Saturday, February 18, 2012

Film Review: Cujo (1983)

Released: 1983

Starring: Dee Wallace,
Danny Pintauro
Daniel Hugh Kelly

Synopsis: Evil bites when a monstrous canine terrorises a helpless family in this legendary cult classic. When Donna and Vic Trenton struggle to save their rocky marriage, their son Tad befriends the loveable 200-lb St. Bernard who belongs to their mechanic. But what they don't realise is that a bat bite has transformed Cujo from a docile pup to a vicious killer. With Vic away on business, Donna and Tad's car trouble pushes them into a living nightmare - trapped by the demonic, relentless dog from hell.

My Thoughts: Before watching this film my only exposure to Cujo was in an episode of Friends that's usually remembered by fans because it marks the start of Joey's infatuation with Rachel. So I guess you could say I didn't really have any expectations going into this film, other than it seems to get enough favourable reviews to stop it from becoming one of those Stephen King films. You know the ones, the ones that we're not supposed to mention...

As Donna arrives at the empty mechanic's yard with her her son in their barely functioning car she is attacked by the rabid St. Bernard and trapped within their car. With no hope for escape in their car, and no clear exit path, the mother and son are stuck in the boiling hot car as Cujo stalks around it, halting any attempt at escape and ramming the doors and window with it's head. The claustophobic feelings of anxiety that these scenes evoke had me on the edge of my seat. The camera follows Donna's gaze around the yard, halting on the front door, on a baseball bat, on the door handle of the car, back to her son in the car, all while splicing in shots of Cujo just waiting. I mean that dog is ALWAYS THERE! Any time a window is opened or a door even looks like it might be opened then BAM, snarling, gnashing teeth take focus on the screen. It's some seriously decent and terrifying film-making and is not hard to see why this film is a cult favourite. Then there's Cujo himself, I mean, if there were doggie-Oscars, he'd have won it 10 times over. I can't believe I'm praising the acting of a dog, but seriously, he was insane! The blood matted in his fur, the gunk pouring from his eyes and mouth, the rabid fury as he attacked the car...he was the heart and soul of this film.

Unfortunately these scenes don't make up the film in it's entirety. In fact, this part of the film doesn't kick in until about 45 really boring minutes have passed. It seems like Cujo suffered from the King curse where the film-makers stay faithful to 75% of the source material and then just eliminate the remainder. I'm going to have to actually read the book to know for sure, but there were just aspects of the film that seemed unfinished to me. Such as, Donna and Vic hit a rough patch in their marriage, the rough patch being Steve, the local stud, who Donna is sleeping with. As they struggle to remain civil their son Tad (wonderfully played by Danny Pintauro) is struggling to sleep at night thanks to his over-active imagination. I'm fairly sure if these story arcs were in the actual book then they would have had some actually baring to the main story, but in the film they were just left hanging with zero resolution or reasoning why they were even part of the plot. The marital problems do weigh in slightly more, and perhaps if they were used exclusively for the reason Vic left town, rather than a work issue, it would have felt more complete. I'm guessing they were supposed to add weight and "colour" to the characters, but really they just acted like red herrings to where the story was heading - especially Tad's fear of a monster in his closet.

Stephen King films can be really varied, and until you actually sit down in front of the TV you have no real idea if you're getting one of the winners or one of the duds. Cujo falls somewhere in between, perhaps a bit closer to the winner end of the spectrum. As fantastic and terrifying as Cujo is, his grizzly attack scenes are outweighed by the haphazardly portrayed family drama. Imperfections aside, this is still definitely worth a watch.

3.5 out of 5 Beethoven films that'll never be the same again.