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At the time, Stephen King was obsessed with the Patty Heart kidnapping and wanted to write a book about it. The man who orchestrated it went by the name, Cujo…
Suddnely, another villain was born in the mind of Mr. King, this time, one on four legs.
Killer animals were all the rage in the 50s, and usually involved a radioactive deus ex machina (think, Them! with its out-sized killer ants) but also, the products of secret lab experiments like Tarantula.
But then, Cold War fears subsided and environmental activism came to the fore (for example, the first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970). As such, evil corporations began to feature more prominently, giving us films like Piranha, Night of the Lepus, Kingdom of the Spiders and lab experiments gone terribly wrong. Call it a critique of scientism if you so choose.
Cujo is a bit different, as it’s simply plain ol’ rabies that sets the ball in motion.
And instead of some greatly oversized radioactive creature, or a fecund species reproducing and taking over, forcing humans to cede territory to them, Cujo is all about a simple St Bernard menacing a family (and an ironic choice of pet too, as the breed is renowned for mountain rescues and gentle disposition).
So, how does this furry flick stand up to others of its species like say, Dogs?
Director Lewis Teague, who also gave us the hilarious John Sayles-penned Alligator, invests a lot in the family at the centre of the drama. As a result, we dive deep into infidelity and marital issues plaguing the Trenton family. Mom, Donna (scream queen Dee Wallace, of The Howling and The Hills Have Eyes) is cheating on her hubby with of all people, his best friend. The housewife becomes the family’s de facto protector when the dog busts loose.
There’s some wonderful foreshadowing in the form of…shadows…as the couple’s youngster, Tad (Danny Pintauro of Who’s the Boss?) is afraid of the dark and his closet. It’s a wonderful touch that’s pure King.
***1/2 (out of 5)