Cujo | Varied Celluloid

Cujo

Posted by Josh Samford On July - 22 - 2008

Review Written by Scarface


Plot Outline: Somewhere in a small town in Maine, a St. Bernard dog named Cujo is bitten by a rabid bat while chasing a rabbit. Cujo eventually experiences a radical transformation, changing from a harmless pet to an unstoppable killing machine. Meanwhile, we also follow the separate lives of various town inhabitants. Joe Camber, Cujo’s owner, is the epitome stereotype of the selfish husband who places more importance on a bottle of beer than on his own wife. Meanwhile, another separate family is passing from a similar crisis. Much to his dismay, an advertising executive named Vic Trenton comes to know that his wife Donna is cheating on him, pitting him into a serious dilemma regarding his future with his wife and their young adorable son Tad. To make things worse, Cujo is out for the kill. He soon attacks Joe Camber and his redneck friend, leaving them both dead on the spot. As Donna and her son remain trapped in their stranded car one day, they must find a way to survive, with Cujo on the loose and guarding their vehicle 24 hours a day. Their survival will much depend on their stamina, their wit, and their determination to defeat the demonic dog which is just waiting for the perfect opportunity to attack his next potential victims.


  

The Review: This may come out as a surprise to some of you readers out there, but among the countless novels Stephen King has ever written, “Cujo” is often cited to be his most controversial work. It is sufficient to say that since the novel’s release in 1981, many American schools have opted to ban the book from their public libraries on the basis of being too violent, pornographic, and containing explicit language. I’ve never read the actual book myself, but I have nonetheless heard through those who have read it what it’s about and what led to such heated controversy. Most notably, there’s an excerpt in which Vic Trenton, one of the story’s main characters, imagines in vivid detail a sexual encounter between his wife and local poet Steve Kemp. Various adult themes like adultery and domestic abuse are also persistently present, and the word “fuck” is repeated ad eterneum.

With all of this background in my mind, the first reaction I had after I finished watching the film adaptation was that the movie represented a very tame version of the story. It felt as if the director didn’t have the necessary guts required to be totally faithful to the book in terms of subject matter. We get a sort of sex scene between Steve and Vic’s wife in the first part of the film; only that these two happen to prefer having sex with their clothes on. I don’t think it even qualifies as a sex scene, because it is so short and unconvincing. We also get another scene with Joe Cambers basically trying to play the complete asshole in front of his wife. It is sort of implied that their relationship is not going too well, with how Joe’s wife carefully approaches her husband to talk to him and Joe himself seeming to be completely indifferent of his wife and son. Yet, I thought it was a scene far from convincing. The intense domestic violence present in the book is nowhere to be seen in the film, and Joe comes out more as a sort of bully than as a potentially dangerous husband.

All this leads me to believe that the film didn’t quite manage to achieve its scope. I could somewhat understand what King was trying to achieve with the story. Cujo symbolized an executioner intent to punish all those who committed wrong deeds. Apart from a policeman who’s killed by Cujo while conducting an investigation, the other potential victims are all sinners and scumbags. There’s the auto-mechanic who treats his wife like shit. There’s his fat friend who’s the perfect stereotype of an alcohol-loving redneck and whom Greenpeace would probably kick his ass if he existed in real life, given the huge pile of rubbish present just outside his house. And there’s the woman who commits adultery. In essence, the basic premise of the story is that all your wrong-doings will eventually come back at you and haunt you to the point of destruction. It’s a very interesting premise to build the movie around, yet the characters are not developed enough so that the message actually achieves maximum impact. This is especially frustrating when you realize that the characters had all the necessary time to develop during the first part of the movie since Cujo becomes a killer dog very later on in the story.

Needless to say, the highlight of the movie is the stranded car scene which basically incorporates most of the second part. Director Lewis Teague did a pretty good job in this instance, often managing to transmit tension in all the right places; yet you can’t help but think what this movie could have become if it was directed by suspense masters in the likes of John Carpenter or Brian DePalma. The premise in itself is perfect for a suspense movie. A woman and her son trapped in a car. A huge, angry St. Bernard dog waiting for them to get out. Dee Wallace-Stone gives a great performance in this segment, presenting herself as a mother desperate to fight for her own survival and that of their son. And surprisingly enough, I even managed to like and sympathize with the little boy. I don’t know if I’m the only person on the face of the Earth, but kid actors particularly manage to get me out of a movie if they don’t deliver their lines in a satisfactory manner. I’m always skeptical about kid actors since I saw “Robocop 2”. The young boy in that movie was probably the main reason I didn’t like the sequel too much. I don’t honestly know what the creators of the movie were thinking; all I know is that I had a huge temptation of switching off my T.V. set every time that annoying kid delivered one of his lines. Whether it’s his fault or not is another matter, but I’m of the opinion that an incompetent kid actor is potentially capable of ruining your whole movie more than any other irritating adult actor in the world, and that’s including Vin Diesel and Martin Lawrence. Of course, as in anything else there are exceptions to the rule, as movies like “Halloween” and “The Exorcist” duly prove. And I think the kid in “Cujo” is another of these exceptions. I really managed to sympathize with him, I deeply wished that the crisis between his parents would eventually solve itself. Every time Cujo attacked his mother’s car, I hoped everything would turn out alright for him. With every bark, every glaze, every bite that Cujo gave, my thoughts were always on the little boy.

Sadly enough, I also felt that the film featured one of the most anti-climatic endings in horror movie history. It’s always my policy not to delve that deeply into endings so as not to spoil the movie for all you readers out there. All I can say is that the ending felt very abrupt and unsatisfying. It almost feels as if the director ran out of film. It’s just your typical Hollywood ending, only happening more abruptly. It’s a real shame, especially considering the fact that the novel included a much obscure, darker ending. As I pointed out before, this is probably due to the fact that the director and all those responsible were not ready to attract the same amount of controversy the novel did; thus we get presented with this tame version of the story, including the ending. All in all, it’s certainly not a bad effort, but at the same time you can’t help but think that there was the potential to come up with a really better horror movie.

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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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