“F*ck you, dog!”
Cujo is the story of is what happens when you don’t get your dog vaccinated against rabies, and you own a Pinto, and you rely on rurally-located mechanics.
Set in the fictional berg of Castle Rock, ME, Cujo‘s feature film adaptation is not that faithful to King’s original material. Director Lewis Teague, who, on the 25th Anniversary edition of Cujo, provides insight into his contributions to the film, explains the desire to make Cujo a story of real fear, of physical danger that is not a result of something inexplicable or otherwise supernatural.
The choices made by Teague were heightened by cinematographer Jan de Bont, who, through the use of clever angles and techniques (some of them very basic and effective), brought the rabies-infected menace of Cujo to life. But, all the direction, screenwriting, acting and cinematography in the world could not have sold Cujo without the actual manifestation of the dog, Cujo.
There are varying recollections about the number of trained St. Bernards that were actually on set, portraying different elements of the character Cujo. Each dog having been trained to execute a different task. Some say there were 10, others say as few as 5. Regardless, the real star of the film is not the 1980’s dishy, but restless, housewife played by Dee Wallace, who fights for the lives of herself and her son ( a 6-year-old and incredibly talented Danny Pintauro) during a multi-day-Cujo-siege, but rather the dogs.
Most people, when pressed, seem to feel that Cujo took an idea that should have been scary for about 5 minutes, and turns it into enough material for an entire film. The film, as it is, is littered with muddy subplots, subtext, affairs, fear, and things that are necessary if only as mechanisms to get the audience into the Ford Pinto siege.
I have a hard time identifying with any of the characters in the film except the dog. While that should maybe concern me a bit, it’s only because I’m overly sensitive to seeing animals being harmed in any way. The Humane Society closely monitored the making of Cujo, and I know that the depictions are just that – depictions.
That’s what makes the story Cujo such a powerful one, and why, after all this time, it still evokes such powerful feelings of fear. King’s story, at it’s essence, takes something that is fundamentally faithful, comforting, and assuring and turns it into your worst nightmare. The name “Cujo” has become literally synonymous with not only the film, but with rabid (or just misbehaving) dogs everywhere.
The car siege scene actually had me shaking, even after all this time. That’s how powerfully palatable the fear is in Cujo, how inescapable.
Wiki facts: Cujo film
Watch or Buy Cujo on Amazon
Read the Stephen King novel Cujo