Cujo, as you probably know but in case you don’t, is a placid and loveable St Bernard dog, who catches rabies and becomes a crazed killer. Based on Stephen King‘s novel of the same name, the 1983 film adaptation had some very specific differences to the book, and was a modest success at the box office on its release. Some 36 years later Cujo finds itself filed under ‘cult classics’, and deservedly so.
Despite its title, this is not really a horror movie about a rampaging dog. It is a film about monsters and mistakes and family and fear, but Cujo himself features in less scenes than you might expect, and it’s not actually his increasingly dirty and oozing presence that is the main source of tension and horror within the story.
And there’s a lot of tension. It builds, slowly, throughout the film, as we get to know the Trenton family, and to a lesser extent the Camber family, and see the sequence of events that results in Donna Trenton (Dee Wallace) and her son Tad (Danny Pintauro) being trapped in a broken down car with a rabid, raging dog outside.
It’s a believable situation: a large, unstable, aggressive animal can be terrifying. But that’s only half of it. The fear and relentless tension isn’t merely over whether Donna and Tad Trenton will get bitten, or even ripped apart by Cujo, it’s also about the situation that he traps them in: an overheating car, in summer, without water (vengeance for every canine who has been left in the back seat whilst their owner pops to the shops), and about making a potentially fatal wrong decision over what is more likely to kill them – the dog, or the dehydration and heatstroke?
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It’s hard to adequately show just how long they’ve been stuck in that inferno of a car, but director Lewis Teague does a pretty good job with camerawork alone (that dizzying, spinning shot), and Wallace and six year old Pintauro are never less than extraordinary in their distress. One might wonder whether this hellish scenario comes about because Donna is being punished for her transgressions, or whether the real monster here is not Cujo but Steve Kemp (Christopher Stone), who was subtly pushing boundaries right from his first scene. Because Cujo, like many a good horror story or fairytale, can be enjoyed on more than one level.
If you’re wondering whether Cujo is worthy of a Blu-ray transfer, the answer is – yes, it is. This is its first time on Blu-ray in the UK, and it’s an impressive release, with a Full HD presentation of the film and over seven hours of extra content in a special Limited Edition two-disc set. This extra content includes tons of interviews: with lead actor Dee Wallace; composer Charles Bernstein; stunt performers Gary Morgan and Jean Coulter; casting director Marcia Ross; visual effects artist Kathie Lawrence; special effects designer Robert Clark; and dog trainer Teresa Miller. There is also ‘Dog Days’, an older making-of documentary, that includes interviews with various cast and crew members and is a fascinating watch. Disc two contains a further – 96 minute! – interview with Dee Wallace, and a discussion with critic Kim Newman. The final production release also lists some pretties such as a 60 page collector’s booklet, reversible sleeve, and slipcase with new artwork. It’s an interesting assemblage for the casual horror enthusiast, but likely to be a must-have for the hardcore horror fan or King completist.
Poor Cujo. If only someone had thought to give him a rabies vaccination and take a look at that wound on his nose. With responsible pet ownership and proper veterinary care this whole mess could have been avoided.
Cujo is available now on special Limited Edition two-disc Blu-ray.