Stephen King is one of the most successful writers ever, but films based on his books have been lackluster at best. While The Shining and The Shawshank Redemption often appear on lists of the greatest films ever made, others like Carrie and Misery may not be the best films ever made, but they’re considered classics. On the other side of the coin, Maximum Overdrive and Dreamcatcher are utterly forgettable. Somewhere in the middle is Cujo, a story that conjures up a few genuine scares.
Like the book, the movie centers on the Trenton’s, a young family recently moved to Castle Rock, Maine from New York. Cracks appear in the Trenton’s seemingly picture perfect marriage when Vic (Daniel Hugh-Kelly), an advertising executive, discovers that Donna (Dee Wallace) is having an affair with family friend Steve Kemp (Christopher Stone). As it happens, Vic is on the verge of losing his biggest account. He decides to take a trip out of town in an effort to salvage the accounts and think about his marital troubles.
The couple’s only child, Tad (Danny Pintauro) is a socially awkward kid who had found companionship with Cujo, the Saint Bernard owned by the local car mechanic. Unfortunately, after Cujo is bitten by a rabid bat while hunting, the once loveable pooch turns into a killing machine. Watching the Saint Bernard’s gradual transition from friendly to ferocious at his owner’s isolated repair shop is both depressing and scary, especially if you’re a dog lover.
While Vic is away, Donna and Tad visit the mechanic to get their dying Ford Pinto looked at. On arrival, they discover the mechanic has been mauled to death by Cujo. The dog, still hungry for blood, he goes for Donna and Tad, caught in their car that won’t start. With Cujo repeatedly attacking the car and getting angrier by the minute, mother and son are under siege. A terrified Donna and her screaming son must endure three days of terror. Donna knows she and her son will die if they don’t get water. A showdown between mother and beast is inevitable…
Originally published in 1981, Cujo is still considered one of Stephen King’s darkest works to date. The novel’s bleak ending was changed for the film, with Stephen King’s blessing. Anyone who has read the book will likely understand that studio executives would be uneasy keeping the original one. Horror fans though, may rightly feel that the ending for the film is weak, thus leaving Cujo with more bark than bite. Even so, director Lewis Teague (The Jewel of the Nile) does a fine job creating a distinct division between the personal drama and the suspense. The first half of the film establishes the characters and their lives—given the state of her marriage, we realize that nobody is at home to suddenly rescue Donna and her son. She will have to deal with this rabid beast alone. Cujo is also helped by a strong performance by Dee Wallace who is completely believable as a mother who will do whatever she has to, in order to save her son. Even a young Danny Pinatauro, whose constant high pitched squealing can be nerve racking, looks genuinely petrified.
Presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, this Olive Films release looks pretty good. Never meant to look overly pretty, the color palette is decidedly drab. After a bit of a comparison, this 108P transfer appears to be quite similar to the Lionsgate Blu-ray, released in 2009. Close-ups are clear, textures are discernible and black levels are consistent. This is a very solid transfer.
Olive has packaged Cujo with the original mono and a new lossless DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio track. The audio here is quite good, offering solid fidelity and rather surprising depth. All of Cujo’s growls and other noises come through impressively, while dialogue is clear throughout.
No subtitles are available.
The following special features are included:
- Audio Commentary with Director Lewis Teague: With host Jeff McKay guiding the way, Teague discusses how he got involved in the film, what Steven King’s writing represents to him and where Cujo fit in his body of work. Generally Teague seemed to find making Cujo a pleasant experience and is complimentary to both cast and crew. Recorded exclusively for Olive Films in 2012.