Nothing says "killer dog" like a white fence with red paint on it...
I love dogs. I mean, I love just about all animals, but dogs hold a special place in my heart. Their love and loyalty is second only to humans. Sorry cat-lovers, but it's true. I can't remember the last time a cat was really excited to see me. It's because of this love that I despise animal cruelty. It boils my blood to read about someone abusing an animal. Even if it's just in the world of movies, it still bothers me a little bit. It's under these general feelings that I watched a movie I had been putting off for a long time.
Cujo is a 1983 horror movie based off the novel of the same name by Stephen King (The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption). The movie stars Dee Wallace (Exit Humanity, The Howling) as Donna Trenton and Danny Pintauro (Who's The Boss?, As The World Turns) as her son Tad. A large St. Bernard named Cujo is bitten by a bat and contracts rabies. Cujo's behavior changes go unnoticed by it's owner, mechanic Joe Camber (Ed Lauter, Not Another Teen Movie, Youngblood). Donna's husband, Vic (Daniel Hugh Kelly, Ryan's Hope, Memphis Beat) rightfully suspects that Donna is cheating on him. When a work crisis forces him to take a long business trip, Donna takes her car to Joe to be fixed. Unknown to Donna, Cujo has succumbed to rabies, attacking and killing Joe and his friend. When she arrives, they are viciously attacked by Cujo, who smashed the car's windows and damages the exterior. They try to drive away, but the car will no longer start. The dog waits outside and repeatedly attacks every time Donna tries to get out of the car. Donna and Tad are forced to sit in the car for days, enduring intense heat and dehydration. Vic finally returns home from his trip to find his house vandalized and his wife and son missing. He calls the police, blaming the man Donna had an affair with for their kidnapping. A local sheriff is sent to Joe Camber's house and is attacked by Cujo. With no more help coming and death all around her, how will Donna be able to escape with her son?
"Hello, we'd like you to have this flower from the Church of Consciousness!"
If that description of a movie seems slim, don't blame me. Not much really happens in Cujo as the first half of the movie is just filler to kill time until Cujo attacks the car. Of course, the other problem is that the second half of the movie is essential just two people sitting in a car. We know Stephen King can write horror and suspense, so the source material isn't the problem. The story plods along with nothing particularly interesting happening for long stretches of time. The first few minutes of Cujo attacking Donna's car are actually frightening, but the movie gets stuck in the same gear from that point on. The true horror of a story like Cujo lies in suspense and psychological torture. It's the waiting that should be scary, the knowledge that going outside of the car means death, but staying inside the car also means death. That's pretty scary, especially in written form, when it's done correctly. Unfortunately, it's not done that way in Cujo and comes off as just boring. It's not entertaining to watch essentially the same scene over and over for half a movie.
As I mentioned above, I don't like seeing animals hurt. Cujo's transformation is quite heartbreaking, especially because it was due mostly to neglect by his owners. Selfishness is a big theme in the movie, between Cujo being ignored and Donna cheating on her husband. The entire adultery story didn't work for me as it was never portrayed as a particularly important part of the story. It didn't really change all that much or effect anyone's decisions or motivations. If anything, it just made me hate Donna and not care about her well-being. On top of that, Tad falls into the all-to-common trap of children in horror movies being incredibly annoying. I don't blame Danny Pintauro, I blame lazy writers and directors that just had him scream and cry for 45 minutes. Horror movie writers and directors, I beg you, please stop making kids in horror movies annoying or stupid. It makes me want to cheer for the bad guy to get them just so I don't have to hear or see them anymore.
Director Lewis Teague (Navy SEALs, Cat's Eye) manages to suck the life out of the few action scenes in the movie with some questionable shots. There is one scene where Donna and Tad are stuck in the car where the camera continuously swings around 360 degrees. It wasn't creative, it was just nauseating and unnecessary. He's forced to stretch out scenes far longer than they could manage and it kills what suspense the movie could muster. The acting is passable with just about hovering around my annoyance tolerance level. I don't normally pick up on a lot of errors in movies, but there is one scene in Cujo that I couldn't believe made it out of editing. On the first night of Cujo's attack, a phone ringing inside Joe's house causes Cujo to jump through the window. Before the dog leaves the house, we clearly see the trainer's hand reach up and pull the dog down. How can you miss something like that? It's not even like it was a quick flash of a hand and then a cut away. You clearly see an arm shoot up and pull the dog down. What a screw up!
"Give me all your Pupperonis!"
I like Stephen King's work and have enjoyed a good amount of the movies based his stories. While Cujo is a well-known story, I just don't think it had enough to create a complete movie. Like another King adaptation, Graveyard Shift, Cujo essentially has one important scene and nothing else going for it. Scenes feel too stretched-out and all the emotion from the characters feels drained and pointless. The adultery storyline never really goes anywhere and just feels like unnecessary filler material. By making Donna a cheater, I felt less inclined to cheer for her survival. Throw in an annoying child and I was practically cheering for Cujo to finish them off. I didn't like seeing the dog's transformation, but it wasn't gruesome or particularly harsh. Cujo has a few good moments and a scare or two, but it's just not enough to make the movie good.