Cujo is one of the first Stephen King film adaptations to come out, and maybe the first misfire—King himself HATES Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. However, he loved the film of Cujo, and as recently as 2014 hew still said that he considered it one of his favourite adaptations. King was also heavily into cocaine and booze when he wrote the book and when the film was made and has stated that, as with the film he directed, Maximum Overdrive, he doesn’t remember writing Cujo. I haven’t read the novel so I can’t compare the two, but if the film is anything to go by, the story didn’t have that much meat on its bones.
Dee Wallace plays Donna Trenton, who is having an affair with an old flame. Her husband Vic (Daniel Hugh-Kelly) soon he leaves on a business trip. Cujo is a good-natured dog who belongs to their neighbors. He gets infected with rabies and terrorizes Donna and her children for about half of the film’s slim 93-minute running time, all while they are trapped in a car. It’s the old “unfaithful wife gets terrorized” trope, which is incredibly boring, but SPOILERS the husband doesn’t save them all at the end but they do survive.
It’s OK as a killer dog film, but when you have White Dog, why do you ever need to watch another killer dog film? The film is elevated a bit by the performances from Wallace (best known as the mom in E.T.) and seven-year old Danny Pintauro as the son. It’s a shame that Pintauro has had a troubled life, because for a child actor he was pretty astonishing. Wallace is very committed to the role, and King has stated it’s the best performance in any adaptations of his work… it’s not, but it’s good.
Lewis Teague was the director, He was a bit of schlockmeister, but directed a few early John Sayles scripts, including Alligator. He would be the first director to adapt King twice, with his follow-up being Cat’s Eye. I believe Mick Garris would end up with the record for the most King adaptations. Cujo is perfectly competently directed but nothing really stands out. However, it’s shot by future director Jan de Bont, who was Verhoeven’s Dutch cinematographer, so visually it’s decent. He would also shoot Die Hard and direct perhaps the greatest rip-off of that film, Speed.
The double-disc Blu-Ray set from Eureka under their “Eureka Classics” imprint has a whole host of special features, including hours upon hours of interviews with cast and crew. The old three-part making-of documentary; a commentary from Lee Gambin, who wrote a book on the making of Cujo; Kim Newman on Stephen King adaptations throughout the ’80s; and a 100 minute Q&A with star Dee Wallace are also included. The booklet is 60 pages long with many essays on the film, including one from Gambin.