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“Cujo” is an incredibly slow moving film about boring people and an angry dog.
Vic, Donna, and Tad Trenton live in a large rambling house near the ocean. Vic is an impatient, brusque advertising guy who plays tennis with local handyman/woodworker Steve (and they kinda sorta flirt with each other?) and drives a red convertible Jaguar. Donna is a housewife who is having an affair with local handyman/woodworker Steve, and drives an decrepit cream/yellow Pinto. Tad is cute and terrified of monsters in his closet. In one poignant scene the family sits around the dinner table in strained, awkward silence, until Tad turns the tv on. Vic turns it off again, and suggests he and Donna have another child, possibly so they’ll have something else to talk about. Their family is coming apart, the viewer has no reason to care: Donna is a human-sized puppet with no hobbies or interests or character (other than fucking a dude she isn’t married to) and Vic is kind of a jackass.
Vic takes his car to a local mechanic to get something fixed. Although the man is working on a car at the time, in the middle of doing his job, Vic demands his attention and is stunned and shocked to find that the mechanic isn’t going to drop the job he’s working on to jump Vic’s issue ahead of the other cars waiting for service. The mailman recommends that Vic take his car to some rube in the middle of nowhere to get his car fixed. Impatient, eager for immediate gratification, Vic jumps in his sporty red convertible and zooms out to the middle of nowhere to let a drunken wife-abuser fix up his baby on the cheap. I mean, look. Is it possible for amateur mechanics to fix up a car and do a good job? Sure! But do you really want a stranger who doesn’t do this for a living and who has no insurance to handle your car, leaving you with no redress if they fail to fix the problem or make things worse? If you’re Vic, the answer is yes! Bonus points for having to travel a long distance.
Vic’s main success as an advertising guy is inventing a spokesperson for a cereal line. The cereal contains so much red dye that the people (kids) who eat it defecate, urinate, and vomit red, terrifying their parents who think they are hemorrhaging. This seems like something that would be caught before the cereal was sold, but whatever. It’s an excuse for Vic to freak out and yell at Donna and then leave town for business. As he drives around in his (fixed, functional) car, he catches a glimpse of Donna and Steve talking, and decides that they’re fucking, because they are both absolutely unique individuals and nobody else in the entire world looks like them, and there’s no reason for a person who’s a friend and employee of the family to have a conversation with his wife. Because Donna is a woman, Steve later attempts to rape her in the kitchen, because that’s part of the check list for existing as a woman. Vic and Tad walk in, see Donna is upset and some stuff has spilled on the floor. This only fuels Vic’s feelings of anger and betrayal… at Donna, not Steve, who is his friend, tennis partner, flirt buddy, and employee.
A third of the way through this relatively short movie and there’s no actual horror. Cujo has appeared for only a few brief moments, and all that’s shown to us is the disintegrating marriage of two people… one actively unlikeable and one sans any kind of personality. There’s nothing to like or dislike about her.
Vic, in a snit, drives off in his sporty, sexy, functioning car for a business trip. He leaves his wife and very small child with a barely functioning car, and expects her to drive this car– which is so malfunctioning it’s dangerous– to the drunken, abusive, far off amateur mechanic he favors. The mechanic’s wife has “won the lottery” and bought him an expensive present to appease him before asking permission to take their kid and visit her sister. She packs personal mementos, and obviously is attempting to flee him. He’s dazzled by the idea of spending a week getting drunk, gambling, and going to porn movie theaters with his best friend and doesn’t notice. Cujo, an extremely active St Bernard who was bit by a rabid bat while hunting a rabbit, starts manifesting violent behavior due to the rabies virus. Fifty minutes into a ninety minute movie, he attacks and kills the mechanic’s drunken, slovenly friend and then attacks and kills the mechanic. When Donna pulls into the dirt yard in front of the mechanic’s house, Cujo attacks the car, trapping her and Tad inside. Her shitty, dangerously broken car has finally crapped out for good. She can’t start it. The actual horror doesn’t start until after the movie’s halfway over.
