Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English


CUJO (1983)

Notes: Sunn Classic Pictures Inc. 94 minutes. MPAA rating: R.
Directed: Lewis Teague
Produced: Daniel H. Blatt, Robert Singer
Based on the novel by Stephen King.

Donna Trenton: Dee Wallace
Vic Trenton: Daniel Hugh-Kelly
Tad Trenton: Danny Pintauro
Steve Kemp: Christopher Stone
Joe Camber: Ed Lauter
Charity Camber: Kaiulani Lee
Brett Camber: Bobby Jacoby
Gary Pervier: Mills Watson

The movie starts with a little rabbit peeping its head out ofa hole in the ground. It bounds through the forest and emergesin a meadow where it sits up on its hind end to look around. Then a Saint Bernard (Cujo) appears and chases it around, eventuallyinto a cavernous hole in the ground. Cujo sticks his head intothe hole and barks, disturbing the bats who have roosted in therefor the day. They fly around and screech and one lands on Cujo’ssnout and gnaws on him for awhile.

Now we go to the big Trenton house. Tad, the son, has a problemwith his closet door popping open. He closes it, then shuts offthe light and makes a mad dash across the room for the bed. Hestares at his closet door, it opens, and he screams. Vic andDonna come in to comfort him. Tad insists he saw the monster. Mom and Dad say there’s no such thing as real monsters. Afterthey go back to bed, Tad says, “Except in my closet. Please,please, please.” The next morning, everything that isn’tnailed down is piled in front of Tad’s closet door. Steve Kempcomes in and mooches off the Trentons. On the television is anadvertisement for Sharp’s cereal, a professor who says, “Nothingwrong here!” Vic works for an advertising firm, and theprofessor is one of his creations.

Vic and Kemp play tennis, and Kemp loses. Vic says, “Youaren’t getting tired of this, are ya?” Kemp replies, “What,are you kidding me? Getting my ass handed to me every week? No, I love it. I’m a masochist.” “Well, whatever turnsyou on,” says Vic. Cut to Kemp playing his trombone (literally,not figuratively) in bed with Donna Trenton. Donna puts on herunderwear and goes home. At dinner that night, Vic suggests theyhave another kid because they’ve run out of stuff to talk about.

Vic takes his car into the shop with some complaint about a frontwheel. He wants it fixed while he waits, which the mechanic won’tdo. The mailman suggests he take it out to Joe Camber. Vic does,and he takes Donna and Tad with him. Donna wanders in front ofthe house, where Charity Camber is plucking a dead chicken. Thenshe sees Cujo trotting into the barnyard and runs over to snatchup Tad. The Cambers’ son Brett says it’s all right, and eventuallyDonna gets a grip and lets Tad down to pet the dog. That nightVic makes the rounds in Tad’s room, saying some strange incantationto ward off monsters. It seems to make Tad feel better. Thenext day the news says that thousands of people reported internalhemorrhaging after eating Sharp’s cereal. The cereal was recalled,but it turned out kids were only “peeing and puking”red dye. Vic is facing a crisis at work, though.

Joe is using some loud equipment. Cujo looks at him and trotsaway.

Donna goes to see Kemp to break off their affair. He acts resigned,but then chases after her. Vic drives by and sees Kemp grabbingher by the car. He goes back, but they’re gone. Donna picksup Tad from camp. The car has some serious problems on the wayhome. Vic is home early and asks what she did that day; she claimsgroceries, errands, the usual.

Joe comes flying up the drive and grinds to a halt in his noisytruck. Cujo stalks off. Joe finds an engine hoist in the barnand storms into the house, cussing at Charity because they can’tafford it. She tells him she won $5,000 in the lottery, and shewants to take their son to visit her sister for a week. Joe isvisiting with his friend Gary; they’re making a lot of noise andCujo is lying on the floor making distressed noises. Joe hasdecided to take off for a week of “broads, booze, and baseball”and wants Gary to join him.

Vic picks up Tad from camp early. Back at home, Donna’s getsa surprise visit from Kemp. He wants her back, says “I misstouching you,” then proceeds to try. He slides his handup her dress and kisses her and when she finally fends him off,he shoves her, which spills some milk and brings Vic and Tad intothe kitchen. Kemp leaves. Vic looks at Donna and says, “Yesor no,” and she says, “Yes.” Vic tries to fixthe Pinto and can’t. He’s going to be out of town for ten daysto try to salvage the Sharp’s account. He promises Tad to writedown the monster words so that Mommy can say them. Tad sleepssoundly with the monster words posted on his closet door.

The next morning is very foggy at the Camber house. Brett hearssome moaning-yelping-whining noises and goes out to call Cujo. After awhile he hears some vicious growling, so he turns to runhome and finds it’s Cujo behind him. Brett tries to soothe him,and Cujo stops growling and walks off into the fog.

