‘No animals were harmed in the making of this film,’ is the usual disclaimer when a movie pictures an animal in distress in any way, shape or form and even so, it still makes Cujo a little hard to watch at times, even if it is not real. Based upon the Stephen King story, the movie finds a dog who has contacted rabies become rabid over time and of course, Cujo ends up killing a few people and finally trapping mother Donna and son Tad in their car after it fails to start. What follows is a standoff of sorts to see who might last longer, Donna as played by Dee Wallace who must also battle the heat and dehydration or the dog who only has eyes for his prey.
There is no doubting that this is a horror movie as there are some uncomfortable scenes to watch and almost all of them involving the dog Cujo in some manner. Whether it is seeing him slowly descend into madness or watching him attack and kill others, an animal that is suffering is no easy thing to look upon. It is the main source of horror in this film and while it is horrific to see, it takes a while to get there, the movie starting out as more of a family drama than anything else. Once it does get going though, it is unrelenting and for the last half of the film, it becomes quite unpleasant to watch. While one has to feel sorry for the human victims, the dog pulls at the heartstrings because at one point, it was a trusted friend and companion and through no fault of its own, became something else. If only the owners had paid a little more attention, perhaps Cujo could have been taken to the vet when the symptoms first presented themselves and none of this would have happened, but then there would be no film. As for the special effects, which consisted of what looks to be a lot of goop and a guy in a dog suit, they were effective and made Cujo look both absolutely terrifying and quite sad simultaneously.
Obviously the film is not all about a dog, though it does feature prominently within and is the subject of the title, but there is a human element to it all featuring Wallace, Daniel Hugh-Kelly and Danny Pintauro who would star as the little boy. Suffice it to say, aside from the child, the players in this movie elicit little sympathy from the audience as they are not all that likeable, not that they have to be. It is not until Wallace and her son are trapped in the car that one feels for her, especially for the boy during a couple of intense scenes where he is fighting to breathe, a truly scary moment during a very tension-filled final act. That being said, they also made the film as good as it was. The performances from the entirety of the cast were spot on and the terror felt by Wallace and Pintauro was palpable and entirely gripping.
When all was said and done, director Lewis Teague may not have crafted the best horror to ever hit the big screen because in the end, it was a tragedy and one that could have possibly been avoided. What Cujo ended up being in addition to a horror film though, was a very taught thriller, horrific and frightening and packed with suspense at times, one with an ending that was not necessarily a happy one, but one that would convey the tragedy found within.
4 out of 5