One of the greatest aspects of Stephen King’s writing is that the more out-there horror aspects of his stories mask the human stories that float just under the surface which is what makes his particular brand of fright-writing so easy to connect with. For example: yes, The Shining IS about a haunted hotel but it’s ACTUALLY about the damage addiction does to the family unit and yes, It IS about a shape shifting, child eating clown but it’s ACTUALLY about corrupted childhood and the loss of innocence; you follow me? So when filmmakers deside to ignore the relatable glue that holds the horror together, the whole thing tends to fall apart faster than than a house of cards in a hurricane.
This brings us to Cujo, King’s brutal and merciless tale of a large, friendly Saint Bernard dog driven rabid by a bat bite who holds a mother and child siege in their broken down car after crunching down on a few victims for practice. That’s the horror stuff, sure, but what Cujo is ACTUALLY about is a wife and husband trying to deal with her affair and their attempts to reestablish trust despite her lover not being ready to be put out of the picture. While all this is covered in Lewis Teague’s adaption of King’s carnivorous canine classic, a lot of the character stuff is skimmed over in favour of more traditional animal run amok carnage, which is a shame because while Cujo doesn’t skimp on the guts, it is missing a whole lot of heart.
I’m completely confused about how a killer dog movie could turn out to be quite so bland; it’s not like the director is unfamiliar with such territory as Teague previously helmed the awesome Alligator, a B-movie positively loaded with intelligence and great characters as well as various bipeds getting forced through a digestive tract of a carnivore with the determination of a man-eating locomotive.
The build up, where the family has their relationships tested, are to be honest pretty weakly scripted and are fairly insipid as husband Vic’s marketing job is in peril and wife Donna tries to end her dalliance with her childhood sweetheart while caring for her sickly son, Tad. However once the animal attacks start and the stand off begins between Dee Wallace Stone’s frustrated housewife and the mountainous, maddened Cujo – leaking slobber from his jaws and pus from everywhere else – the film shifts up a gear as young Tad slowly roasts in the boiling car, looking like a blonde haired Gollum in tighty whiteys.
And yet it still doesn’t to grip like it should, even with such stakes on the line. The ticking clock aspect of Tad’s heat exposure and Donna’s infected bite wounds don’t really come across as desperate as they should meaning that the film loses the very edge of your seat aspect that’s so important to the story, plus a whole utilised concept in the book where a near delirious Donna believes she’s being punished for her marriage indiscretions would have added more despair to an already desperate situation.
That all being said, Cujo has bite when it absolutely needs it but for the majority of it’s run time it turns out to be mostly another shaggy dog story.