Vic forgot to take the Pinto to Joe’s, so Donna will have to doit. As he drives off, Donna runs after him. She tells him thatthe affair is over, but she can’t make like it never happened. He says he can’t either and drives off.

Brett’s loading the car for the trip. He tells his mother, “I’mworried about Cujo. I saw him this morning in the fog and hewas all bloody, he was dripping foam at the mouth.” He wantsto tell his father, but his mother tells him he will do no suchthing.

Cujo is walking down the road. He shows up at Gary’s house andattacks him outside. Gary gets away and goes into the house,closing and locking the screen door behind himself, but leavingthe large, solid wooden door wide open. He starts trying to loadhis gun, and Cujo starts ripping down the screen. He gets inbefore Gary gets the gun loaded and kills him rather messily. Meanwhile, at the Cambers’ house, Joe is calling Cujo. He finallygives up and dumps a fifty-pound bag of dog food into a tub. He goes to pick up Gary and sees the screen ripped off the door. He goes in and finds Gary’s body. He then checks most of theground floor of the house, making his way to the phone. He picksit up and Cujo shows up. Joe takes one look at him and says,”Cujo! Oh my God, you’re rabid.” If only he hadn’tmarried such a cretin, he might have lived longer. He throwsthe table at Cujo, but it doesn’t buy him much time and the doggets him.

Donna and Tad are singing merrily as they drive out to Joe’s place. “I think I’ll bite it,” Donna punctuates with a snapand snarl. The Pinto is ready to cack as they pull into the drive. We get a view of them from the barn. Donna gets out, but Tad’sseatbelt is stuck, so she leans in to help. Although her opendoor is on the barn’s side, Cujo has walked to the other sideof the car and jumps up against the passenger door and stickshis head through the partially open window. Donna gets it rolledup and then closes her own door. Tad produces a lot of noise,screeching about the monster. Cujo is now on the windshield. Donna blows the car horn and he leaves. Now Tad is making alot of hysterical noise. Donna can’t get the car started again,and Tad wails repeatedly, “I wanna go home!!!” Thekid has a serious set of lungs, and Cujo lies at a distance andgrowls.

Later, Tad is much calmer, sitting in the back of the car drawing. Tad tells Donna to try to start the car, and she is able to getit going. Cujo comes running out at the sound. The yard is huge,but instead of making one large turn and leaving, Donna makesa short turn and then puts it in reverse. After she cusses atthe dog, the car dies again. Tad starts whining fearfully, “Canhe get us in here?” (We can only hope.) “Can he eathis way in here? I wish he’d die.”

Now it’s sunset, and Vic calls home, but there’s no answer. Backat the farm, Tad has to urinate, so Donna opens the door abouta foot. Cujo’s lying directly in front of the car. He looksat the stream of urine hitting the ground, then the phone startsringing in the house and he decides that’s more annoying. Heruns to the house, jumps at the door, and then leaps through thewindow right on the last ring. Then he lies down on the porchslathering and snarling.

Sunrise. Donna wakes up to find Cujo watching her through thewindow and growling. Vic calls home again. Donna opens the window,”for air,” about five inches. She notices a baseballbat in the yard. She tries to start the car again without luck,then figures the mailman will notice them. Back in town, themailman is heading out with a large delivery for Joe Camber, butone of the postal clerks reminds him of the mail hold for thatweek.

Phone rings at Cambers’ again. Cujo runs and looks in its direction,then turns and charges the car, bashing headfirst into the driver’sside door twice. Donna may be thinking better of leaving herwindow open so far with a rabid dog outside when he starts shovinghis paws and face through it. Then he runs to the passenger’sside and leaps at the window, severely crunching it. He thenchews off the door handle, leaps on top of the car, and mellowsout a bit when the phone finally stops ringing. Tad is moaningand carrying on, and Donna’s close to smothering him trying toget him to keep quiet. Vic’s finding it difficult to concentrateon his job.

Tad is sleeping now, so Donna decides to get out of the car. She doesn’t notice that Cujo is lying practically underneath thecar on the other side. She very noisy since the door is halfwaybashed in; at this point we get a shot of her feet from the otherside of the car. After getting the door open, she looks aroundfrom inside the car. She gets out, closes the door, and looksaround. It occurs to her that the dog might have been close tothe car and she just couldn’t see him from inside, so she getson her hands and knees to look under it. Cujo’s behind her andjumps her before she can do anything. Tad wakes up to find Mommybeing mauled by a rabid dog outside. Donna gets the door openand gets into the car as she normally would, i.e. climbing inand then leaning back out to pull the door closed, rather thanthe patented leap-and-pull that anyone with that much adrenalinein her system ought to be able to manage. Needless to say, Cujoends up in the car with them. Tad manages to climb into the backseat. Donna beats Cujo with a Thermos container, Cujo bites herleg, and she eventually gets the door closed with the dog on theoutside. Of course, Tad has been screaming the whole time ata pitch and volume that ought to be able to shatter glass. Vicwakes up from a dream, calls the house, and decides to come home. Cujo staggers toward the car. Donna bandages her leg with stripsfrom her dress. Cujo gently climbs onto the hood of the car andlies down with his face pressed against the windshield to watchher.

