I put this movie on my top ten and then figured I better watch it again and review. (Fine, I just wanted an excuse to watch it again!) Sitting down, I was worried that it wouldn’t stand up. It’s probably been about ten years since I’d seen the movie, and I wondered if perhaps I’d blown it up in my mind.
I didn’t. And, boy, did it stand up!
Cujo is a huge, lovable St. Bernard. He’s a family dog. However, in the opening sequence, the poor doggie is bitten by a bat, and you probably know where this is going.
Note: There are potential spoilers throughout this review, so you may want to stop here and return after watching the movie.
Cujo (1983), based on the 1981 novel by Stephen King, does a wonderful job of setting up the inevitable showdown between our terrified mother and a rabid 200 pound beast. It’s a short movie, and nothing feels extraneous or unneeded.
Donna Trenton (played by icon Dee Wallace) is a housewife. She is adored by her husband, Vic, and little boy, Tad. So we are left wondering why she feels so out of sorts. And then we discover she is having an affair with Vic’s tennis buddy – Steve. She’s also plagued with what is frankly a piece of crap car. (Really? Hubby has a sporty, little Jaguar, and poor Donna has a broken down Pinto. No wonder she’s in a bad mood!)
Speaking of his car, Vic’s Jaguar needed some work done, so the little Trenton family takes it out to Joe Camber’s auto-repair place. They are told they can get the car fixed for a good price. Here Tad meets Cujo who is not yet succumbing to the effects of rabies from the bat, and for a moment we see him as he must have been – a big, lovable pup. After a while, Vic’s car gets fixed, and the family heads home.
Soon thereafter, the disease takes its toll on Cujo, and we start to see him turn into what Donna will be faced with – 200+ pounds of rabid, slobbering dog.
The first 45 minutes of the movie move quickly, and before we know it, Donna is stuck at Camber’s place (to get her junkie car fixed this time) alone with a car that isn’t going to take her and her young boy to safety.
The scenes with Donna and Tad stuck inside the car are extremely effective. My heart raced each time Cujo attacked the car, and you realize how vulnerable Donna and Tad are.
In one expertly done scene, the camera pulls back, and you see the two of them stuck in the battered Pinto with nothing around them – just the car on the dirt driveway. The isolation is absolute, and it’s terrifying.
Cujo, succumbing to the ravages of the disease, is set off each time the phone inside Camber’s house rings. The area is surprisingly silent, making the shrill ringing of the phone all the more jarring. Cujo attacks the car repeatedly. In one scene the monster dog settles on the hood of Donna’s car. He and Donna make eye contact, and you realize the only thing between her and sudden death is a battered windshield.
Dee Wallace does an amazing job as a terrified mother, and though little Tad (played by Danny Pintauro) screams and cries to the point of being grating, you just had to realize that’s exactly how a scared little boy would act in this situation! Because the scenes take place in such a confined area, the tension is ratcheted up that much more. When help finally arrives in the shape of a sheriff’s deputy, and Donna gets stuck in her car, unable to help the man as Cujo attacks him, you truly feel a sense of helplessness and perhaps inevitable death for the young mother and son.
As with most movies like this, you know there is going to come a time when Donna will have to fight or die, and she does, saving herself and her young son.
This movie was still horrifying to me for one reason – it could happen. As much as I love Jason, Freddy, and Mikey, the chances I’ll ever face such a terror are… none. But this? The idea that it could happen – that by some off chance it could be you faced with a rabid St. Bernard – is what makes this movie terrifying in my book. I was thrilled to see how well this movie stood up almost 30 years later.
4 1/2 rabid bats out of five.