What I love about Lewis Teague’s “Cujo,” is that while it is a story about a rabid dog mercilessly ravaging a mother and son in their car, the movie seems to be more about karma gone awry. Dee Wallace as Donna Trenton is a woman who is devoted to her son, but is also very committed to the affairs she’s currently having on her husband. The first half of “Cujo” is spent on familial discord and how Donna’s misdeeds with a colleague seems to be rotting this unit from the inside out.
When their Saint Bernard Cujo is stricken with rabies, he doesn’t just seem to be a dog with an inability to contain its rage, but a dog that really has become a somewhat demonic manifestation of this festering sin and deceit. The fall out from Cujo being infected with rabies is gruesome and often times disturbing, especially when he begins to immediately strike down the male role models all around him. It’s curious that his infection with the rabies causes him to not only attack the male counterparts in his family, but almost savor the thrill of murdering them under tooth and nail and engaging in gruesome punishment that they don’t stand a chance against. When Donna and her son Tad drive up to the house and are greeted with the dominant presence of Cujo, the dog seems to want to punish and taunt Donna more than murder her.
Surely, the dog is humongous and wills stop at nothing to get in to the car, but when faced with Donna he seethes with a rage that’s never quite shown when confronted with the men in Donna’s life. The performances from Dee Wallace and Danny Pintauro are fantastic, as they’re both characters stuck in a horrific situation. There’s not a phone around, no one is aware of their peril, and the heat outside is making the situation incredibly difficult to endure. Donna’s own obstacles become even more taxing when Danny begins to break down emotionally and health wise due to the dog’s consistent attacks that make it impossible for the pair to even crack open a window to allow some ventilation in the gradually steaming broken down truck.
The attacks are startling, and Cujo unleashes his wrath on the helpless pair who can do nothing but hope for the dog to grow bored with its assaults and move on to another target. But his rage seems almost supernatural to where Donna and her son are just prime targets Cujo almost lusts toward mauling under its diseased teeth and nails. With subtexts about sin and infidelity coming around to become our ultimate undoing, “Cujo” is still a very effective and terrifying nature run amok film. With excellent editing and direction from Teague that make this a horror film worthy of its classic status, “Cujo” is a favorite. Dee Wallace provides yet another riveting performance in a nature run amok horror classic that hasn’t aged a bit. Wonderful performances, an primal villain, and a compelling story make this a horror gem worthy of re-discovering time and time again.