Mark Burridge is my buddy from college. We don’t get to see each other a whole lot, but we still talk over texting and social media. We both also share a passion for writing; while I went in a different direction with my career (read: into healthcare, with freelance writing on the side), Mark marched right into the journalism field and became an editor at the Pembroke Mariner & Express. Luckily, he’s willing to write for little peons like The Moon is a Dead World too, and he reviews Cujo for this year’s Halloween Fifteen.
“Cujo” comes across as a contrived premise before watching it. A bloodthirsty dog can certainly cause a lot of problems, but it’s hard to imagine one causing the kind of mayhem that warrants a movie all its own. However it doesn’t take long for the movie to create a startlingly real scenario that leads to adifferent kind of fright.
At its core, “Cujo” is a redemption story. The plot follows an unfaithful woman named Donna Trenton played by Dee Wallace, who admits her indiscretion to her husband Vic (Daniel Hugh Kelly). Combining time to think about their marriage with a business trip, Vic leaves Donna alone with their son Tad (Danny Pintauro) for 10 days. Donna brings her car to an out-of-the-way auto-mechanic with a sizeable St. Bernard named Cujo.
When Cujo goes rabid, all hell breaks loose and ends up with Donna and Tad stranded in their car at the mechanic’s house. The two are forced to endure their situation, delaying a final confrontation that will lead to either being mauled by a dog, or killing the crazed animal.
“Cujo” succeeds with its reality. Point of view shots are used consistently throughout the film, putting the viewer into the dog’s eyes. Dee Wallace and Danny Pintauro do a good job of showing the desperation they feel. It’s easy to get a sense of Donna’s desires as she eyes a baseball bat on the ground and stares longingly at the door of the nearby house. She is stranded, feet from salvation.
After days without food or water, Tad’s pain becomes obvious. Whether it’s due to fine acting or by the shockingly good makeup, the child appears to be on death’s door as he wheezes for air and struggles to move.
A major success of the film is the “monster.” Having a dog as an object of pure terror can be problematic. It can easily come across as silly or fake. But with Cujo’s general upkeep continuing to degrade like a zombie, becoming crustier and bloodier as the film goes, it just looks more and more menacing. Unlike other films with monsters that feel beyond belief, what makes “Cujo” so scary is that it feels like something that could really happen. It’s a big dog. It’s rabid. You’re alone. What do you do?
Rather than making a leap from reality and having the dog bite through walls, the filmmakers have it continue to work on entering one car for the length of the film. The fact that it lingers outside is eerier than if it could get in, the viewer feels trapped in the car with Donna and Tad. The scare is in what could be.
Ironically, the part of the film that feels the least real is when the family is going about their lives in the first half of the film. The affair feels melodramatic, and the problems between Donna and Vic feel a little shoehorned into the film. After all, the same plot could develop with him leaving town on an ordinary business trip. That’s all too bad, because the affair sets up the film’s climactic moment. When pressed, will Donna do what’s needed and save her family, or will she succumb?
Overall though, “Cujo” is a major success and a great alternative if you are looking for something that bases its horror in reality.
Take one off for the first half issues, 9/10.