Originally released in the summer of 1983, Cujo is a film which has firmly cemented itself as a pop culture powerhouse, but may be a film not many have actually seen. The film is familiar for many reasons; a rabid dog starts attacking people, a mother and her son stand-off against the dog and most famously it is based on a Stephen King novel. All of the above rings true when viewing Cujo for the first time – it is a film I am familiar with without actually ever seeing it. So iconic has Cujo become that it almost feels trivial to attempt a review now.
The opening scene serves to distract the audience from what is about to take place. A rabbit bounds across a field before being chased by a doleful looking St. Bernard – this all seems rather innocent until the rabbit hides away and a somewhat playful opening scene turns sinister. Trapped, the St. Bernard is bitten by a bat and slowly turns rabid.
It’s hard to imagine Cujo being in anyone’s list of top 10 horror films, but it is enjoyable enough and contains some genuinely tense moments. Directed by Lewis Teague and staring Dee Wallace, Cujo cements the theory that less is more – especially when it comes to the horror genre and Stephen King adaptations. King’s work has always been hit and miss for me – his work sometimes perpetuating the idea that he gets paid by the word and his tendency to drag stories out further amplifies that theory. Despite this, he has the uncanny knack of delivering a wild third act that defies everything that has come before it.
Cujo meanders for the most part, setting up the dysfunctional Trenton family & their redneck neighbours the Camber’s, while never feeling like it will ever switch gears and start gaining momentum. Dee Wallace gets the most do as the bored housewife who is having an affair with an old flame, while Daniel Hugh-Kelly’s advertising executive is witnessing a backlash to the cereal he has branded as being the healthiest on the market. Their relationship is plainly strained, but we are never given much reason to care how it pans out for them. Given this, it’s surprising how much weight the final acts carries for the characters and the audience.
The 80’s and the 90’s saw a raft of King adaptations head our way and it was inevitable that the quality would fluctuate from great to awful and everything that sits in between those glaringly drab assumptions of a films quality. Both annoyingly and predictably, Cujo sits firmly in the middle. A tense and taught final act sees Dee Wallace conjure up the fortitude necessary to defend herself and her son in their Ford Pinto, while at the same time-saving the film from being another unexceptional Stephen King adaptation.
Cujo is released on DVD and Blu-ray 29 April as part of the Eureka Classics range.