Sunrise. Tad has begun to asphyxiate in his sleep. Donna tellshim to wake up. Then she opens the door, apparently intendingto go to the house to call an ambulance, and Cujo rushes her fromthe barn. She pulls Tad into her lap. First aid consists ofDonna putting her fingers in his mouth, getting bitten, “Ow!”,putting her fingers in his mouth again, getting bitten again,”Ow!!” with a touch of anger this time. Then she ordershim to breathe.

Kemp goes to the Trentons’ house and, finding no one home, grabsa knife from the kitchen. Vic comes home to find his wife andson missing, and various foam padding and stuffing everywhere,as well as pictures ripped up. The cops ask where the Pinto is,and they send one of the officers, Bannerman, to the Cambers’to see if it had been dropped off. Everyone is asleep when hearrives. Cujo runs off. Bannerman notices blood on the batteredcar and gets out. He starts to radio back what’s going on, thenhears a noise and goes to investigate instead. He gets jumpedby Cujo and drops his gun. He finds a hunk of wood to beat offthe dog, then is unable to climb high enough in the barn to escapehim. Donna can’t get her door opened to help him, so he getstorn up a bit. She finally gets out, when it really seems he’spast saving anyway, and Cujo leaves the cop to run over and bark/snarlat her. She climbs back into the car and Tad has one of his fits. Cujo goes back to finish off Bannerman, leaving Donna to administersome more emergency treatment. This time she smacks Tad on theback a lot and shakes him like a ragdoll. He finally starts tobreathe, only to start screaming, “I want my daddy!”

Vic’s cleaning up at home. The cops have rounded up Kemp, whoadmits to making the mess, but claims he never saw Donna or Tad. Vic asks what Bannerman found, and the investigator says, “Well,he, uh — probably following up some lead, we’ll be hearing fromhim anytime now.” Vic heads to Cambers in a panic (in hisconvertible).

Apparently Tad is having another trauma, another opportunity forDonna to practice her EMT skills by yanking his arm rather forcefully(probably dislocating it besides) and smacking his face. “I’mlosing my baby!” So she gets out of the car and shamblestowards the house. Cujo comes out from under the porch. Donnaruns and picks up the bat, whacking him on the head no less thanfive times before it snaps. He then leaps at her and impaleshimself on the broken spike of the bat. She rolls him off ofherself and picks up Bannerman’s gun. She points it at Cujo,but apparently she cannot bring herself to shoot a “dead”dog when he’s down. She has some difficulty getting back intothe car to get Tad, so she ends up awkwardly smashing the rearwindow with the gun, something she probably learned in her gunsafety course.

Donna carries Tad into the kitchen and lays him on the table. More first aid!! She splatters him with water and then, withoutchecking for a pulse or breathing, starts pushing on his chest,then proceeds with rescue breathing. Meanwhile, Vic is racingthe seven miles to the Camber farm. Donna is bent over the table,slobbering on Tad (not an exaggeration, there is very clearlya rope of saliva trailing from her mouth when she comes up forair). Cujo jumps through the window. You have to admire hiscreativity when, injured as he was, he much more easily couldhave come through the door or the broken window in the livingroom. Donna picks up the gun and shoots him as he recovers fromhis landing and turns to deal with her. Vic pulls up, and Donnacarries Tad out looking a bit worse for the wear.

Apparently Darwin’s principle has no role in modern movies. DonnaTrenton is not fit to chew gum, much less face a rabid dog, butsomehow she survives. That aside, it’s not terribly effectivebecause Cujo is usually only successful in his attacks when acharacter does something stupid, and half the time he is wagginghis tail because Saint Bernards are friendly dogs. The mad dogin To Kill A Mockingbird is much scarier, and he nevereven attacks anyone. I guess we’re supposed to be horrified bya large family pet turning on everyone, but most of the movieis Cujo vs. Donna, and Donna was afraid of him to begin with;there is no level of trust to be broken.

What We Learned:
It’s probably a good idea to get your pets vaccinated.
Children ought to have volume controls, or better yet a mute button.

Animals and Insects Films