The Good: ?, Basic concept?
The Bad: Not scary, Terrible acting, Derivative characters, Predictable plot
The Basics: A rabid dog torments a family as they wait for it to rip them apart in a boring ‘80’s horror film.
I’m always astonished when I discover a film in my wife’s personal collection that is just terrible. And yet, giving the film Cujo (which came with her), I am forced to accept that she and I have vastly different tastes in films sometimes. Actually, when we watched it, she was cringing quite a bit and I have the feeling she felt no small amount of embarrassment having kept the DVD in her permanent library for as long as she did. My wife loves dogs and Cujo was the only horror movie she liked growing up.
On its own, Cujo might not be bad, outside its terrible 1980’s cheesetastic appearance now. It is, however, entirely derivative and is pretty lousy for anyone who has read the book Jaws (which contained some romantic subplots that did not make it into the cinematic rendition). Actually, I blame a lot in Cujo (in fact, its making it to the screen) on Jaws (reviewed here!). Stephen King and screenwriters Don Carlos Dunaway and Lauren Currier are clearly fans of Peter Benchley’s work and one has to suspect that the box-office success of Jaws encouraged studios to make Cujo. It is worth noting that I have not read Stephen King’s novel by the same name, so this is a pure review of the film Cujo.
The Saint Bernard, Cujo, chases a rabbit into a hole. There, he unearths a flock of bats, one of whom is rabid. Cujo is bitten on the nose by the rabid bat and begins to isolate himself. Elsewhere in town, the Trentons are struggling to keep their marriage together. Tad, afraid of the dark, relies upon his parents Vic and Donna to keep him from fear. With their cars breaking down, Vic takes the advice of a mailman and takes his car out to Camber on the edge of town. There, the Trentons meet Cujo and are led to believe they have nothing to fear from him.
After a recall of the cereal for which Vic created the advertising campaign, Vic realizes Donna is having an affair on him. Forced to focus on his work, Vic abandons Donna and Tad to deal with cereal manufacturer. While Vic is away, Donna and Tad go to pick up the car from Camber’s farm. There, they run into Cujo, who is demented by rabies and has already killed two people. Cujo terrifies Donna and Tad over the course of several hours, preventing them from leaving.
Like Jaws, Cujo contains an economic subplot, though the collapse of the cereal company and its effect on the advertising agency Vic runs is not presented as an incredibly important plot point the way the beaches being kept open in Jaws is. However, the romantic subplot, which involves Donna and Vic’s best friend Steve, which fizzles out after the forty minute mark where the film becomes an isolated movie about two people trapped in their car in the middle of nowhere.
The main difference between Cujo and Jaws is that Jaws has actual moments of horror and there is enough to it to keep the viewer invested in the characters. Cujo is entirely lacking in that. I am not a fan of gore, or even overly scary movies, but Cujo’s problem is not the lack of gore; it is that the movie features a series of situations that are drawn out for the horror value, as opposed to a practical sense of fright relative to the events. Watching the film the second time, I found myself wondering why Donna did not just throw the car in neutral, and antagonize Cujo into pushing the car backward down the hill; the hill the farm is on is steep enough that if the car rolled just a little ways, it would get going out of the trap the Trentons find themselves in.
Regardless, Cujo spends the bulk of its time with a kid who is terribly annoying screaming in fright as the dog sits near the car and his mother tries to calm him. Lacking characters who are at all empathetic, it is impossible to care what happens in Cujo. Ultimately, that is the death knell of the film and it bores the viewer instead of terrifying them.
For other films with strong canine characters, please visit my reviews of:
I Am Legend
Hotel For Dogs
Check out how this film stacks up against others I have reviewed by visiting my Movie Review Index Page where the reviews are organized from best work to worst.
© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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