The film adaptation of Stephen King’s 1981 novel, Cujo, is the next title up in DK Canada’s Monsters in the Movies, and I find myself a little divided on it. The majority of the film is, in fact, faithful to the novel until we reach the final act of the film. But we’ll get to that.
The film itself feels unbalanced as it doesn’t quite want to embrace some of it’s darker side, or the visual style that it seems on the edge of becoming, which is unfortunate, because all of the stuff that takes place at the Camber farm almost has this mid-70s auteur horror grindhouse feel that really could have been played up.
Unfortunately these same sequences seem to clash visually and stylistically with anything that isn’t shot there. Which may have been a creative choice, but it comes across as a bit jarring.
The story finds Donna (Dee Wallace in an exceptional performance) struggling with her personal life, and her relationship with her husband, Vic (Daniel Hugh Kelly). They have a son together, Tad (Danny Pintauro) but are on shaky ground as a couple. Donna has recently ended an affair with a tennis coach, Steve (Christopher Stone), a man who is less than willing to let Donna go.
When an ad campaign and product goes south, Vic is called away, leaving Donna to tend to her wreck of a car. He suggests that take it out to Camber’s farm for repairs, and so begins her trial. It seems the Camber’s dog, a lovable St. Bernard named Cujo, has recently been bitten by a bat and gone rabid.
Donna and Tad soon find themselves stuck in their broken down car in the Camber’s yard (Cujo has dispatched of Mr. Camber (Ed Lauter) and everyone else is away) with Cujo intent on tearing them apart should they get out of the car, or even if they don’t.
And that is where the film truly excels. It doesn’t quite embrace its 70s gritty horror as much as it should, to its loss, because this story would have been brilliantly served by that.
It’s funny watching the dogs perform in this film, because you can tell in a number of scenes that they had to have their tails tied down, as they were having too much fun. But most of the editing, and cutting around that makes for some pretty vicious looking attacks.
Which leads me finally to a couple of the things from the novel. I don’t remember hearing it mentioned in the film, but the story is set in that iconic, fictional, Maine town of Castle Rock (and the dog is mentioned in a few other King stories set there), and of course there’s that change in the ending – which I won’t cover for spoilery reasons (though the film is old enough it shouldn’t be a problem). Let’s just say I preferred the book ending. Downer city.
Not a bad film, but one that missed the chance to embrace an iconic King novel, and turn it into a 70s grindhouse cult film.
What’s next from DK Books’ Monsters in the Movies? Pick up a copy and find out, and find something truly monstrous to watch tonight.