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"Cujo" — a Review of the 1983 Horror Film

Well, actually, we went to the video store. We rarely go to movie theaters anymore because they won't let us bring our dog in with us. We rented "Cujo", the 1983 film adaptation of Stephen King's novel of the same name. This movie has it all — one rabid Saint Bernard, two dysfunctional families, and three dead bodies (four if you count the dog at the end of the film). The video was in the "horror" section of the store but since we sympathized with the poor dog throughout the movie, we would have to classify it as a tragedy.

The film starts out with a happy-go-lucky Saint Bernard named Cujo, out for a romp on a beautiful summer day in Maine (which looks suspiciously like the California desert), when he spots a little bunny. He chases the rabbit who runs into a small cave infested by rabid bats. Poor Cujo gets bitten on the nose and, two days later, his human family fails to notice his huge red wound and the foam starting to form in the corners of his mouth. Cujo's owner is an abusive auto repairman who lives and works with his wife and son in the middle of nowhere. When the wife wins $5,000 in the lottery, she takes off with her son for what she tells her husband is a week's vacation at her sister's place when, in fact, she plans to leave him forever. With the wife out of town, the auto repairman and his dirtball buddy plan a weekend in Boston drinking and visiting strip joints, but, before they get the chance to leave, Cujo, by now completely rabid, kills them both.

On the other side of town, Dee Wallace plays a housewife who is cheating on her advertising executive husband. He cruises around in a red convertible Jaguar and she gets to drive the family's dilapidated Ford Pinto. No wonder she's having an affair. Child actor Danny Pintauro of "Who's the Boss" TV fame plays their whining, monster-fearing son Tad. Dee's husband finds out about the affair just before he has to go away on a business trip, and leaves her to drive their broken-down Pinto to the remote repair shop. When she gets there, the car breaks down completely and everybody is either dead or out of town...except for Cujo.

What follows is a grueling two-day standoff with the dog in which he rams the car with his head, bites off the door handles, smashes the windows, bites the mother a few times, and basically imprisons them in their stranded vehicle. Meanwhile, young Tad is flipping out because he thinks Cujo is one of the monsters from his bedroom closet, and on top of that, he's dehydrating and having trouble breathing. Here's one kid who probably didn't beg for a Christmas puppy that year.

Anyhow, after a couple of day's of not being able to reach his family on the phone, the adman drives home, suspects foul play, and has the police check out the repair shop. Cujo kills the officer who goes to investigate and, shortly thereafter, Tad stops breathing completely. Mom has had enough. She crawls out of the car, beats the dog silly with a baseball bat, breaks it over his head, and stabs him with the pointed broken piece. Cujo collapses. Mom grabs her son, runs into the house, and revives him just in time to see the rabid dog leap through the window and charge at them. A broken baseball bat through the heart can't stop him! Luckily, she now has the police officer's gun and shoots Cujo dead. And then her husband shows up in his red convertible Jaguar to save the day.

The real star of this movie is, without a doubt, the dog who, surprisingly, didn't get any screen credit for his performance. He obviously enjoyed the challenge of playing the role of the crazed animal although he sometimes drops out of character; in a few scenes, he can be seen happily wagging his tail just before he lunges for someone's throat.

We give this movie two enthusiastic paws up and hope that other viewers heed the film's two main messages — make sure that your dogs get their vaccinations regularly and never buy a Pinto.

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