Cujo (4K UHD)

Director: Lewis Teague
Screenplay: Don Carlos Dunaway andLauren Currier (based on the novel by Stephen King)
Stars: Dee Wallace (Donna Trenton), Danny Pintauro (Tad Trenton), Daniel Hugh Kelly (Vic Trenton), Christopher Stone (Steve Kemp), Ed Lauter (Joe Camber), Kaiulani Lee (Charity Camber), Billy Jacoby (Brett Camber), Mills Watson (Gary Pervier), Sandy Ward (Bannerman), Jerry Hardin (Masen)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1983
Country: U.S.
Cujo 4K UHD

It was 1983 when Stephen King officially became his own cinematic subgenre. Sure, there had been adaptations of his books throughout the previous half-decade, including such high-profile films as Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976), Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), and George A. Romero’s Creepshow (1982), which was based on an original King screenplay. But, each of those films had been separated by at least a year. And then comes 1983, and we get not one, not two, but three Stephen King adaptations all in the same year: John Carpenter’s Christine, David Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone, and Lewis Teague’s Cujo.

Of those three films, Cujo is arguably the least ambitious, mostly because it was based on one of King’s least ambitious—although decidedly darkest—novels (and one that he has said in his book On Writing that he barely remembers penning since he was at the height of his alcohol and cocaine addiction at that time). Cujo is really more of a novella that was padded out to novel length with some boiler-plate domestic melodrama involving an extramarital affair. The padding shows in the film, as well, despite clear attempts to integrate it into the horrors of the main plot, which involves a mother and her young son trapped inside a small, sun-baked car on a remote farm with a rabid St. Bernard trying to get inside. The rabid dog sequences are so well done that it is easy to forgive how trivial and forgettable the drama surrounding it really is. The mother, Donna Trenton (Dee Wallace), is married to Vic (Daniel Hugh Kelly), a handsome and successful marketing executive whose career is on edge due to a scandal involving one of his products, a popular kids cereal, causing consumers to think they have internal bleeding. Donna is having an affair with Steve Kemp (Christopher Stone), a local handyman and tennis buddy of Vic’s. Donna is wracked with guilt, though, and wants to end it, which she does, but not before Vic figures out what is going on.

In a case of particularly bad timing, Vic has to leave on a business trip to deal with the breakfast cereal debacle, and it is during this time that Donna and their 6-year-old son Tad (Danny Pintauro) take her rambling Ford Pinto up to a farm owned by Joe Camber (Ed Lauter), who also does auto repairs. Camber is the owner of the titular dog, who we meet in the film’s opening credits sequence as a big, lumbering, lovable hound chasing a rabbit across an open field. Unfortunately, Cujo makes the mistake of sticking his head inside a hole, which gets his snout bitten by a rabid bat. Cujo slowly succumbs to the rabies, unbeknownst to Joe, his harried, abused wife Charity (Kaiulani Lee), and their teenage son Brett (Billy Jacoby). By the time poor Donna and Tad arrive at the farm, Cujo has mauled Joe to death and Charity and Brett are out of town, leaving them stranded when the Pinto’s engine dies.

The film’s third act deals almost entirely with Donna and Tad’s increasingly desperate ordeal trapped inside the Pinto while Cujo, who is by now a blood-, mud-, and saliva-streaked monstrosity, does everything in his deranged power to get inside, which often involves slamming his body into the doors, trying to reach through the windows, and biting and clawing at the windshield (Cujo is played by at least six different dogs—the number differs depending on who is asked—a man in a full-size dog suit, and an animatronic dog head, all of which cuts together seamlessly in the film). Part of the effectiveness of this scenario is the horrific frustration of their entrapment mere feet from the potential safety of the farmhouse. This being the era before cell phones, all Donna can do it try to keep Cujo at bay and herself and Tad alive in the brutal summer heat while waiting for someone else to arrive.

