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Awesome: 30.95%
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1 review, 36 user ratings

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by Dr. Isaksson

"In a Pinto no one can hear you scream"
4 stars

Many Stephen King novels that are adapted to film suffer from the lack of artistic passion needed to capture the author's essence and intent. While writing "Cujo" in 1981, King himself noted that the novel would make a perfect film. A simple setting on a farm, with a car, a mother, a son, a dog. The idea to write "Cujo" came from an experience King had when he met up with a huge St. Bernard while riding around Maine on his motorcycle. The owner told him that the dog wouldn't bite but when King reached out to pet it, the dog growled at him. At that moment, "Cujo" was born. The 1983 film version of "Cujo" doesn't dress itself up to be anything more than what the novel intended. We are given a simple scenario, there within lies the devastating impact.

Dee Wallace plays Donna Trenton, a woman who has become despondent in her marriage to Victor Trenton (Daniel Hugh Kelly). The Trenton's enjoy an upper class existence residing in Maine where they inhabit a large home by a lake and have one young son named Tad (Danny Pintauro). Vic works at an ad agency and his latest advertising efforts have become riddled with trouble. He must leave town at once to helm a reputation cleanup for the company. Yet this whole dilemma pales in comparison to his families' troubles. His wife Donna has taken the risky and thoughtless step of embarking on an affair with the local handyman Steve (Christopher Stone). Vic's awareness of this infidelity only turns him further away from Donna. He has become quiet and morose, at a loss for what he should say or do. Donna is unhappy in both situations but continues to say nothing either. Perhaps if she just ended the affair she could put the entire mess behind them. Start over.

Donna's Pinto is in need of work but Vic is pressed for time. Finding it impossible to fix he suggests that Donna go to the Camber residence where Joe Camber, a recent acquaintance of Vic's, could do the repairs. Donna and Tad take the car up to Joe Camber's on the same day Vic departs and upon arriving at the remote farm house, the two find the wide and secluded fields curiously empty. All except for a raging 250 pound St. Bernard named Cujo who is suffering from a rampant case of rabies.

The attacks from Cujo are instant and appalling. Cujo rams his massive skull into the tiny car, crushing the thin, warn metal and terrifying Donna and especially Tad, who had already been suffering from nightmares about monsters that live under his bed and in his closet. The monster with sharp teeth that had frightened him so much has become a reality. The setup is certain, the outcome is not. With the Camber family missing, a husband out of town and a piece of shit Pinto that will not move, Donna must find an escape for her and her young son. The days of summer are hot and the car is broiling. How can she get herself and Tad away from a huge dog that would easy rip the two of them to shreds? Can she do it? It's a situation that is not terribly unbelievable but unbelievably terrible.

I'm certain Cujo accomplished what it set out for. A horrifying scenario where a mother and child are trapped in a car, stranded out in the middle of nowhere with a rabid St. Bernard bashing in the car's windows. Even though the film does not call for an elaborate setting, and there are no supernatural elements, director Lewis Teague does not let the film flounder. Instead, he creates characters to care about and dresses up the ordinary with an amazingly eerie, claustrophobic and pulse pounding atmosphere. Within the tiny car, Teague creates camera shots that hover inside the vehicle allowing the viewer to become a passenger for the frightening ride. One effective example of Teague's good work is in the moments following a brutal attack by Cujo. The camera begins to swirl around inside the car, showing an injured Donna and a hysterically crying Tad. Faster and faster it spins as the music (scored by Charles 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' Bernstein) builds in a demented and chaotic way. Like a merry-go-round, the camera whips while the music blares out of control until suddenly it cuts to Victor Trenton, who awakens from a nightmare with a shout, thus halting the scene with an effective jolt.

Another very disturbing scene that plays out with relentless disquietude arrives after Donna and Tad have spent two days in the scorching car. Donna awakens to find Tad convulsing in the throws of a seizure. Her first instinct is to get him out of the car but Cujo instantly bounds over to the window. But this attack isn't a concern to her at all. She is trying to keep her son's tongue from slipping into his throat and while she's prying it out, Cujo is chomping away inches from her head. Donna gets her son breathing again and tries to calm him by singing a children's song but her throat is so parched her voice is nearly gone. She continues to sing but because of her fear her voice is only a shrill, jagged whisper as she tries to rock Tad while he whimpers and cries for his daddy. This moment in the film created such an empathy within me that I can truly say that by this point in the film I was emotionally demolished. I had been a wreck already and by this point my emotions were completely invested in the fate of these two people. Even after seeing it for the first time many years ago as a child, the impression is still commanding. Cujo has and continues to succeeded in it's plan to get to me.

