Friday, September 1, 2017


Lewis Teague

Donna Trenton (Dee Wallace) is a bored stay-at-home mom, feeling trapped in her mundane existence with her child, Tad (Danny Pintauro), and her ad executive husband who is often gone for extended periods. She takes up an affair with an old high school flame, but soon regrets her decision and tries to make amends. With her home life starting to crumble around her, she finds herself alone with just her son, a broken down car, and a giant rabid St. Bernard outside her door that would like nothing more than to tear her apart.

Much like the author’s output, Stephen King adaptions vary wildly in quality. His work appears deceptively easy to adapt. The homey well documented lives of his characters, and the sadistic bloodletting of his horror are so smoothly and skillfully rendered that it is easy to picture the events in the mind's eye while reading. It has proven to be far more difficult to translate those images to the screen.

Cujo, is a straightforward narrative. In a way, it parallels the structure of Jaws (1975), with the first half of the film establishing characters and the threat, while the second half becomes an extended siege in an isolated location. In the former, it’s a boat and in Cujo, it is Donna and Tad Trenton boiling in a non-functional Pinto.  The way the plot builds though a series of accidents and coincidence to put the Trentons in that position is surprisingly clever. Watching mother and son drive into a trap completely unaware is not quite up to Hitchcock levels of suspense, but for a killer dog movie, it is positively transcendent.

Dee Wallace is excellent in her role, she gives Donna Trenton a real internal life that shows through her failings and her eventual bravery. She imbues the character a humanity that is often missing from horror movie roles. She is not a quaking mess, or a superhuman ass-kicker, she’s a person put into an extreme situation and if we didn’t care about her plight, the final third of the movie would be a slog.

"No, you can't drive. You don't even how to parallel bark yet."
The other standout role is Cujo (well, the five dogs who played the role), the whole movie hinges on convincing performances from the animal actors. Often dogs just look like they are playing and having fun in roles where they are meant to be threatening, but Cujo is helped immensely by make-up, careful staging and editing. He is a grotesque and sad creation, evoking sympathy just through watching his friendly visage turn bloody and frothy through the course of the film.

Cujo has a lot of talent and decent source material to draw from and it shows. This is both a solid killer dog movie and a solid Stephen King movie. Everyone involved rises to the occasion. If anything, I think this movie might be underrated in the pantheon of King adaptions. Cujo is a taught, well made film that shows a lot of character without sacrificing what makes it a horror movie.

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