Revisiting the 1983 film “Cujo”

Stephen King’s “Cujo” turns 39 today

Revisiting the 1983 film “Cujo”

“It’s hard to imagine that “Cujo” has ever appeared at the top of any list of ‘most popular dog names’. If it did, it was definitely before 1983, when a tense little horror movie of the same name emerged to ravage the audience before it. “Cujo,” is that while it is a story about a rabid dog mercilessly ravaging a mother and son in their car, the movie seems to be more about karma has gone awry. Dee Wallace as Donna Trenton is a woman who is devoted to her son but is also very committed to the affairs she’s currently having on her husband. The first half of “Cujo” is spent on familial discord and how Donna’s misdeeds with a colleague seem to be rotting this unit from the inside out.

When Cujo is stricken with rabies, he doesn’t just seem to be a dog with an inability to contain its rage, but a dog that really has become a somewhat demonic manifestation of this festering sin and deceit. The fall out from Cujo being infected with rabies is gruesome and often times disturbing, especially when he begins to immediately strike down the male role models all around him. It’s curious that his infection with rabies causes him to not only attack the male counterparts in his family but almost savor the thrill of murdering them under tooth and nail and engaging in gruesome punishment that they don’t stand a chance against. When Donna and her son Tad drive up to the house and are greeted with the dominant presence of Cujo, the dog seems to want to punish and taunt Donna more than murder her.

The performances from Dee Wallace and Danny Pintauro are fantastic, as they’re both characters stuck in a horrific situation. There’s not a phone around, no one is aware of their peril, and the heat outside is making the situation incredibly difficult to endure. Donna’s own obstacles become even more taxing when Danny begins to break down emotionally and health-wise due to the dog’s consistent attacks that make it impossible for the pair to even crack open a window to allow some ventilation in the gradually steaming broken down vehicle.

The attacks are startling, and Cujo unleashes his wrath on the helpless pair who can do nothing but hope for the dog to grow bored with its assaults and move on to another target. But his rage seems almost supernatural to where Donna and her son are just prime targets Cujo almost lusts toward mauling under its diseased teeth and nails. With subtexts about sin and infidelity coming around to become our ultimate undoing, “Cujo” is still a very effective and terrifying nature run amok film.

By Ken Warren, 2018

Origin: USA
Released: 1983
Directed by: Lewis Teague
Starring: Dee Wallace, Daniel Hugh-Kelly, Danny Pintauro, Ed Lauter


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