31 Screams in October, Vol. 2, #21: Cujo (1983)

Posted: October 22, 2015 in Movie Review
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Cujo (1983)

Director: Lewis Teague

Starring: Dee Wallace, Daniel Hugh-Kelly, Danny Pintauro, Ed Lauter, Christopher Stone

There’s something genuinely unsettling about an animal that goes berserk. The night before I was to watch “Cujo” for my October horror marathon, I had a bizarre dream involving an alligator on the loose. Only way to get away from the damn thing was to wake up. As it concerns dogs, I would not even go near one until my family took one in as a pet. Up until then, I was always fearful of being attacked. “Cujo” touches on that old fear, even as it seems to take its sweet time getting to it.

Based on the Stephen King novel, the title creature is a St. Bernard, who begins the film as a sweet-natured mutt, albeit one driven by primal instincts bound to get him into trouble someday. That day is today, as he gives chase to a rabbit that’s just a bit too fast for him. Cujo sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong, and gets bitten by a bat (another creature that REALLY makes my skin crawl). That this doesn’t turn him into a vampire dog is just plain tragic. Oh, come on! Forget for a moment how ridiculously implausible it is. A vampire dog would be incredible! Instead, Cujo simply comes down with rabies. There are, of course, humans in this story.

The Trenton family is experiencing a bit of a rough patch. Vic (Daniel Hugh-Kelly), who works in advertising, is upset because his brainchild, a series of cereal commericals, is pretty much done for after the cereal has been making some children ill. As if he didn’t have his livelihood to worry about, his marriage is in jeopardy, as well. But he doesn’t even know about the affair that his wife Donna (Dee Wallace) is having with her high school ex-boyfriend, Steve Kemp (Christopher Stone). Why in the world we need a subplot that’s destined to make the female lead less likable is beyond me, but there it is.

Both of their cars, his red convertible and her Ford P.O.S. (otherwise known as a Ford Pinto), have problems that need attending. Referred by his mailman, Vic acquires the services of mechanic Joe Camber (Ed Lauter), the owner of Cujo. He gets his car fixed but, in the wake of discovering his wife’s indiscretion, neglects to take her car in before leaving town on business. So, Donna and her son, Tad (Danny Pintauro) drive up to Joe Camber’s place, where the car finally breaks down. Unbeknownst to them, Cujo has already killed both Joe Camber and his neighbor, and they are his next targets. With the car their only safe haven, there they stay. Soon, their choices are limited to dying from heat stroke inside the car or from an attack by the rabid dog outside.

His repeated attempts to call the house going unanswered, Vic becomes concerned and drives home. He finds the place trashed, convinced that Steve has kidnapped or done something to his wife and child. The police arrest him, and he admits to vandalizing the house, but has not a clue where Donna and Tad are. When an officer sent to Joe Camber’s place does not call in (being dead and all). Vic heads there in a hurry. Meanwhile, Donna has recognized the fact that her son is near death, and must act now or regret it forever. Grabbing a baseball bat, she beats Cujo with it until it breaks, and then stabs him with the jagged handle that remains. Instead of going for the old double-tap with the officers gun, Donna instead uses the butt of the gun to break open the Pinto’s rear window, as both of the door handles had been broken by Cujo. Vic arrives just after Donna has had time to revive Tad and shoot a not-quite-dead-yet Cujo.

This is a movie that, quite frankly, is twice as long as it needs to be. The plot is not that complicated at all, and actually deserved to be even more concise. First off all, forget the subplot with the affair. You can still have the screwed up automobiles as the reason to be at Joe Camber’s house, and Vic can still have his business trip as his reason for not being around to notice right away that his wife and son have failed to return home. Done and done. That way, you can concentrate on the standoff with the mangy canine. This section of the film does have its moments of authentic suspense, but there’s just too much fluff to sit through to make it worthwhile. A 45-minute short film on the subject would have sufficed. But a movie about a vampire dog? Now, that I could have justified spending a full hour and a half on.

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Comments
  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Extremely interesting and almost certainly valid take on the movie! Great review!

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