Movie Review: Cujo

Cujo

Distributed By: Warner Bros.

Release Date: August 12, 1983

Running Time: 91 Minutes

!!Warning Minor Spoilers!!

So I like classic horror and suspense movies like everyone else but going back to watch Cujo was a huge disappointment.  I do need to start by stating that this is my first viewing of the film ever and that I never read the story that it was based on.  I generally like Stephen King movies and books but this was a true let down.  All of the right elements for a film were there. It was just the delivery that failed to deliver and I will get to that as this goes on.

This film has a great feeling of atmosphere and suspense considering the body count is only a measly single digit number.  That isn’t so much the problem. They choose to begin the movie with Cujo doing what any other dog would do, chase down a rabbit in a field.  This goes fine until the rabbit out smarts the Saint Bernard and hides in a bat cave.  This is where the cause of the whole movie begins, as Cujo barks inside the cave disturbing the bats sleeping inside. One bat tears at his nose and from this point on he is rabid.  The first third of the movie is watching him as he begins to lose his mind slowly.  This is done with some great shoots following him under the porch as well as in the house and barn/garage.  Noise is the first thing to get to him as he slowly goes mad.  A chance for a good kill is replaced by a touching moment where he chooses not to.  You feel his pain as his tormented journey progresses.

While we follow Cujo’s descent into madness, a sub plot of a cheating wife and a son who is afraid of the monster in his closet is told.  It’s done fairly well.  The only distracting point in watching it today is that the cloths are very dated to the 80’s as is the atmosphere around the cheating.  The acting is OK for the time.  Very passable for the husband and carpenter.  The young boy is surprisingly good and nowhere near as annoying as I had figured he would be by the end of the film.  The mother, on the other hand, is what makes this movie fail.  Her acting is OK.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe the crazy amount of terror she is in, I just hate every choice she makes.  I understand that the whole movie is setup to revolve around her being trapped in a car, in the middle of a driveway, constantly being attacked by a dog.  This premise is perfect, leading to a lot of suspense and tension.  The problem is logic, she fails to show even the most basic survival traits; instead choosing to do everything wrong.  You could make a drinking game out of the terrible decisions she makes in this film.

First problem is that grown men couldn’t take this dog down.  Hell, one even managed to push the dog right off of him and go inside for a gun.  She fights him off multiple times and the dog even chases her back to the car.  There is no way in hell a small women could hold off a dog of that size but I don’t want to harp too much on that.  Second, is her getting out of the car which she does on a number of occasions.  There are rules for this.  First rule, always know where the dog is.  Second rule, open door and run.  Third rule, find weapon, phone, etc.  Now the car won’t start, great plot device, she was bringing it there to get fixed.  But upon her being trapped in the car for a few minutes, she gets the car to start and she turns the car around and stops to lip off the dog.  Of course, this is when the engine dies for good.  Why lip off a rabid dog?  Why didn’t she put the car in neutral and try to drive it out of the drive way?  Why didn’t she see the bat on the ground a mere few feet from the car?  Why didn’t she make a run for the police car with her kid, radio for help or try to drive away?  This film has so many whys in it that it makes it unenjoyable to watch.

Now that I let off all that steam, I need to talk about how good the suspense in this film is.  It was a perfect mixture of camera work, music and amazing dog training.  The dog is perfect in this film, he is just as real as anyone of the main characters, and even more real than some of the sub characters.  The rage of emotions; sadness, regret, embarrassment, and anger, are almost palatable.  His visual transformation was that of pure terror to anyone who has seen a dog go rabid.  He went from a family pet to a bloodstained, matted haired, foaming bringer of death.  This was done gradually in the film and added to an emotional connection between the dog and viewer.  You felt as if you had petted the dog before he went mad.  If it wasn’t for the poor choices made by the mother he would have been much scarier.  His behavior is a welcome change from other movies.  He never runs out full tilt at the victims, instead he stalks or hunts them, watching them from afar with dying eyes.  The attack sequences are also way longer than I was expecting.  Cujo is not a ‘one bite’ killer by any means and the attacks seem very realistic, at least to me.

The end of the movie was all right, even if it was tainted by the poor decision bug, yet again.  I never really understood what was wrong with the kid; he can’t breathe, is it asthma, dehydration or heatstroke?  He’s just not breathing, why?  The end is less than satisfying and falls flat just because of logic.  I really think they could do well if they remade this tale, though personally, I’m not left afraid of my own dog at the end of this film.  It’s worth a watch. if you like Stephen King’s work and feel like watching some classic horror, just don’t expect to feel connected to the characters.

Buy on Amazon

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