Director Lewis Teague, who at that point was the least well-known filmmaker to tackle a King adaptation, was a jack of all trades, having helmed episodes of a half-dozen different television series throughout the 1960s and ’70s, as well as several low-budget films, including the Roger Corman-produced gangster drama The Lady in Red (1979), the alligators-in-the-sewer horror film Alligator (1980), and the Death Wish knock-off Fighting Back (1982). None of these films is particularly distinguished, but they are all entertaining in their own right, which pretty much describes Cujo. Although hardly a masterpiece of horror-suspense, it works when it needs to, creating a gradually escalating sense of dread and tension as Donna and Tad’s situation becomes more and more dire. The raw performances by Danny Pintauro, who later became best known for the sitcom Who’s the Boss?, and Dee Wallace are key here, as they effectively embody abject terror and desperation, respectively. Wallace, who had previously had major roles in The Howling (1981) and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), is particularly good at conveying Donna’s mix of strategy and anguish, and she has the good fortune of never having to do anything particularly stupid. The real horror of Cujo, like a lot of such films, is that of a parent faced with the seemingly impossible task of protecting their child in a horrendous scenario, which makes the film’s surrounding melodrama feel that much more superfluous.

Cujo 4K UHD + Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
  • Engish DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo
  • SubtitlesEnglish
  • Two audio commentaries by director Lewis Teague
  • Audio commentary by Lee Gambin, author of Nope, Nothing Wrong Here: The Making of Cujo
  • Cujo Revisited” 2014 roundtable with stars Dee Wallace, Danny Pintauro, and Daniel Hugh Kelly and director Lewis Teague
  • “Dog Days: The Making of Cujo”documentry
  • Interview with Dee Wallace
  • Interview with composer Charles Bernstein
  • Interview with stuntman Gary Morgan
  • Interview with stuntwoman Jean Coulter
  • Interview with casting director Marcia Ross
  • Interview with visual effects Artist Kathie Lawrence
  • Interview with special effects designer Robert Clark
  • Interview with dog trainer Teresa Miller
  • 3 TV spots
  • 3 Radio spots
  • Theatrical trailer
  • DistributorKino Lorber
    Release DateOctober 23, 2023

    Kino Lorber’s release of Cujo features a new 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative with Dolby Vision HDR. I have to admit, I haven’t seen a frame of Cujo since watching parts of it on cable back in the day (that is to say, the mid-1980s), so I have no point of comparison with previous video releases. I can’t imagine that any of those look better than the image here, which is clear, sharp, and well detailed while also retaining that slightly soft look of early ’80s cinematography. Some scenes look like they were shot with a hazy filter, so there is some inconsistency across the film in terms of clarity, but this appears to be have been intentional. Colors look especially good with the Dolby Vision HDR color grade, which makes the blue sky and the red blood really pop. There are a few signs of dirt and wear here and there, but nothing that stands out dramatically. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel soundtrack has some good kick where it’s needed, especially when Cujo is growling and barking and denting the car with his head.

    All of the supplements—and there are a lot of them—have been culled from various releases over the years, making this a kind of all-around greatest hits package. There are three audio commentaries. One is by Lee Gambin, author of Nope, Nothing Wrong Here: The Making of Cujo, which, not surprisingly, focuses largely on the film’s production history (and how much Gambin absolutely loves the film). The other two commentaries are both by director Lewis Teague, one from 2007, which originally appeared on Lionsgate’s DVD, and one from 2013, which was moderated by critic Jeff McKay and first appeared on (the now defunct) Olive Films’ Blu-ray. There are also two major retrospective featurettes: “Cujo Revisited” is a 22-minute program from 2014 that reunited actors Dee Wallace, Danny Pintauro, and Daniel Hugh Kelly with director Lewis Teague to discuss their experiences making the film, while “Dog Days: The Making of Cujo” is a 43-minute Laurent Bouzereau-produced program that includes interviews with Teague, Wallace, Stephen King biographer Douglas E. Winter, and producers Daniel H. Blatt and Robert Singer. We also get eight interview programs with people who worked on the film, all of which were recorded for Eureka Entertainment’s 2019 Limited Edition Blu-ray: casting director Marcia Ross (20 min.), actor Dee Wallace (42 min.), composer Charles Bernstein (36 min); stuntman Gary Morgan (27 min); stuntwoman Jean Coulter (27 min); visual effects artist Kathie Lawrence (27 min); special effects designer Robert Clark (13 min); and dog trainer Teresa Miller, daughter of Karl Lewis Miller who trained the dogs in the film (29 min). Finally, the disc includes a theatrical trailer, three television spots, and three radio spots.

    Copyright © 2023 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Kino Lorber

    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

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