6 April 2008 | mcfly-31
dog bites man --- and Pinto ---- story...
What we have here is the ultimate statement on rural families that opt to live near bat caves. The result is a fairly competent Stephen King adaptation of a big, friendly pooch that is somewhat innocently turned into a bloodthirsty devil dog.
One frolicky afternoon in the sunshine, the title farm dog is pursuing a scampering bunny rabbit through the countryside. Mistakenly popping his head into what he thinks is Thumper's underground domicile, is instead infested with bats. One pierces poor Cujo's schnozz and days later, the chaos begins.
On the other side of town, more mundane things are being played out. Your average three-person family --- complete with a kid who fears his closet at bedtime --- are going through the motions. Sure, we wouldn't mind a little character development and subtext for what's to come, but it's this part of the screenplay that nearly kills the film. Completely needless subplots populate this thing like no tomorrow, involving extra-marital activities, the most average town stud of the 80s, and an asinine attempt at damage control for --- you ready? --- a cereal campaign that's made America physically ill. What any of this crap is doing in a horror film is beyond me.
But once you've slogged through that superfluous nonsense, you're permitted a decent little thriller. We observe a mother and her young son damned by a 70s eyesore Pinto which malfunctions at exactly the wrong time. What neighborhood farm does is crap out at? You guessed it. The residence of the now bloodsoaked, dirtied Cujo.
Director Teague ought to be commended for keeping the action so tense in what ends up being (basically) a one location film. A supremely trained movie dog (or possibly *dogs*) evoke genuine fear and panic for the audience. And Teague as well creates a perfect sense of isolation for the desolate setting, which in many King novels, is a character in itself. Jan de Bont's cinematography is superbly skilled as well, most impressively involving a steadicam shot approaching the open door of the Pinto. And an excellent one rotating around Cujo as he sits on the porch of the house, the car in his sights.
Wallace and Pintauro carry the film quite well, though Pintauro's screechy whining can be a bit much at times. But that's what it makes it so convincing! You feel a legitimate observation is going of how these two people would cope with being held hostage by a serial mutt. Other characters seem to occupy the screen for the sole purpose of distancing themselves from the audience, so when they're attacked, we feel better about it. And the bearded lathario who allegedly has several mistresses at his disposal, still sees it necessary to take a knife to one of his conquests homes out of her rejection of him. Please.
The close of the film leaves an important visual off-screen (lemme just say "gunshot!"), and the final frame (especially the music) is right out of a soap opera. And I'm sorry, but as a dog lover, there were just times that I actually had sympathy for Cujo. He's not inherently evil to begin with, and most notably in the beginning, is viewed as a fluffy, friendly canine. So to see him descend into a killing machine was almost a bit depressing at times.
But if you can power through a fodder-laden start (or even utilize the fast forward button), Cujo is a passable scare-fest for a Friday night with friends.