For whatever reason, I have always loved the killer animal sub-genre. I am guessing that it is probably because I am an animal lover and movies are one of the few places where people who abuse animals get their true comeuppance in the way that they deserve. This never happens in real life and when I see pissed off animals attacking people who have wronged them or the environment, I get all warm and fuzzy inside. Another interesting aspect of killer animal movies is that when one of our furry friends goes bad, we usually emphasize with the animal even though it is wreaking havoc. King Kong is a classic example of this. If you ask many children of the 80's to name a killer animal movie, Cujo is likely one of the first titles that will come out of their mouth.
Cujo is from the golden age of Stephen King adaptations where great directors were taking on the material. Genre regular Dee Wallace and child star Danny Pintauro (TV's "Who's The Boss") are a mother and son trapped in a car for the last half of the movie movie while a rabid St, Bernard named Cujo stalks around the outside. This extended climax is what people remember from the film and the first 45 minutes of character development seems rather secondary other than to establish that there are marital problems with Stone and her husband and that Cujo's owner is a hick with a dysfunctional family as well. There is not much to like in any of the characters which is too bad as I think it would have made the suspenseful final act of the film all the more intense. Instead, I found myself not really caring if Wallace and the boy escaped. In fact, at times I was hoping that she would stop his incessant screaming and crying by throwing him to the dog. As a result, the lack of action and relation to the characters renders the film as slightly inferior to other King adaptations such as Carrie and Christine.
Maybe I am being too harsh as I really like Lewis Teague as a director but I find that with movies like this, character is all-important. The dog was made out to be an innocent victim of a bat-bite and I found myself emphasizing way more with Cujo than the people around him. When Cujo attacks a few people as the rabies is setting in, they are people who have it coming, which does not result in making the dog to be the hound of hell it could have been. By the time he gets to Wallace and Pintauro, Cujo seems like an animal confused by how he is going mad rather than the malicious cold-blooded killer that the DVD cover suggests. The dog can't help it so we don't really have a reason to hate it. These things can happen to dogs in the country, just like it did to Old Yeller. By the end of the flick, we know what has to happen and we know how things are probably going to turn out but many viewers may find themselves unsure as to how they feel about what has ensued. Teague peppers the proceedings with a few well-placed jump scares and the make-up on the dog is excellent making him look more pathetic as he becomes more menacing. An interesting choice. This movie was strange to me because I found it quite scary when I was a kid but now that I am older and can see all the human interactions in the movie for what they are, I have a much different opinion.
Cujo's owner was played by Ed Lauter who you will recognize from all sorts of movies from the 70's to now. Dee Wallace's then-husband Christopher Stone (The Junkman) plays the deadbeat neighbor who she has an affair with, Teague has previously directed Alligator and went on to direct Cat's Eye and Navy Seals. Cinematographer Jan de Bont went on to direct the Speed movies and Twister. Peter Medak (The Changeling) was originally slated to direct this but was replaced by Teague shortly after production began. (Josh Pasnak, 6/24/08)
Directed By: Lewis Teague.
Written By: Don Carlos Dunaway, Lauren Currier.
Starring: Dee Wallace, Danny Pintauro, Daniel Hugh-Kelly, Ed Lauter.