Logline: “A friendly St. Bernard named “Cujo” contracts rabies and conducts a reign of terror on a small American town.” (IMDB)
Dir. Lewis Teague
Starring: Dee Wallace, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Danny Pintauro
Based on a Stephen King novel of the same name, this, as the poster suggests, is a movie about a rabid dog. Also, as the poster suggests, it’s not very scary, and is really rather silly. I remember as a small child people talking about this movie being terrifying, and there are rumours about it being remade, though they are unsubstantiated.
The film opens with the gorgeous St Bernard getting his nose scratched by a bat or two when he chases a rabbit down it burrow, and getting rabies. It then goes on to have a long set up, introducing us to a couple Vic and Donna, with a young son Tad, who is afraid of monsters, foreshadowing the fear that is to come. We also learn that the husband, Vic, is having some work problems and Donna is having an affair. She is also having car troubles.
These car troubles lead them out to the Cambers place, a house in the middle of nowhere, where the car can be fixed. The father in this family, Brett, is not so nice, and we understand that the wife is afraid. This leads her to get away from him by ostensibly going to her sisters for the weekend, though we see her packing a few things that suggest that she’s taking the son and not coming back.
At this point, the boy notices that Cujo isn’t well, but is cautioned against telling his father, as the mother thinks that this might entangle them in staying behind. And Donna’s affair is found out, as she is in the process of breaking it off. We see how nasty this man is as he lets himself into her house later, and threatens her.
This all takes a really long time, but it’s all set up, really. Vic leaves on a business trip, leaving behind a very uncertain marriage. The Camber house only has one occupant, and we see Cujo take him down, so that when Donna drives the car up to the house, the enormous rabid dog is waiting. The car won’t start, the dog won’t let them out, there is no one there to help them, the husband is away so no one will miss them, and it’s the 80’s so there’s no mobile phones.
And it’s hot.
To say more would spoil the experience, but it’s a pretty good set up. I think that the logline that IMDB use is quite nice and concise, which is why I used it, but I think this film is really more about a woman taking her car to be fixed in a remote location, accompanied by her son, and being trapped in the car by the rabid dog. The problem being that it takes a long while to get there, which kind of halves the film, but I think the set up is meant to give you time to care about the characters and to make it really clear how isolated they are, and the reasons why help might not come.
I’ve heard theories about how the woman is being punished in this film for her infidelities by being in this situation, which is an interesting way of viewing the film, though not one that struck me whilst watching it.
The two things that do strike you are that the dog is an excellent actor (not played by one canine alone) which makes the scenes feel believable. Because the dog isn’t CGI or animatronics, it all feels more real, from the threat of attack to the actors responses. The second is that the child, Tad, is the most whining, irritating kid to ever scream his way through a film. Before the dog has even attacked anyone, you’re not rooting for this kid to survive. By the time they’re locked in the car… you’re turning the volume down and losing interest. It’s just not believable that a kid would behave like that, and it’s a piercing, piercing sound.
Why should you watch this film: The basic idea of driving out into the middle of nowhere with your young child, and being trapped in your slowly baking car by a huge rabid St Bernard without hope of rescue is a really interesting premise. It’s a cool idea, and you’ll get a chuckle out of some of the more dated bits.