Leave it to Stephen King to create a movie that is, in my opinion, 100% realistic and plausible. This is a story that anyone can agree is possible to happen to practically anybody.
This is the tragic story of a typical household pet. His name is Cujo. He’s a St. Bernard that lives with the Camber family. Mr. Camber is a mechanic (of sorts…in a small town there’s always that neighborhood guy that does auto repair out of his garage…or barn).
Further in town lives the Trenton family, who are really our main characters of the film. There’s Vic (dad), Donna (mom) and Tad (son). They seem to be the average American family. But things soon start to fall apart for the Trentons.
Now, in the beginning of the film we open with a fun chase scene between Cujo and a fluffy little rabbit. (Personally, I root for the rabbit because well, I’m still a chick and bunnies are cute. Deal with it.) As Cujo is chasing this rabbit, it finds refuge in a hole that leads to a small cave. Cujo, of course, sticks his head in the hole to get the rabbit. But, there are bats sleeping in this cave and Cujo’s bark is a resounding wake up call for them. They fly about erratically in the small space and one ends up biting the poor dog on his nose. He rips his head out of the hold and flees whimpering.
Meanwhile, the Trentons are experiencing some marital discord. Vic is an advertising executive and things with the new marketing campaign aren’t going so well. Donna has been having an affair with her ex-boyfriend from high school. Vic finds out about this affair and is angry and heartbroken. Donna eventually tells the lover that they can’t see each other anymore. Her lover is not so happy about this.
In the midst of all this emotional family chaos, Donna’s car is having some issues so Vic tells her to take it to Mr. Camber to get fixed, as he is heading out of town for business. When she gets there, her son riding with her, she finds that Cujo is a huge rabid dog that has killed his owner, Mr. Camber, among others. Cujo has become very aggressive and violent given the fact that he has untreated rabies. He attacks Donna and Tad, forcing them to return to her car for safety. It is sweltering outside and they are not prepared for being holed up in this little car, which is quickly becoming an oven. Donna tries to start the car but, because that was the whole reason she was getting it fixed, is unsuccessful. (The car almost died on them on the way to Camber’s.) And because this monster of a dog is set on getting at them, they can’t roll down the windows or open the doors. Cujo sits and eyes them and the car, a true predator at this point. He’s not leaving without his pound of flesh.
During all of this, two things happen. The first is, Vic has been calling home repeatedly and is not getting any kind of answer. This leads him to believe that Donna is still having the affair and over a little time, weighs so heavy on him that he feels the need to immediately head home to find out what is going on. The second event is that Donna’s lover breaks into their house. He is overcome with anger and jealousy, the rage of the rejection he’s suffered and he obliterates the entire house. He tears up pictures, destroys bedding, trashing the kitchen, breaks furniture, I mean he really just lets out every ounce of hatred, anger, revenge and envy he has in him. Then he leaves.
When Vic gets home he instantly sees all the destruction and calls the police, telling them his wife and son are gone, that the house has been broken into and trashed and that he believes he knows who did it, directing the police to his wife’s ex-lover. He also briefly suspects the lover of taking his family but, then he remembers that Donna took the car to Camber’s for repairs.
Now, because there’s no answer at that Camber’s house either, the Sherriff ends up going out there to check on things. Upon his arrival he too sees that Cujo is…not well, and that things have gotten really bad at the Camber place. He soon gets attacked before his is able to save Donna and Tad, who are struggling to survive in her yellow Ford Pinto. He gets into a scuffle with Cujo and for a second, he gets away, settling on the catwalk of the barn. But, soon he falls and Cujo mauls him, killing him.
Donna watches all of this and seizes the opportunity to exit the vehicle and strike Cujo with a baseball bat. She hits him over and over until the bat breaks, leaving her holding nothing but the ragged broken handle in her grip. Cujo quickly turns and lunges at her and his is impaled on the handle, it piercing his stomach, sending him to the ground. Donna jumps up, grabs the Sherriff’s gun and Tad, who is almost dead from heatstroke and dehydration, and bolts into the Camber’s house.
She quickly starts pouring water over Tad and giving him CPR to revive him. It works. Tad wakes up and Donna is beyond relieved. She thinks the whole ordeal is over and breathes a huge sigh through her tears.
Just then, a recovered Cujo comes crashing through the kitchen window, ready to devour whatever is in his path. But, Donna is ready for him this time. As he comes barreling through the glass she picks up the cop’s revolver and fires it right at Cujo without hesitation. She hits him and Cujo is finally dead.
Donna scoops up Tad into her arms and exits the house through the front door to find Vic standing at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the front porch. She stands on the porch and just stares at him with pure exhaustion and trauma, tears in her eyes.
As a Stephen King fan, I love this movie. I will say that my only complaint would be that the book ends differently than the movie, although I won’t tell you how just yet because I will be doing a book vs. movie post in the Book Reviews section as soon as I clear my reading list.
But still, this is a great movie. It really does take something you are supposed to love and something you never think would hurt you (the family pet) and turns it into a hellish and tragic unfolding of events that are not something of science fiction or impossible imagination but, something so simple and plausible. The basic bite of a bat causing a cataclysmic series of horrific deaths. Add to that the wife getting busted for having an affair and the idea that they don’t have a Norman Rockwell painting kind of marriage and family life makes it all the more relatable for the average viewer.
The introduction of Cujo as a fun and playful dog chasing a rabbit makes the carnage he unleashes all that more brutal. To see the change in Cujo over the course of the movie is truly a scary thing if you put yourself in the shoes of the characters. I mean, this is a St. Bernard, not a little toy sized dog that fits in your purse. This thing jumps up to say “Hi” and you are getting knocked over. Imagine what kind of force he has behind a jump fueled by rabid rage.
Also, keep in mind that King himself put this film on his list of Top Ten Favorite Movie Adaptations of his books. That’s a huge compliment seeing as how he was not part of the screenplay writing process.
This film is always fun to watch. It’s not incredibly long. It gets to the point on everything fairly quickly and doesn’t drag anything out too long. Just be forgiving of the hair and clothing styles. (We had to suffer with them back then, it’s only fair the new generations suffer viewing them too. It’s a shared pain.)