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25th Anniversary Edition
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In rural Maine, Vic and Donna Trenton (Daniel Hugh-Kelly and Dee Wallace) struggle to repair their crumbling marriage, while their young son Tad (Danny Pintauro) befriends a hulking, lovable, 200-pound St. Bernard named Cujo. With Vic away on business, Donna and Tad take their decrepit car to be fixed at the remote farm of their mechanic (Ed Lauter). As their aging Pinto sputters to a stop and dies, Cujo appears. But the once docile dog has undergone a hideous transformation - and becomes a slavering, demonic, impecable killer possessed of almost supernatural strength...and unholy cunning. Critically acclaimed, CUJO is a fearsome, spine-chilling tour de force from the most popular name in horror!
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I, admittedly, have not read the novel that CUJO is based upon, but I saw this picture initially when I was only eight years old and I have not been right since. It not only turned me into a horror writer and genre/TV/speculative fiction enthusiast, but it also made me realize that the greatest horror tales are those that connect viewers with a fall from grace, something experienced by several characters in the film--and this is a theme that King himself has explored in much of his own fiction (and their subsequent motion picture adaptations). With a title that reeks of both tonal joy and rustic voodoo magic, CUJO represents the dark forces that are on the loose in nature, and paints an unimaginably cruel picture of fate that is not going to be for every taste. While the picture is unpleasant and undeniably eerie, it left such a bizarre and lasting (and also quite disturbing) impact on me that I can do nothing more than feel a sense of awe in its presence...even today, as an adult, this picture really does mess with my mind, and there is a definite creepy quality to it that can be explained in no other terms than that of the childhood nightmare come true! It is not only the dog's sad fate that alarmed me so, but also the fate of Donna and Tad Trenton, as each character in this story seemed poised for doom, with some type of otherworldly influence hanging over them in a story that can only be described as natural horror. Even though there were more than six dogs that starred in the film as the title character, I think each of them should have taken home an Oscar (I'm not kidding)--the dog's performance anchors the movie, and makes me feel a bit choked up in point of fact because today's movies would never take the time to get such a performance on camera as these filmmakers back then achieved (with apparent ease). This is what makes CUJO so special--it's a picture about animals, the cruelty of nature, and the stupid predicaments that human beings get themselves into almost with utter naiveté, and the brutality of punishment that must come forth whenever nature is out to get us. CUJO is a movie geared to make you feel uncomfortable, but that's part of its appeal as well. This isn't fast-paced out-and-out horror (compared to the extreme-fests that we get fed today), but if you regress into your childhood mind and watch the film without putting your critical hat on there is a really good chance that you'll find the movie intense, disturbing, and unforgettable. Dee Wallace is both sexy and off-putting in the role that solidified her position as a genre movie heavyweight, and I disagree with Stephen King that she should have gotten an Oscar nod for her efforts here because CUJO is of a quality that people who attend award ceremonies probably wouldn't understand. Those who know that Wallace is great here just, well, we just know! Although the project probably made King associated with the type of B-grade, TV-style low-budget thrillers that belie the later day respect he eventually achieved (with his more boring novels, such as DOLOROES CLAIBORNE), those of us who prefer genre cinema to "great" movies will always see it as the gem that it really is. This picture wasn't made by the politically correct, smile-for-the-cameras group that attend the Academy Awards and have a certain image that they want to sell to the public. This picture was made by hard-working folks who had a genuine love of gutter-sprung genre filmmaking and who didn't need the validation of Hollywood or intellectuals to tell them they'd done a good job. Teague's original audio commentary is great because he is so committed to the movie itself that awards and recognition almost have nothing to do with his original aspirations; I have always preferred B-movies over the more accepted refined productions because not only are genre films more fun they will also last a lot longer in the long run. Teague and his team have done a splendid job of practical filmmaking here, almost a lost art by today's computer driven standards.
The CUJO 25th Anniversary disc is the one that fans will most likely want, since it has the three part documentary entitled DOG DAYS on its menu option in the extras. For my taste, this documentary did not go quite as in depth as it should have, even though we do hear from everyone (except, rather regrettably, King himself) and we do get an introduction about the novel itself from Douglas E. Winter. I think the insinuation of some archival footage into this documentary would have made it great, and some modern day perspective wouldn't have hurt either, with some entertainment journalists discussing the impact of the movie and even cultural counterparts like BEETHOVEN.
The picture and sound quality on the disc, though, are quite good indeed, with a lot of the grain and color the same as it always appeared to be in the old full-screen TV prints that I watched years and years ago. CUJO is not a picture that needs to be "cleaned up" by modern day restoration tactics, and thankfully I was quite pleased with the image representation on this release.
Now the Olive Films release from last year actually has a crisper, more tightly focused picture representation, but it's not a necessary purchase unless you want to pick up a Blu-Ray copy of this release as well. Director Teague does offer a NEW commentary track on the Olive release, and it is enjoyable listening, but it's probably not essential if you're trying to decide on buying (he mentions in this commentary, for instance, that King's book ON WRITING is as useful for screenwriters as it is for novelists...well duh!). Teague is fun to listen to for sure, but he doesn't encompass enough information about the financing of the movie and his own vision for B pictures in the way that someone like Larry Cohen does (for example).
In the final verdict, the movie CUJO is a masterpiece of psychological fear that will probably not be well understood by the movie audiences of today, who are so plugged into cellular phones and Internet connections that the idea of being stranded on an old, desolate country farm without any communication hook up might seem silly or even (to them) impossible, I don't know. But if you are a fan of real psychological horror pictures, don't miss it! Teague and his crew do a great job of building up the scares and maximizing the shocks and revealing the fact that CUJO is, like all great scare stories, really a saddening tale at the center. And be warned that the movie is depressing and quite shocking, and certainly isn't for the young ones...and I'm saying that having been forever changed by the experience of watching it when I was eight or so. And I have never been the same since. A-