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The Hell Plaza Oktoberfest

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Adam Jahnke - Main Page

Cujo: 25th Anniversary Edition

Cujo: 25th Anniversary Edition
1983 (2007) - Republic Pictures (Lionsgate)

At this point, would it even be possible to write an entire month's worth of horror reviews without once mentioning the name Stephen King? Maybe but it'd be tough. For decades now, King has been one of the genre's biggest brand names. Even if the movies based on his work are a lot more miss than hit, his influence on the genre can't be underestimated.

Cujo is one of King's darkest novels and one that would be pretty easy to turn into a lousy movie. Surprisingly, director Lewis Teague's adaptation is one of the better Stephen King movies out there and almost certainly one of the most underappreciated.

Dee Wallace plays Donna Trenton, a bored housewife in Castle Rock, Maine (where else?). She's unhappy in her marriage to ad exec Vic (Daniel Hugh-Kelly) but wracked with guilt over an affair she's been having with a local handyman (Christopher Stone). Vic finds out about the affair and angrily takes off for New York, trying to salvage a botched ad campaign for a kids' cereal. This leaves Donna stuck with an unreliable Pinto, which she and her son Tad (Danny Pintauro) drive out to a yokel's place in the middle of nowhere to get fixed. But the repairman and his family are gone, leaving behind their rabid St. Bernard, Cujo. And Cujo doesn't much want Donna and Tad to leave.

Teague and screenwriters Don Carlos Dunaway and Lauren Currier did a lot right in adapting King's novel to the screen. First off, they jettisoned all the supernatural stuff that King revels in, paring the story down to its essentials. The result feels grimly authentic, like all this actually could happen. Everything is well established in the first 45 minutes, so it makes sense why Donna would take her car so far out of her way and why, once she's trapped on the farm, there's virtually no chance anyone would come looking for her. By taking his time with the set-up, Teague makes us care about these characters, so Cujo's siege actually carries some emotional weight beyond just a big scary dog coming after a couple of ciphers stuck in a car. Teague also knows his way around movie trickery, using a number of dogs and special effects to make Cujo a believable menace.

The performances of Dee Wallace and Danny Pintauro really anchor the movie, however. Pintauro's work is really incredible, especially considering he was just six years old at the time. And Wallace is in top form, creating a flawed, complex and sympathetic character. If you have kids, you'll definitely feel it when Tad starts screaming over and over again for his daddy and Donna, pushed to her limit, finally snaps at him.

Cujo was previously available as a pretty lousy disc from Artisan. Lionsgate's 25th Anniversary Edition is a substantial improvement. The image is finally presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen and looks a whole lot better than the open matte 1.33:1 version we were previously stuck with. The only audio option is the original Dolby mono track but it gets the job done. The highlight of the extras is Dog Days, a three-part documentary featuring new interviews with Teague, Wallace, an all-grown-up Pintauro, cinematographer Jan de Bont and others. It's not the best documentary I've ever seen but it's informative and entertaining. Teague also contributes an audio commentary with a bit more overlap with the doc than I'd have liked but is worth a listen, particularly as he discusses the similarities between Stephen King and John Sayles, with whom Teague worked on Alligator, among other projects.

If you were to attempt to watch every movie made from a Stephen King book or story, you'd probably get whiplash from the fluctuating degrees of quality, everything from the ridiculous (King's own Maximum Overdrive) to the sublime (most would nominate Kubrick's The Shining here but I've always been fond of Cronenberg's The Dead Zone). Considering how much time you'd spend on the lower end of the scale, I don't recommend such a project. Cujo, however, is a King movie you can watch without embarrassment. It's a scary, intense and emotional horror movie that deserves more recognition than it gets.

Film Rating: B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B-/B-

Adam Jahnke

Adam Jahnke - Main Page
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