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Halloween Throwback: ‘Cujo’

For the month of October, otherwise known as “spooky season,” Rotten Bananas will be taking a turn for the scary and reexamining the great terrifying visual treatises of the past, beginning with the Stephen King classic, “Cujo.” 

The film, directed by Lewis Teague and released in 1983, two years after the book of the same name’s release, stars Dee Wallace as simple housewife Donna. Donna is married to Vic and together they have a young son named Tad. They appear to be a simple family but with many King classics, not all is as it seems. The couple has some marital issues boiling up due to infidelity on both sides and financial struggles at Vic’s job as an advertiser. After a series of issues with the family car, Donna is tasked with taking the car to the town mechanic when Vic goes out of town on business. There the titular dog appears. Saint Bernard Cujo appears normal except for a festering wound on his nose. As the film progresses, the truly horrible nature of Cujo’s affliction is revealed. 

The first thing to note is that most of King’s novels and stories from the 80s follow a similar formula. We come in on a town that appears entirely normal. King showcases how normal the town’s problems are, usually through highlighting marital issues, financial struggles, or juvenile drama. Once the mood of “Hey, it’s just a normal town,” sets in, the supernatural elements of the plot are revealed. “Cujo” is no different. While it’s not clear if the rabies that Cujo is affected by is supernatural or if it’s merely just a disease that makes him go insane, but the terror created by Cujo’s transformation from family pet to horrible beast is certainly alarming. 

It’s also important to note that the film capitalizes on the concept of the “scream queen.” The scream queen is an archetype in film usually portrayed by women who either appear or are shown to be demure and then subverts that expectation entirely usually through the extreme hardship related to the events of the film. Donna’s character goes through quite the transformation as a result of the film. Before the encounter with Cujo, Donna’s relationship with her toddler son is strained. The boy prefers his father in almost every aspect of his life, and this puts considerable stress on Donna, leaving her feeling largely unaccomplished. 

The majority of the film actually takes place in the interior of the family car that Donna takes to be repaired with Cujo terrorizing Donna and Tad from the outside attempting to get in. Films that can take singular locations and develop them to the point of being a living, breathing environment all the same as other films truly take the prize. 

“Cujo” is one of Stephen King’s classics, even though the author doesn’t actually remember writing it, due to writing the entirety of it during a cocaine binge. This fact doesn’t change that it’s the perfect movie to pick up to relive your Halloween nightmares leading up to the spookiest holiday of the year. “Cujo” has an A-plus rating. 

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