Will Kings’ story of a rabid Saint Bernard stand up on the big screen?
Though ‘Cujo’ is not as spooky as many of Kings other titles, I did like the supernatural element and themes of dominance through violence. I’m not convinced that it translated to the movie as the interconnectedness was lost through omission of certain plot points. Where the book is slightly misogynistic, the film in its 80’s horror cinematic style fails to capture the soul of its written counterpart.
The novel took a long time to build up. However, the writing style helped keep it from getting boring. There was always a little snippet of life outside the main plot – given that not a lot actually happens in this book. I loved all the little details. Masterful storytelling. I was engrossed even though the pacing felt slow in the first half.
I also love the mix of the supernatural even though it was small, it added a layer of connectedness and contributed to tension making some scenes terrifying. With a variety of characters and points of view, both good and bad and all different shades in between, each important ingredients to a wonderful narrative. However, the movie failed to include the malevolent presence in Tad’s closet – it was reduced to Tad’s childhood fears. Where the novel used the closet monster as both a precognition of foreboding, and a supernatural presence that haunted the area; the movie just had a rabid dog.
Great complex characters, including Cujo the dog, whom left me with conflicting emotions. His story is so bittersweet. As a dog lover, I did find it difficult to see the corruption of such a beautiful and caring canine from something out of his control. Whether intentional or not, the symbolism of rabies, alcoholism, violence, and the evil entity infect and corrupt completely; and it takes sacrifice and a lot of guts and determination to battle such elusive foes. The dogs acting was pretty good for the film, although wagging his tail in some of the attacks gave away some of his menacing air (not to mention his hair goes from short to long and back to short again in some scenes.) The make-up was a little over done, both on Cujo and towards the end on Tad and his mother. Both humans being the star of the film (Danny Pintauro and Dee Wallace respectively) and victims trapped in a smouldering car as Cujo’s rabies forces him into insanity and violence.
Tad’s screaming got on my nerves somewhat, I wanted to throttle him at one point, and ended turning the volume off to continue with the movie.
Steve Kemp’s (played by Christopher Stone) retaliation on Donna (Tad’s mom) in the movie for ending their affair, was made to look more like a violent break in and abduction rather than a sexual power display of vengeance and shame as it is described in the book.
One other thing of note about the film were the policemen. Those scenes were constructed terribly. And the work the Sheriff’s station partook looking into Kemp ridiculous. It had much more efficiency and a sense of urgency in the novel. On the screen everyone in a uniform seemed like some bumbling hick.
The novel has lots of gore towards the end, adding to the desperation and devastation it drove home the shock at the end – which I did not see coming. This conclusion is different for the film, I guess to appeal to cinema audiences (and King himself stated if there was one change he could make, this was it), and dramatic effect. Pretty cool but loses the tone and themes of the book.
There was one thing that was not tied up though, and even missed in the final comments for the written version, and I thought King dropped a prime opportunity to leave us with a shiver. It has been connected as a sequel to ‘The Dead Zone’ where the supernatural presence in Tad’s closet is a boogeyman incarnation of Frank Dodd. Both the novel and film failed to tie up this loose end, or leave us with an ominous scene that the presence is still out there.
All in all a turbulent horror story about the corruption of innocence and inevitability of evil (and man). It still stands as a tale today, but certain technology (like cell phones and better mechanics) may render the plot a little defunct.
‘Cujo‘ is the only book to date (apart from Kings detective novels) that hasn’t had me pulling my legs up off the floor for fear of something reaching out of the darkness to try and pull me under. And well, the movie, I was too astounded at the ‘80’s special effects, occasional overacting and cropped storyline to get any type of fear or anxiety built up.
I’d rate the novel one notch higher than the big screen version… go Kingy!
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