Director: Lewis Teague
Starring: Dee Wallace, Danny Pintauro, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Christopher Stone, Ed Lauter
Now there’s a new name for terror…
Today, a killer animal movie is usually done in a comedic style and in most cases seem to be done for the not-so-serious Syfy channel. Back in the early 80’s though, those type of stories were still treated seriously, including Cujo which was based on a Stephen King novel.
Cujo is not only about an animal, in this case a dog with rabies, that are out to destroy human beings. Cujo is just as much as family drama about a broken family that are struggling with infidelity.
Donna Trenton is the main character in this film, a woman who has a young son with her husband Vic and also an affair with her ex-boyfriend Steve. When Vic finds out about this, he leaves his family behind by going on a business trip to clear his head on how he should react to his wife’s adultery. While being left behind, Donna has to take their old car out for a repair, but the farmhouse where her mechanic lives has now been taken over by a big St. Bernard dog with rabies named “Cujo”.
Cujo was released at a time before moviegoers were used to getting several Stephen King adaptations each year. There had only been a handful of movies before this one based on his stories, and most were very successful and included classics such as Carrie, The Shining and Creepshow. Cujo and the other films of 1983, which included The Dead Zone and Christine, would mark a change in quality of films based on his work. From now on there would be more quantity than quality for his fans in the years to come.
Cujo is not a classic like the earlier films, but it is a film with some strong points to it. The natural human aspect of the film is very well done. You can feel the turmoil of the family and the characters do feel very real. That also has much to do with the great casting of some good actors.
Dee Wallace is an amazing actress and she gives one of her best performances as the frustrated wife and caring mother here. Her fight to both keep herself alive and also try to keep her son safe while they are stuck in the car with Cujo preying outside of it is so human and realistic that you will cheer for her even though she is introduced as a character that has committed a wrongful act earlier by cheating on her husband.
Director Lewis Teague came from the school of Roger Corman, although that’s not something you can easily see in this film. He understood the story and what made the novel work and kept everything very serious and adult. He got this job after doing another killer animal film a few years earlier called Alligator. He would also go on to direct another movie based on the work of Stephen King, the horror anthology film Cat’s Eye two years after Cujo.
He is also able to keep this very simple story alive for 90 minutes, and that’s not such an easy task as there isn’t very much happening in the film. Modern horror fans might want more blood and guts and can find this film to be a bit boring to be honest. Older and more patient viewers will perhaps enjoy it a bit more for what it is. I have a growing fondness for the film as I always found it to be a bit average when I saw it in my younger days and now I appreciate it more and more, especially the performance by Dee Wallace. Cujo is not the most entertaining film in the world, but it is solid.