Now, I'm not one to be frightened of dogs, but I will admit to having some reservations when I walk up and down the back alleys behind my house. There are an assortment of scary-looking pooches in some of the yards of the folks in town. Pit Bulls. Dobermans. Rottweilers. Even the occasional nutty poodle. But to my knowledge, there are no St. Bernards.
In nearly every case though, St. Bernards are a fairly docile breed. They were originally bred to be rescue dogs, carrying medicine over mountains to the sick and injured. They also were known to be great livestock guardians and hunting dogs, as well as guard dogs. But they are not known for violence. I'm sure that after Cujo came out there were plenty of St. Bernard lovers who were pissed as all get out to see their breed slandered with the title of "killer". Doesn't it stand to reason that this might indeed be the nudge that screenwriters had to come up with the lovable hulk named Beethoven, who was for all intents and purposes, the exact opposite of King's monster? In any event, a St. Bernard always gives me pause now...if I see one loose in someone's yard or hovering on a porch, I'm sad to admit it still scares the shit out of me.
But hey, isn't that the mark of a good film? One that can still scare you nearly thirty years later? One that has you on the edge of your seat? And one that would have you running and screaming for your life if the damn dog steps off the porch?
|One big happy family... Mom, Dad, son...oh, and Mom's boyfriend. Nice.|
|Time for the "monster words".|
But hey, let's not forget the star. Cujo is owned by the local mechanic, Joe Camber, who isn't really much of a nice guy either. He's just hanging around trying to find a way to go gambling while his wife heads off to her sister's. His son Brett is Cujo's best friend, but isn't with him when Cujo sticks his nose into a rabbit hole and gets bit by a rabid bat. (What are those bats doing in that hole, anyway??) At this point, I'm feeling pretty damn bad for the dog. He was just out goofing off, chasing a bunny, and WHAM! Your life is over as you know it.
Cujo starts a downward spiral even before he starts offing the human population. It takes only a few days for him to start becoming mad, and I don't mean angry. His behavior is noticeably erratic and frenzied. Loud noises and bright lights set him off, and before long he is making toast of the likes of his owner and the neighbor next door.
Meanwhile, Donna has decided to end her affair with Steve, which does more than just irk him. He gets pissed off. He trashes their house and leaves some incriminating evidence on the bed, in liquid form if you know what I mean. (I have to admit, this film is full of characters that are pretty damn unlikeable. I'm not sure any of them are truly redeemable, including the annoying kid!)
Vic has already headed off for a business trip but forgets to get Donna's ailing car (a Ford Pinto!!) fixed, so Donna has to make her way out to the Cambers with Tad in tow to drop the bungled auto off.
Again and again the dog attacks, with no thought whatsoever to the pain he inflicts upon himself. He's gone completely mad at this point and is probably in so much discomfort he can't see straight. Just when you think he's gone, or at least napping (no way, Jose!), he attacks.
You wouldn't think a film about a pissed off dog could be that scary, but for all accounts, it's the scariest, most realistic movie about a killer dog I've ever seen. The look in the bleeding dog's eyes is pure hatred, and nothing but the disease can be responsible. A passive and friendly pet, the St. Bernard loves nothing more than pleasing his master. But the entire thought process is gone when you throw rabies into the mix. Each time Donna tries to make a run for it, Cujo comes back harder, with more of a vengeance than the last. It seems he truly just wants to kill them. And you're pretty much thinking he's going to succeed, particularly after an especially horrifying sequence in which the dog actually has most of his body in the car - jaws snapping, saliva flinging, teeth bared over Donna's prone body stretched across the front seat - all the while Tad in the back seat wailing for the "monster" to go away.
And can I just say - with all that screaming the kid did, I was almost ready for Cujo to have a Tad sandwich, you know?
But the fear that seeps out your pores when Cujo is jumping on that car, snarling and snapping... that is scarier than any vengeful long-haired ghost or hockey-mask donning stalker. At least in my book. Because a rabid dog could happen at any time, anywhere. The sad progression from happy family pet to stark raving mad beast from hell really brings me down. As an animal lover, I doubt I could watch Cujo too many times simply for that reason if nothing else. I always feel bad when the dog or cat dies in a horror movie, and even though this canine was the main attraction, the way in which he is taken out - the slow, cruel death by incurable disease - well that's just not fair. Simply put, there wasn't one person in that whole film that I wanted to survive more than the dog. And you know going in that's just not going to happen, poor thing.
So I think the moral of the story is: get your damn dog vaccinated for Rabies, okay?!