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CUJO (1983) (***1/2)

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I saw this when I was a kid and just re-watched it. It's just as scary as I remember. It's a slow build, but it's totally worth the wait. The moments with the dog are terrifying. The main reason the film works is that anyone can relate to the situation. Everyone has had a mean looking, giant dog bark at them in an angry way. Take that situation and turn it up a million degrees and you get this film.

Donna Trenton (Dee Wallace, E.T.) has moved to a small town in Maine with her husband Vic (Daniel Hugh Kelly, TV's RYAN'S HOPE) and young son Tad (Danny Pintauro, TV's WHO'S THE BOSS?). She dreads her new situation, fearing that her life will be painfully boring. Tad has fears of the bogeyman lurking in his closet. While Vic is away on a business trip, Donna takes her Ford Pinto to the farm of Joe Camber (Ed Lauter, SEABISCUIT) for repairs. However, Joe has already been killed by his rabid dog Cujo. Now Donna and Tad find themselves under siege over a sweltering three-day period trapped in their now inoperable car without food and water.

Director Lewis Teague (NAVY SEALS, CAT'S EYE) has never been better, working with the tightly constructed screenplay by Don Carlos Dunaway and Lauren Currier. Teague's direction helps add to the tension of the already good story. Like JAWS, it's what we don't see that is so scary. He draws out moments of near silence then hits the audiences with a violent attack from the giant St. Bernard.

Wallace gives a heart-rending performance as a bored housewife who is put into an extraordinary situation, making her quickly reevaluate her life and what is important in it. Pintauro can be annoying, but it actually adds to the tension. As he becomes sick from dehydration, Wallace's panic for the health of her child is highly emotional, driving the story forward. It's a great example of how natural obstacles can fuel the actions and motivations of the characters.

This film reminds me of how scary MISERY was (even though that film was better). Cujo the name has even entered the popular culture as a reference to any kind of mean canine. This movie only solidifies that strong iconic image. Roger Ebert said once, that you could hold two film festivals one with good and one with bad Stephen King films. I submit this one for the good fest. You want to be frightened; this film will definitely deliver.

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Rick DeMott
Animation World Network
Creator of Rick's Flicks Picks