long wait." 


  1. "Cujo" was so realistic, it terrified me to death. It was lacking in execution and it's maybe a bit too dated for today's standards, but still remains a cult classic. Excellent review, and I pretty much agree with you. I wish I'd know your real name, as your nickname is so long, I'm getting tired writing it down sometimes :)

  2. Well, that's a very sweet name for a girl who loves horror. I love it. :) And, I'm George, Michele.

  3. Thanks for the post, Michele. I'm still struggling trying to keep up with all of the blogs, but I'm trying. *waves*
    It's been a long time since I've seen Cujo, but I certainly remember it. That was back when I was reading everyting that Uncle Stevie was writing. Right now, I just don't have the time anymore. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.


  4. I think "Cujo" has aged fairly well. Sure, it feels a little dated from a costuming standpoint. But on the other hand, Dee Wallace is awesome; she should have gotten an Oscar nomination. And the animal acting is some of the best I've ever seen.

    The ending is ever so slightly cheesy, but overall, it's a very good movie. Eventually, I'm sure there'll be a remake; and it'll be nowhere near as good, most likely.

  5. I totally love CUJO, one of the very few King-Adaptatiosn that are almost as great as the book.

    Great review, Michele!

  6. I adore this movie and this book. Cujo was my first Stephen King book and it terrified me cuz it could happen.

    One good reason to give your dogs a good rabies shot!