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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)

Lake Placid

Placid rhymes with…and this limp d*cked effort, best described as Jaws with Claws, wastes a lot of top-drawer acting talent and awesome effects.

In fact, the above alone could count as a uber-succinct review of Lake Placid, but let’s dive beneath the brackish waters and explore a bit more, eh?

Maine has never been so mountainous (as cheapo movie aficionados, we recognize the locale as obviously British Columbia) and for a movie set in New England, there are no Peter Griffin accents, only central casting types.

There’s an attack in Black Lake, and the animal perp left a calling card: a tooth. A paleontologist (Bridget Fonda) is brought in from New York’s American Museum of Natural History to investigate, because as we know from the tour manager in This is Spinal Tap — nearby Boston is “not much of a college town.”

That sets off the Big Apple city slicker / hick cop dynamic, but not only is Fonda’s Kelly ill-prepared for the bush, she’s terrified of of the outdoors (seems like a first for a paleontologist).

A mythology expert, a croc-obsessed shyster Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt of Chicago Med) donates his time and equipment to help get to the bottom of…well, the mystery and um, Black Lake (“they were going to call it Lake Placid, but it turns out that already exists.”).

Meanwhile, a mammoth crocodile is taking out moose, and making cops half the men they used to be (there’s some dynamic practical / animatronic / CG effects courtesy of Terminator dude Stan Winston).

But what holds Lake Placid back, is the weird tonal dynamics. Sure, there are some amusing tongue-in-cheek humor, in keeping with the kind of thing you might get from John Sayles (Alligator), but it’s more goofy than gallows.

The cast, which includes Bill Pullman as a Fish and Game official, Mariska Hargitay as “the other woman” in New York and even Betty White, is game…but things get silly and sluggish.

Lake Placid has one fantastic set piece, which is not worth spoiling here, but is worth half a star in of itself.

**3/4 (out of 5)