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February 10, 2009


1983, Dir. by Lewis Teague

For starters, this will be one of the few movies I review on this website that I have starred in a remake of. It's true - I did play the role of Cujo in a friend's project during our 12th Grade Contemporary Literature class (or something like that, I don't even remember what the class was called). With all due respect to the fella to the left of this text, I was one convincing rabid Saint Bernard.

Hollywood has higher standards, however, and thus the 1983 adaptation of Stephen King's novel did not star The Mike. It was a wise move, because I was two at the time, and still had a peanut shaped head. So, 1 Cool point goes out to director Lewis Teague and the producers.

The Plot
Vic and Donna Trenton (Daniel Hugh-Kelly and Dee Wallace), and their six-year-old son Tad (Danny Pintauro) live a happy life in Maine. But like most people Stephen King writes into his home state, things aren't entirely what they seem. Vic's successful advertising job is slipping away, as is his marriage - as it appears Donna is having an affair with a town handyman (Christopher Stone, Wallace's husband in real life at the time). Things go to crud, Vic leaves town to try and save his job, and Donna and Tad take their breaking down pinto to the farm of a local mechanic (the cool Ed Lauter), which happens to be on the completely secluded side of town (and it's funny how many small towns have these!)

Oh, and at the same time, said mechanic's friendly Saint Bernard, Cujo (an ancient indian term for "unstoppable force" - not a good sign) has gotten a bad case of rabies, and become determined to kill anything that moves. Couple that with the Trentons' car breaking down right in that driveway on the completely secluded side of town, and you've got a horror movie!

The Good
As the attempt at a synopsis above shows (or maybe doesn't, I don't know) there isn't a lot to King's story. He contributed heavily to the film's script, but it's clear that a lot of the book's ideas made it straight into the film. While a lot of the more descriptive bits of the book aren't fleshed out in the film, the man vs. beast nature of the story is still evident. Most importantly, the hopelessness that sets in on the trapped mother and son is thick, and there's a lot of natural tension - disregarding a ridiculous spinning camera while everyone cries and screams shot.

The beast dog himself is pretty impressive. Five Saint Bernards under heavy makeup, plus a robotronic beast and a dog suit for humans were used to bring Cujo to life, but you'd never know it from watching the film. It interacts well with the actors, especially Wallace (working on her third creature feature in three years), who conveys terror wonderfully.

The film's best scene comes when Wallace's Donna tries to escape but decides to look under the car...not a good idea.

The Bad
For all the good things Cujo has going for it in the simple story elements, there's bit wrong with it too. The film seems imbalanced while it's going, as there seems to be more time spent on the story's beginning and characters than is spent with the infected beast. The exposition is welcome and helpful, but the slightly shortened second half makes me wish for a little more carnage once the film's over.

Most importantly, my biggest pet peeve about any movie lives within this film - the inconsistent and occasionally terrible child actor. Young Mr. Pinatauro, while acceptable for most of the film, becomes grating while trapped in the car. I give him some credit, considering the film is a little taxing for a young man, but I needed a little less screaming at times. It's like he took it to 11, when 8 would have sufficed.

Random Moments
  • There's a Pavlovian undercurrent when Cujo's violence is triggered, twice, by the ringing telephone in the mechanic's home.
  • There's a police officer named Bannerman that shows up in the final act...a reference to the sherrif in King's The Dead Zone.
  • Who's responsible for getting Cujo to be this rabid fellow he becomes? This little fella.
The Verdict
Cujo is a solid little horror film, but it never really reaches the level of the text. Of the King books I've read (and can remember), this is one of the most difficult to adapt, because a large portion of the book is explanation of the setting and the dog's actions - things that are more easily explained than conveyed on film. There are enough interesting moments to make it a watchable and slightly enjoyable film, but there are also reminders of why it's sometimes better to read a book that hamper the movie from being great.

The Mike's Rating: Solid Selection


Travis Blubaugh said...

Awesome review! I should know as I came up with the remake you starred in!

Anonymous said...

Another great review, Bruce, though I've never seen this one! I should turn in my horror-lover badge :(

Anonymous said...

Pardon me but the rabbit didn't give Cujo rabies, a bat did.