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Feature


Donna Trenton (Dee Wallace Stone), a frustrated suburban housewife, is caught cheating on with a local tennis player. Donna’s husband Vic (Daniel Hugh Kelly) takes a business trip, and uses the time to think about his marital troubles. While Vic is away Donna takes her five-year-old son Tad (Danny Pintauro) to a local mechanic to fix their broken Pinto. When they get to the mechanic’s farm it appears that his dog, Cujo, has come down with a mean case of rabies.

Cujo: Special Edition
Part of reviewing DVDs is reviewing entirely irrelevant movies because they have been reissued in a special anniversary edition. This isn’t to say that all, or even most re-released films are irrelevant, and I also don’t mean to imply that irrelevant films are necessarily bad, but it’s really hard to find something intelligent to say about a movie as unimportant as Cujo. Cujo isn’t an unintelligent film, or even a flat film - to the contrary, it’s a well layered monster movie, with rather deep emotional allegories, but allegories that speak specifically to the 1980s. Before and since other monster movie allegories have spoken for their eras, and these films cast long shadows over Cujo’s minor accomplishments, not to mention the fact that many other non-horror films said the same thing with more conviction ( E.T. for instance). We’re left with an entertaining little movie that looks great, and has more than scares on its mind, but little staying power, plus or minus a few good scares.

Contextualizing, Cujo is one of the better Stephen King adaptations. The ‘80s in general were a good time for Stephen King adaptations, from The Shining to The Dead Zone, all the way to Pet Cemetery. The ‘90s were pretty awful, at least for straight horror work, and the ‘00s aren’t off to a very good start (though I do have a slightly stupid soft spot for Dreamcatcher). Perhaps King’s style was made for the era. Unfortunately, going this route I also wind up realizing how irrelevant the film is, because calling it ‘one of the better Stephen King adaptations’ ends up being the nicest thing I can say about it concerning the greater movie lexicon.

Cujo: Special Edition
Ok, let me try again. I hadn't seen Cujo in (wait for it) a dog's age. I hadn't remembered how much an eyeball appetizer it was, do in no small part to the presence of cinematographer extraordinaire Jon De Bont. De Bont’s work here is occasionally flat out brilliant, though much credit must also go to director Lewis Teague, who thought up most of these bravado camera moves. The energy isn’t quite up to Sam Raimi levels, and the overuse of soft focus is a little annoying, but the visuals cover the lack of overall plot rather well, and keep what could have been a stagnant narrative moving. There are only so many ways to shoot a Pinto, and this director/DP team juices the possibilities to the rind.

Lewis Teague is the guy behind the camera on Alligator, which thanks to the efforts of John Sayles and a smashing cast was more tongue-in-cheek funny then horrifying, but there were plenty of genuinely frightening images to go around. The story goes that Stephen King himself suggested Teague for Cujo when the time came based on his work on Alligator. Alligator is the better film (mostly because of its script alone), but Cujo is the more frightening. As an adult the film didn’t wrack my nerves like it did when I was a kid (I was afraid of dogs for most of my childhood), but I can still recognize a good scare when I see one. For seat jumping alone Cujo may be the scariest King film on record, except for, of course, those shots you can see the dog’s tail wagging in. Those kind of spoil the terror.

And hey, let’s give a hand to Dee Wallace. I know the woman is notorious for her overtly emotional method acting, but this performance makes the film. Without her melodramatic every-mom this would just be a good looking thriller. With her it’s an occasionally nerve-wracking, nearly brilliant pity piece.

Cujo: Special Edition

Video


I’m not familiar with the original Artisan release of Cujo (I swear that the film is on cable every other weekend, why would I bother spending money on it), so I can’t say if this disc is an improvement. What I can say is this new release looks pretty great for a modestly priced, twenty-five-year-old thriller. Jon De Bont’s hard work does not go unnoticed here. There is some grain and compression noise to deal with, and the soft focus work sometimes appears blurry rather than soft, but colours are realistic, details are relatively sharp, and blacks are deep (if not a tiny bit on the brown side.

Audio


There’s no frilly remixing on this one, just your basic Mono and Pro Logic tracks. I suppose a 5.1 revamp could’ve added some aggression to the musical score, maybe some bassier dog barks, but the film don’t really require a lot of surround work. The two tracks are pretty close, and both a little flat, but they work, and for the most part are clear. During some of Cujo’s car attacks things get a bit muddled, and the lack of definition in the LFE track is a bit sad, but it’s all loud and furious nonetheless.

Cujo: Special Edition

Extras


Lewis Teague’s solo commentary track is great. Teague is well prepared, and knows specifically what he wants to talk about. Unlike many DVD commentators, Teague assumes (rightfully), that we’ve already seen the film, so when he’s nearing a shot he wants to talk about he sets himself up several minutes before the shot arrives. Too many commentary tracks involve commentators pointing out a sequence or shot as it appears, rather than preparing us for what to look for. Teague rarely lets up, and is consistently engaging.

This so-called ‘special edition’ is filled out with a three-part featurette, running over thirty minutes in total. It’s no fluff piece, and covers most of the creative process (I did not know that the original book was a semi-sequel to The Dead Zone). The interviews are great, except for Teague who reiterates everything he already said on the commentary track. Teague’s repetition aside, I can’t think of anything more I’d like to know about the film’s production.

Cujo: Special Edition

Overall


So if you’re looking for a great monster movie with more on its mind than just scares, watch Jaws, or maybe even director Lewis Teague’s own Alligator. If you’re looking for a great Stephen King adaptation watch Carrie or The Dead Zone. If you’re looking for a great Dee Wallace film I’d suggest E.T or The Howling. If you want to watch Cujo, just watch Cujo. I’ve got no better reason for you. Not a super-duper, ultra-great, must-see feature, but an entertaining horror/drama. This special edition release features a fine audio commentary with Teague and a solid making-of featurette, but probably isn’t worth a double dip for fans that already have the killer dog flick on their shelves.


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