Peter’s Retro Movie Review: Cujo (1983)

October 12, 2012

Cujo (1983) posterby Peter Nielsen

Welcome back ladies and gentlemen! I hope you’re having a good time on this year’s edition of October Spooky Flix Fest and that you’ve enjoyed our shenanigans so far. Be assured that we have much more in store for you in the weeks to come. We have, for inst… I’m sorry? What’s that? Oh… my movie-pick for this week? But of course! Please be seated and let me tell you! But huddle up close together now, because this is a scary one…

The movie Cujo opens with ominous music playing over the title-screen, but when a cute little bunny appears the music changes. As the bunny is hopping around in a grassy field we hear a happy tune play, but oh my… what’s this? A large St. Bernard suddenly steps into frame. It starts chasing the bunny and the scene feels almost like it’s lifted from one of those lovely Disney family-matinees playing in the theaters on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Even though the dog is chasing the bunny, it never feels menacing in any way.

Cujo is ever present!

Cujo is ever present!

It all feels very playful and innocent. It’s actually very typical Stephen King stuff of this era. He sets everything up as being idyllic and peaceful and then destroys it utterly and all hell breaks loose. The moment it happens in Cujo is when the bunny escapes down into a hole and the St. Bernard sticks its head down there to catch it.

The dog, Cujo, wakes up a couple of bats with his barking and he ends up getting bit by them and we as an audience know that things are kind of going to go downhill from here…

We now meet the Trentons, Donna and Vic, and their son Tad. They are played by Dee Wallace-Stone (ET: The Extra Terrestrial, The Howling, Secret Admirer) and Daniel Hugh Kelly (The Good Son, Nowhere to Run). The son, Tad, is played exceptionally well by Danny Pintauro in his debut role. He later went on to the hit TV-show Who’s the Boss?

And when I say exceptionally well… I mean exceptionally well, because he is great here. Just look at the scenes in the car when he and his mom are attacked… either they terrorized the crap out of this kid or he is a natural. (I’m opting for the latter) The performances by him and Dee Wallace-Stone are mind-blowing, but I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Desperately in need of help...

Desperately in need of help…

The Trentons are an ordinary couple who’ve come to the point where everything seems to be idling along on routine. Vic is busy at work all day long and Donna is a housewife, keeping busy with Tad and the chores at home. She’s been having an affair with local handyman and friend of the family, Steve Kemp, but now wants to break it off. Kemp is played by Christopher Stone (The Howling), real life husband of Dee.

Unfortunately Vic finds out about this and decides to go away on a business-trip for a couple of days to think things over. Donna basically just wants her life back! She feels bad about what she’s done, but desperately wants to keep her family together.

I have to praise the actors again because they really are good. The way they act is very natural, which makes the characters feel more real and believable, which in turn makes the story work better. Praise must of course also go to Stephen King, who wrote the damn thing in the first place, and to the director Lewis Teague (Alligator, The Jewel of the Nile) who did a great job with it!

Canned food!

Canned food!

And now I can hear you ask: “But what about Cujo? What happened to him?” Well… Cujo belongs to the Cambers who live a couple of miles outside of town. The father, Joe, is a mechanic and kind of an asshole and one day his wife has finally had it, and takes their son and leaves him.

He’s actually not all that upset about it! I suppose he thinks they’ll be back, ‘cuz where else would they go? He’s played by Ed Lauter, whom I think you’ll recognize from Youngblood, Real Genius or Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann.

All through this we follow Cujo around as he wanders the premises getting sicker and sicker, and angrier and angrier. The bat that bit him was rabid, and as time passes we just wait for Cujo to finally snap and attack someone. The tension is slowly building and is almost tangible at times. Donna’s car is in bad shape and she wants Joe to take a look at it, so she and Tad goes to the Camber’s place, but Joe’s not there and the place looks deserted…  and then Cujo attacks!!

NEVER mess with a pissed-off mom!

NEVER mess with a pissed-off mom!

Now I just want to make it clear that I have seen this movie before, but the first attack comes so suddenly and so viciously that I almost pissed my PJs anyway. This scene is friggin’ intense and absolutely terrifying. The dog almost tears the car apart!

And now, since the car is a wreck, they have no place to go. All they can do is stay put inside it and wait for help to arrive and the sun is slowly making the temperature unbearable. And all the time, Cujo is right outside… watching… waiting!

Cujo is one scary-ass dog and believe me, there’s nothing campy or cheesy about this movie. It is full on horror and I had actually forgotten how good it is. It’s well worth a re-visit, but if you, for some reason, haven’t seen it before… What the hell are you waiting for? Go watch it immediately! Please?

So my friends… What do you think of my second pick for October? The comment section below is where you can tell me, you know that!

I’ll return next week with another forgotten horror-gem. Until then…

Peter Nielsen Bio

Retro Movie Geek © 2015