October Blindspot: Cujo (1983)

Release: Friday, August 12, 1983


Written by: Don Carlos Dunaway; Lauren Currier

Directed by: Lewis Teague

Bad dog! Very BAD dog!

When man’s best friend becomes your worst enemy, you get Cujo‘ed — trapped in your 1983 Ford Gimp-mobile, fighting for your life against a rabid St. Bernard who can smell your fear and taste the salt of your sweat through the hot car windows and won’t stop attacking until he gets his treats.

Being the avid non-reader of Stephen King that I am, I’ll venture a guess that the modest thrills Cujo offers are not among the horror author’s most repeatedly sought out. The film’s gained a cult following over the years, and it’s not hard to see why even with the clunky narrative right-angles and the abundance of dull characters, not to mention an ending so abrupt it’s as if the filmmakers could NOT WAIT to get to the part where the audience applauds. Though if you ask me, what really makes Lewis Teague’s adaptation worth watching is how he presents the horror. As Michael Scott’s Fun Run Race for the Cure was so good at reminding us, rabies ain’t no joke.

As everyone but me has known for some time now, the story traces a cuddly pooch’s descent into madness after being bitten by a bat and the subsequent killing spree he goes on in a small American town. Famously the drama climaxes with a mother (Dee Wallace in an appropriately histrionic performance) and her young son (Danny Pintauro)’s terrifying encounter with the aggressive canine that imprisons them in the very car they’ve driven miles into the boonies to get repaired. With no easy escape in sight, a blood-soaked battle of wits ensues over the course of a couple of days.

Simplicity often works in the film’s favor, particularly as it concerns itself with that which is purely visually horrific: the transformation of Cujo from Ole Yeller to homicidal monster is surprisingly distressing. There’s not much more sickening than seeing dog fur matted with blood that’s not his own, eyes jaundiced from some level of psychosis only serial killers know. The horror in that way stems not from any supernatural force or alien-spawned violence but rather an animal succumbing to a real (nasty) disease.

When it comes to the human perspective, that’s where this monster movie struggles with its simplistic approach. The film’s pacing is so inconsistent it essentially becomes a tale of two halves, one that spends the first 45 minutes or so lounging about, exploring the dynamics of a rather boring family, and the other on the grisly, animal-related violence. In that first half, the Trentons are portrayed as a seemingly idyllic, loving household who inherit most of their character traits through their “fashionable” ’80s hairstyles and clothing. On the other side, we get a glimpse of the environment that breeds Cujo. (Spoiler alert: it’s not such a pretty picture.)

Only the broadest of brushstrokes are applied to the characters, with Daniel Hugh Kelly playing along as a likable and supportive father, while Wallace gets to have some fun with a more dynamic role as a distant housewife. The ones in closest proximity to Cujo, at least initially, are so obviously disposable. I will admit though it’s fun to watch them get turned into Cujo’s Kibbles and Bits. And as usual, the point of view of a child becomes a crucial lens through which a great many (if not all) King adaptations must be viewed. Cue a little more rolling around in cliché.

In Cujo, young Tad is convinced monsters are real. Of course, dear old dad — who is nearly subversive in his trustworthiness as a Horror Movie Dad — can’t possibly be expected to factor big-ass, ferociously rabid dogs into his anti-monster bedtime rhetoric. The film strains to connect it, but there’s an interesting enough parallel drawn between Tad’s imagination and the horror of reality he’s soon to experience.

Still, the loss of innocence is nowhere near as compelling as simply watching a wild animal confirm that sometimes one’s bite really is worse than his bark. Two thumbs up for the dog, woof. What a performance.

Curious about what’s next? Check out my Blindspot List here.

Chopper, sic balls . . .

Recommendation: Though it starts sluggish and takes its time to evolve from humdrum human drama into full-fledged, in-your-face bloody action, the back nine of this film is absolutely worth the wait. One well-trained animal makes it also well worth MY wait. But I wonder what organizations like PETA think of a movie like Cujo. I mean, yikes. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 93 mins. 

Quoted: “F**k you, dog.” 

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.denofgeek.com 

8 thoughts on “October Blindspot: Cujo (1983)

  1. Pingback: Month in Review: October ’17 | Thomas J

  2. Tom the Bomb! I’ve not had a chance to read the blogs in months. I’m gonna dig through your Blind Spot reviews! Love those. Glad you got some enjoyment out of Cujo. I’m a massive King fan (I’ve read, like, 47 of his books?). This movie is somewhere in the middle when it comes to all his films. A massive change of ending, but I can see why they changed it. Nice review, Tom! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Miss Mutester! It is great to see ya 😀

      My Blind Spot list has been so much fun to work on. Glad I did one, hope you’ve enjoyed picking through them. I unfortunately missed a couple reviews for them (I was really intimidated by the idea of writing one for Once Upon a Time in the West, because I’m a bitch) but overall mostly a success on that front.

      As you have noticed, my experience with King is quite a lot . . . less. Haha! I did enjoy Cujo though. Interested to know what the original ending was, then. I bet it was . . . darker?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ahh – Once Upon A Time In The West is a great film! As are the Dollars Trilogy films. I’ve watched them all for the very first time since starting my blogging thing. I had no clue how to go about reviewing them either. So I just did it poorly (as usual. Lol). Oh – the Cujo book ending? SPOILER (for anyone who might be reading…)……….

        The kid dies. They were stuck in the car too long. Too much of a downer for the movie, I assume. Hey – I was happy to see you liked Trainspotting! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Jeez I don’t think I have seen this since I was a rugrat, if I even watched it then (I used to watch and and all King movies on TV late at night, so I saw most of them back in the day). Hmmm, maybe time to give this a spin again. Great review 🙂


    • I enjoyed it. Definitely worth tracking down. Dee Wallace and the dog make this movie. Wished there was more characterisation to the people but the dogs aggressiveness makes up for a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Blindspot 2017 | Thomas J

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