Horror Film Review: Cujo (dir by Lewis Teague)


Cujo is a such a depressing movie that I can barely stand to watch it.

Cujo, of course, is the 1983 film adaptation of the book by Stephen King.  The book is about a dog that not only gets bit by a rabid bat but also gets possessed by the spirit of Frank Dodd, the serial killer who played a major role in The Dead Zone.  The film abandons the subplot about Frank Dodd and, instead, it just deals with a rabid dog that kills a lot of people and who eventually traps Donna Trentonn (Dee Wallace) and her young son, Tad (Danny Pintauro), is a car for several days.

I have to admit that I’m really not the sort of person who should be watching a film like Cujo in the first place.  When I was growing up, I was terrified of dogs.  According to my family, I was bitten by one when I was just three years old, not that I have any memory of that actually happening.  So, up until I was 18, I couldn’t handle being around them.  Whenever I would walk home from school, I would run across the street if I heard a dog barking at me from behind a fence.  If I was out with my family and I saw a dog approaching, I would hide behind the nearest big person.

I did have one good experience with a big dog when I was about ten years old.  My family was up at the lake and this big, black dog started following us around and it was so friendly that I couldn’t help but relax around it.  My mom was like, “See, Lisa Marie, not all dogs are bad.”  We went to get lunch, leaving the dog behind.  When we returned, the dog was there.  He was excited to see my mom.  He was excited to my aunt.  He was excited to see my sisters.  Then, he took one look at me and started to growl.  I was frozen in fear, just standing there as the dog slowly stood up.  My mom immediately stood in front of me, trying to block the dog’s view while I ran back to car.  Of course, that didn’t work.  The dog started barking and then took off running after me.  His owners then showed up and grabbed the dog just as it was about to lunge at me and then they didn’t even bother to apologize!  Instead, they told some story about how some other girl had thrown a rock at the dog and, as a result, the dog always growled at “little girls.”  They acted like it was no big deal.  (My aunt later told me that she had to grab my mom’s hand to keep her from slapping the dog’s owner when they tried to blame me for what happened.)  For months afterwards, I had nightmares about that dog.

Fortunately, enough time has passed that I’m no longer petrified in fear of dogs though they still make pretty damn nervous.  That said, Cujo, with its growling and killer dog, is exactly the type of film that’s designed to prey on my deepest fears.  And yes, the movie does scare me but I have to admit that I don’t really care much about the people who get killed by Cujo.  Instead …. I feel bad for Cujo.  Yes, even though Cujo scares me to death and I’m not a dog person in general, this movie depresses me specifically because of what happens to the dog.

When we first see him, Cujo is happily chasing a rabbit.  When he gets bitten by a rabid bat, he whimpers a little and I have to say that it breaks my heart to hear it.  I mean, Cujo is just such a cute dog!  And, to be honest, he seems like the type of big dog who maybe could have convinced me that not all dogs are bad.  (There’s a part of me that really wishes that I could relax and love dogs as much as everyone else does.)  But then he gets bitten by that bat and poor Cujo!  Rabies is a terrible disease.

Cujo is a good, straight-forward horror film, one that gets the job done without all of the padding and blather that you sometimes have to deal with when it comes to Stephen King film adaptations.   (Thankfully, nobody casually talks about Shawshank Prison or taking a trip to Derry or any of that other nonsense that seems to come up in most King films.)  Dee Wallace gives a good performance as Donna Trenton, who is trapped in the car and desperate to save her child.  King has said that he felt Wallace deserved an Oscar nomination for her performance and he’s probably right

But my God, I just cannot watch this movie without crying afterwards.  I just feel so bad for that dog.