Vic tries calling home several times over the next few days and nobody answers. He finally gets worried enough that he heads back home, leaving his partner to finish business without him. (he doesn’t tell his partner “I haven’t been able to contact my wife and small child in several days and am worried something happened to them,” though. No, he says “My wife was fucking some other guy but I’m totally cool and want to repair our relationship.” Gosh, which is more important?) When he gets home he finds the place has been trashed. Steve has taken a knife and slashed all the furniture, photos, etc. Donna and Tad are nowhere to be found. The cops are INCREDIBLY unconcerned that a dude violently trashed their house and a woman and child are missing, possibly at his hand. When the cops pick up Steve and hear his side of things, they are not at all interested in pursuing the missing people until Vic pushes things. A cop is sent out to the mechanic’s house, where he sees a battered blood-smeared car matching the description of the car belonging to the missing persons he’s supposed to be investigating, but he doesn’t walk over to the car to investigate. Instead, he wanders into a barn where Cujo corners and kills him. Nobody bothers investigating the missing police officer.
Tad passes out after 3 or so days of being locked in a hot car with nothing to drink. Donna, who’s already tried to escape once and been bitten, realizes her kid is about to die. Powered by Motherly Instincts or some bullshit she gets out of the car and picks up a baseball bat, which she uses to batter Cujo’s head. Which, look. Dogs have really thick, hard skulls. Big dogs, like St Bernards, have incredibly thick hard skulls. It is unreasonable to expect to be able to hurt a big rabid dog by hitting it on the head with a baseball bat. The bat breaks off and Cujo jumps Donna, impaling himself on the broken end of the bat. Donna has apparently never read a horror story nor seen a horror movie, and doesn’t bother using the cop’s gun that she picked up to shoot Cujo in the head. Instead she leaves the dog’s body and uses the gun to break open a car window (the doors are all stuck) to take Tad out. She hauls him into the house and tries to get water into him and do CPR. Cujo, of course, attacks, and this time she shoots him to death for real. Tad revives, Vic arrives and yells for them, The End. Will Tad recover? Does he have brain damage from the heat? Will Donna recover with rabies treatment? Will Donna and Vic repair their marriage and have that second baby? We will never know, and I really don’t care. None of the characters were interesting. We don’t really know anything about them. There’s no REASON to care about them. The pacing in the movie is horrible. It’s possible the movie relies too much on familiarity with the book.
One positive thing about the movie is what a debt later zombie movies and books owe to it, especially the menacing scenes in the car when Donna and Tad are trapped and Cujo keeps battering the doors and windows with his head, trying to get in, smearing blood and slobber on the windows. But that’s about four minutes out of ninety, far too small a positive to make up for the negatives.
“Brigid, you sure do complain about lack of characterization in movies! What would you have changed about this movie to improve it?” For one thing, I would have given Donna dialogue. When Steve first arrives on scene, she doesn’t talk at all. And that’s almost excusable because they’re fucking so one could argue she’s over-correcting to not seem overly familiar with him. But it comes across as WEIRD, that she’s incredibly unfriendly and hostile. Have her talk to a friend in person or over the phone. Have her mention to Vic that he needs to watch Tad because she is going to a book club/meet a friend/go play racquet ball/something else. Show her reading a book or magazine. Show her interacting with Tad instead of just sitting there passively as Vic interacts with him. Have her talk to Steve about her relationship with Vic. Have her talk to a girlfriend about either man. Have her talk to a girlfriend about ANYTHING. What about Tad? All we really know about him is he is terrified of the monster in his closet and doesn’t like summer camp. Show him talking about his favorite dinosaurs or robots. Show him playing with another friend. Show him DOING something. What about Vic? Show him not being a fucking entitled asshole to every single person he meets… unless we’re meant to think he’s a dick, but I have a feeling he’s supposed to be Just Some Dude, y’know? The Poor Maligned Hard Working Husband And Father With A Betraying Wife. It’d also be cool if sweet affectionate fun Cujo was shown more, if he and Tad had some kind of fun relationship, and if the Killer Rabies Cujo threat had ramped up in more threatening ways earlier.
I give this movie 2 out of 5 stars.
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