Dee Wallace can very much be called the 'Mom' version of the Screen Queen, starring in The Hills Have Eyes, The Howling and Critters etc. Cujo, in my opinion, has always been her finest hour. I can easily state that I find her performance here stunning. Even though at the start of the film she seems a cold and selfish adulteress, Wallace creates an empathetic heroine in Donna Trenton. Her devotion to her son triggers a compelling dynamic for the film which engages the viewer and makes you hope for an escape. Little Tadpole Trenton played by Danny Pintauro (before he became that weirdo rich kid on Who's The Boss) is just an amazing child presence. He is devoid of that "Child Actor" mush which can stiffen a film that relies heavily on a child character and his traumatic fears of the 'monster doggie' play out onto the screen in broad, raw, heart wrenching strokes. I truthfully couldn't tell if he was even acting most of the time. Even the St. Bernard who played Cujo was captured in a frightening and relentless fashion that never seemed to make me shake my head and think. "Oh, that looked fake."

The overall look of the film isn't glossy and stunning and the focus of the characters can be sketchy at times but Cujo more than makes up for it with it's delicate choice of what to show and what to leave behind. I only wish that I could have seen more of the Trenton's marriage difficulties. It was an interesting and well played out problem that became all the more distorted through events that nobody could have foreseen. I always wondered if Stephen King was trying to convey the notion that Donna Trenton was being punished for what she had done and from her actions she had ultimately set herself up for a devasting trial and punishment. It is certainly an intriguing notion to ponder.

When Donna finally gets her hands on a bat and screams to the bloody, growling Cujo, "Well come on then!" I was totally stoked. Remember, this was pre-Sigourney Aliens and I was rooting for Dee to unleash a major doggie ass-whoopin'.**** 4 Stars

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=3511&reviewer=296
originally posted: 09/06/03 02:09:25
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell good adaptation of a good book 4 stars
6/06/13 David Hollingsworth Made you look at St. Bernards a little differently. 5 stars
12/15/11 Dr.Lao Great idea ruined by a truly hate-worthy child actor 3 stars
10/17/08 action movie fan suspenseful and truly scary tale of mother and infant menaced by rapid dog 5 stars
8/24/08 scotty one of the absolute best king adaptations. scary as hell 5 stars
1/29/08 Pamela White dog not as scary as when I watched it for the first time but good. 4 stars
5/04/07 Quigley Ocassionally disturbing, but mostly forgettable King adaptation. Book was better for sure 2 stars
3/27/07 The Professor The last half hour is more terrifying than you can possibly imagine. 4 stars
4/10/06 yousef emil shaker emil 5 stars
11/24/05 cr a stephen king classic, his best since carrie, a shocking and frighting movie, bad ass dog 3 stars
10/14/05 Stewart This movie was beyond bad. The only part I liked was when Tad had to go pee-pee. 1 stars
9/12/05 Total Crap When that dog jumps through the car window, that did it for me. RAWFRAWFRAWF!!!! 5 stars
8/16/05 ES Watched Cujo= loved it. watched the Cursed= hated it. Why do you think that was? 5 stars
5/01/05 MeredithL Scary, well acted 5 stars
4/08/05 Joe Cujo was bobin an weavin, could of been better if mailman dies and women shows panties! 4 stars
1/30/05 New Jersey Rules fuck this crap. Yankees suck my ass. 2 stars
10/19/04 bridget williams I love cujo. It was awesome 5 stars
9/25/04 Bucky Buckner Boone I was really freaked out by this when I saw it when it came out 5 stars
9/07/04 Gene R. Cobb Awesome.... pissed off b/c she ran battery down on car.... PA-LEE-ZZ-E... that was dumb! 5 stars
8/15/04 Dallas Moye I'd rather hang myself 1 stars
2/28/04 Naturezrevenge Cute puppy. Would like to see Cujo unleashed on generic movie teenagers. 3 stars
1/13/04 Jason Allaire Very Good 5 stars
11/04/03 American Slasher Goddess Halfway decent, although Pintauro is beyond annoying. 3 stars
9/10/03 filmfatale I remember enjoying this film but not enough to watch again! 4 stars
9/09/03 Oompah Loompah Genuinely frightening. 4 stars
8/01/03 Double G Scary Thought 5 stars
5/10/03 Charles Tatum Decent thriller 4 stars
2/22/03 nicole movie could have been more like the book 3 stars
12/30/02 Jack Sommersby Unpleasant and limited, but gets the job done. 3 stars
11/06/02 Daniel Only King could turn the family pet into a genuinely scary horror movie! 4 stars
4/29/02 Monster W. Kung Not horrible, but a one-trick pony. 2 stars
4/19/02 Stewart The one horror flick I've seen that is not scary. The kid is annoying as hell. 1 stars
3/23/02 R.W. Welch Reasonably scary Steven King opus, especially if you own a St. Bernard. 4 stars
10/15/01 Trond Michael Dretvik Awesome! Totaly marvelous! 5 stars
3/16/01 wyrock first 45 minutes were weak, but once cujo traps the 2 people in the car the horror begins. 4 stars
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  02-Jun-1983 (R)



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