The problem was, however, I read reviews. Back in the day, I used to read a lot of reviews. I mean I loved reading movie reviews so much that I’d read damn near any I could get my hands on. This was well before the days of the Information Superhighway, and that meant – pretty much – actually going to the local library in my small town and scouring the daily newspapers in supply. It was never an easy job – it certainly meant I was going to get a lot of ink on my hands – but that’s what I did. I hoped one day to perhaps write reviews of my own, so I studied what folks had to say about motion pictures.
In any event, there was this one review that I found particularly persuasive. Granted, I was young and impressionable, so maybe I put a bit too much emphasis on one scribe’s perspective, but that’s just how my young mind was wired. I don’t recall the outlet – I’m not sure if it was a local paper or a national one – but the writer basically used the printed page to go on an incredible rant about how Cujo and Stephen King were so obviously anti-feminist and/or anti-woman for what that dog and the author put a character through. The gist of the argument was that – according to this critic – that only a mind that fully hated women would drag one through so many vile circumstances as a direct consequence of her being unfaithful in marriage, and then the judge called for, basically, a boycott of the film.
Well, as can happen from time-to-time, I think the writer allowed for his or her personal politics to get in the way of not only enjoying a contemporary Horror picture but also used his or her influence to undermine it at the box office. Because I was so influenced by those minds who regularly spoke to me about productions, I decided to pass on seeing it at the corner theater. Now – an incredible forty years later – I’ve finally watched Cujo in its unabashed 4K glory – and I want to correct the record.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
“Cujo, a friendly St. Bernard, contracts rabies and conducts a reign of terror on a small American town.”
Film – at its most basic level – is art.
Each of us – the audience – gets to both see and take whatever messages found present in art. Projects speak to us in various ways. Sometimes these efforts are intended to promote social change or serve as a ‘call to action’ for anyone watching; and, at other occasions, they’ve meant to inform a captive group on the dangers of their collective inability to do, act, or think differently. Because art is still an individual experience between you and the artist, you do still get to cull whatever message or moral-of-the-story you wish from it. What you glean from it may not necessarily be what the maker intended, but that’s what makes it such a personal, moving experience.
Forty years ago, I allowed my young mind to be influenced to avoid seeing Cujo. Directed by Lewis Teague and adapted from the King novel by Don Carlos Dunaway and Barbara Turner, the story depicted the aftermath one massive dog who contracted rabies from a bite on its nose from a cave-dwelling bat unleashed a small town. Understandably, audiences could very well have been aghast at the level of violence the film includes – the St. Bernard and his gnashing, bloody teeth do have their way with three grown men onscreen – but what moved one critic to denounce the feature was (cough cough) an alleged anti-female bias on the part of the author.
Donna Trenton (played by the luminous Dee Wallace) seemed to have an idyllic marriage. Her husband, Vic (Daniel Hugh Kelly), is a successful tennis-playing advertising executive who’s on a string of financial successes. She’s raising the great American child Tad (Danny Pintauro), and he’ll no doubt grow up to be at least as remarkable as his father. She’s got a great house, a great stay-at-home career, a great body – why, what more could she possibly want?
Beneath the exterior of such earnest wholesomeness, it becomes clear that not everything is sunshine and roses. Young Tad has grown overwhelmed with an obsession with monsters-in-his-closet, so the urchin ain’t exactly sleeping well at night. Worn down by the grind of staying at the top of his game, Vic has kinda/sorta turned away from pleasing his wife. The house – a two-story coastal palace – has grown burdensome and quiet. Why, even Donna’s automobile has begun misbehaving, coughing and choking its way down the streets and highways. What’s a girl to do?
Well … as fate would have it for me, I read a review back in the day wherein one critical thinker dialed down all of Donna’s existence – at the hands of author King – to the point wherein cause-and-effect were measured in exacting variables. The writer posited – rather successfully and persuasively, I might add – that because Donna’s troubles only began as a consequence of her straying outside her marriage – one of the last, great institutions of Western culture – that Stephen King was extracting punishment on the lady for breaking the compact with her husband. Can you see how that worked? Donna exchanged vows with Vic – the ‘to have and to hold’ variety, with the ‘til death do us part’ qualifier – and since she broke them the universe literally unleashed (also literally) ‘Hell on Earth’ in the guise of a rabies-afflicted St. Bernard.
As I stated above, each of us is allowed if not encouraged to find whatever messages we can in any form of art. We seek out and explore such expressions with the joy of calculating how these pictures and stories move us; in some cases, it could be argued that cultures can be swayed – maybe slightly, maybe significantly – by art, such as is the case with either the myth/story of ancient Troy or even how the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in France moved a pair of brothers to commit a violent act. Without pronouncing judgement on either of these cases, the point remains that each of us can be swayed to see the world differently; and such impressions can lead to life-altering outcomes.
However – now that I’m older and have experienced a great deal more of life – I think it’s safe to conclude that Donna’s infidelity – however well or poorly conceived – did not lead to her being attacked by the infected Cujo. Her betrayal did not cause her Datsun to develop engine problems. Her cheating – quite literally – had nothing to do with the near cataclysmic collapse of her husband’s advertising contracts. Her duplicity – in no way, shape or form – had another woman winning a state lottery and going on a much-needed personal holiday that was also part of a series of events required for this story as plotted out by King in order for this particular set of circumstances to evolve in order for this tale to unfold as it did.
In fact, King was, merely, plotting the life of his created characters.
While I can sit back today and understand why one critic accused the popular Horror author of using his personal platform to pitch political shenanigans, my adult mind sees the world vastly differently than I did those many, many years ago. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that it was the critic – in this particular set of fictional circumstances – who might be the guilty culprit shucking politics instead of Stephen King, but I do try to approach such subject matter a bit more cautious and responsibly. He (or she) are entitled to take whatever morals wished from Cujo; and still King – whom I believe is an ardent Feminist – should be given more than a bit of wiggle room to avoid being labeled as sexist, misogynist, or chauvinist for his original story.
Indeed, the film is one horrific descent into madness.
Cujo (1983) was produced by Sunn Classics Pictures and TAFT Entertainment Pictures. DVD distribution (for this particular release) has been coordinated by the fine folks at Kino Lorber. As for the technical specifications? While I’m no trained video expert, I thought that the sights and sounds to this brand new HDR / Dolby Vision Master (from a 4K scan of the 35mm original camera negative) both looked and sounded fantastic. Lastly, if you’re looking for special features? This two-disc set is, really, fully loaded, boasting an incredible three commentaries (one of which appears to be newly produced), a roundtable with cast and crew, a making-of featurette, and loads of interviews with stars and effects crewmembers. Seriously, you’re got everything but the kitchen sink in here, so it should keep audiences terrified for plenty of extra hours.
I’ve often said that it takes a good deal to scare me when it comes to film, and chiefly that’s because what I find truly scary is rarely what everyone else does. But … wow. Cujo eventually reaches nightmare intensity after its slow-building character set-ups, and – once it does – director Teague delivers something should give all of us pause. When you think that life can’t get any worse for poor Donna Trenton, the dog shows up to take more than a bite out of crime … it’s like he wants to wrap his jaws around her very soul … and that’s terrifying.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Kino Lorber provided me with a complimentary 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of Cujo (1983) by request for the expressed purpose of completing this review. Their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.