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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)


The cinematic equivalent of a workplace training video, Unfriended forces viewers to stare at one character’s screen interface, complete with Skype notifications and a moving mouse. Exhilarating stuff, eh?

At a budget of $1 million (spent on what, champagne and caviar craft services?) the 16-day production schedule drew a big box office gross — but we’d mostly sooner ctrl-alt-delete it from memory.

The tale unfurls via, er…laptop POV…that of bland high schooler Blaire (played by ex-pageant queen, Shelley Hennig) and concerns the bullying and subsequent online shaming of one Laura Barns, who then commits suicide. On the one-year anniversary of Barns’ death, her friends yak over Skype.

The group notices an uninvited user, billie227, and thereafter, that lewd photos of them are being updated to their Facebook pages (this was back when this young demographic actually used the social media site  — they’ve since left it in droves. Still, kudos to Blumhouse/Bazelevs co-producers for using actual websites rather than made-up ones…hence we get actual Google searches. Yay).

The new chatter is an anonymous intruder who claims to be Laura Barns’ restless spirit. He/she forces the other kids to play a game, Never Have I Ever, wherein they incriminate one another. This is similar to Panic Button, a British reality TV- and social media-based horror where the tormenter gets victims to turn on one another.

It’s this latter element that makes Unfriended fall apart.

One backstabbing Never Have I Ever revelation would’ve packed more of a dramatic punch than a series of them, especially when none of the characters is in any way developed. Yes, characters are seldom developed in horror films…but for a flick that is exclusively based on conversation, that’s no excuse here.

And as you can see from the screen shot above….a whole movie of this? In small doses, perhaps, a short film, most definitely…but the Brady Bunch / Hollywood Squares visual set-up begins to wear thin pretty quick.

As aficionados of weird horror movie weapons (see our book, Death by Umbrella) Unfriended features one pretty neat demise we shan’t spoil here, as well as 1-2 genuine scares. That’s not really enough to justify Unfriended: Game Night, its sequel.

So, is it better to deftly execute something that’s been done to death, or to break new creative ground and mostly fail? See for yourself.

**1/2 (out of 5)