Friday, June 24, 2011

Film #69: Cujo (1983)

What’s wrong with that doggie in my window?
The one with the yellow goo’ed fa-A-a-A-ace!
Not cool how he’s try-Y-Ying to kill me.
I do hope he’ll just go away.

But nope, this dog won’t just go away. At least until he’s had the chance to tear out your throat and snack on your baby’s back-ribs. One lesson learned this week: Not all dogs go to heaven… namely, the satanic death machine known as Cujo.

There once was a time when Cujo was a playful fella. He had a peaceful life, running around the countryside chasing rabbits, serving his wife-beating master, and licking his privates to his heart’s content. But one day while hunting a waskly wabbit, Cujo followed the bunny down its rabbit hole and started tripping major balls.

His huge Saint Bernard head got caught in the hole, which leaded to a large underground cavern. Cujo sure could use “one pill that makes him smaller.” With Jefferson Airplane nowhere in sight though, Cujo flips his shit and the ensuing barking fit causes rabid bats inside the cave to attack the doggie’s face.
Welp, dog-gone-it if Cujo right then and there doesn’t started to get infected with a bat-bite disease that slowly changes him from family pet to chomping murdering monster.

Meanwhile back in the city, city folks are having their own city problems. Advertising executive and sports car driving tool Vic Trenton thinks he has the perfect life. A mulleted wife named Donna, a whiny kid named “Tadpole”, and a “stud” best friend named Steve Kemp who likes to drop by the house at random times.
But, it’s just not that simple. Vic doesn’t pay attention to his family, so Donna gets back at him by screwing his best friend. Meanwhile, poor Tadpole hears monsters in his closet every night. Typical American family (at least in Stephen King’s world… the author of the book this film is based).

When Vic’s sports car goes on the fritz, he rushes to get it repaired… neglecting the other family roadster, Donna’s hunk of crap Ford (Fix Or Repair Daily). The car repair takes him out to little known, but great, country mechanic Joe Camber, who also has a whinny son, a wife who likes Irish kisses, and…DUN, DUN, DAHHHHHHH! A DOG NAMED CUJO!

And so the universe brings these two families together.

Vic gets his car fixed, but has to run out of town during an advertising crisis. While gone, Donna’s Ford starts acting like a Ford, and she decides to take it to Camber to get fixed. Meanwhile back at the Camber residence, the wife and kid have gone out of town, and Joe Camber has gone to hell. Literally...Cujo has finally turned rabid and crazy, and turns Joe into a pile of Beggin’ Strips. (It’ssssssssssssssss Joe-Bacon!)

Donna drives out to the Camber residence with Tadpole in her head, but once she arrives her car first breaks down, then gets attacked by the giant Cujo. They try to get out, but Cujo’s there with biting results. The standoff lasts for days in the sweltering desolate car… Cujo against mulleted mother.

Will Cujo make dog chow out of the Tadpole!?
Can the super strong possessed beast be stopped by the super protective mother!?
How do I get to I-94 from here?
Find out, in the 1983 howler, “Cujo.”

RDHP Ratings and Review

C-Rating: 4.0
Chris Dimick barks:
“Stephen King hates you. I can’t say I blame him.
Wait wait wait, before you get offended let me clarify that Mr. King and I don’t hate YOU personally, but humanity as a whole. If you are reading this blog, then guaranteed you are a good person… and Stephen and I both like you just fine. Obviously you have impeccable taste and class. It is those others out there. And the others hidden deep inside all of us, really, that draw the ire of humanity pessimists like King and myself.

A quick survey of the human characters in Stephen King’s books and movies – Cujo included – show he doesn’t think too highly of man’s ability to choose good over evil. There aren’t many sympatric characters in King’s works. Even the people he steers you towards rooting for have extraordinary character flaws.
It is almost like he is challenging you to still care for these horrible people as they face horrifying situations.

In Cujo, for example, our heroine is Donna Trenton, the mother of whinny Tad who has been cheating on her husband for months with one of his best friends. And this is the hero!? As Cujo lunges for her throat, for a moment an audience must think ‘Should I care if she is turned into Gravy Train?”
King makes you care by putting innocent Tad in the car with her… and softens your feelings toward Donna as she tries to protect her son. Such is King’s genius.

The other characters are just as bad. There is the abusive mechanic and Cujo owner Joe Camber who, the second his bruised wife leaves town, conspires with a friend to go into the city to get liquored up and have sex with whores.
Donna’s bed buddy Steve Kemp is no saint either, attempting to rape Donna when she tries to end their relationship – with little Tad sleeping in the room above no less.
The dad, Vic Trenton is no choir boy… neglecting his family and their car so he can get ahead in his career and drive a fancy sports roadster. All these people suck!

Yes, King is a horror writer and likely focuses in on the darker aspects of humanity in his books to exude creepiness and set a mood. But beyond that you can see his downright disappointment in human kind, and the expectation that given the right special circumstances, or even in day to day circumstances, ALL people will choose evil over good.
What's scariest about his work is not the ghosts or monsters, but how King shows the evil inside humankind. Lurking, ready to be released. People just need a motive, King states.

In my formative years I once had a memorable discussion with my Mom about right and wrong. She said something that I took to heart then, and used to guide my feelings toward humanity for decades.
“Given the choice, most people will choose right over wrong. Most, not all, but most people are inherently good,” she said.

I adopted her belief as my own, and it always comforted me as I went about my travels through life. Yes, there are deranged people out there who think they are doing right but actually doing wrong, and yes there are people who know they are doing wrong but are so selfish they don’t care.

But the belief that most of us, most people, choose to live a just, fair, respectful, restrained, and good life for most of their time on this earth made me better able to tackle sticky life situations and reinforce my own pursuit of being as good a person as I could be.
Most importantly, it made me like humanity.

But lately, over the last few years, I’ve been starting to doubt that assessment on mankind. Are there good people in the world? Absolutely, and I wouldn’t be able to function without their presence in my life. There are several people I know personally that I would trust with any problem, and know they would pull through for me in the end.
Friends and family I love and care for more than anything else in this world.

But are MOST people good… and would MOST people choose the right thing to do even if the wrong thing benefited them more?
I don’t think so. I just can’t entirely believe it anymore.

In short, I’m on the fence, leaning toward falling out of love with the human race. And I’m not talking about the occasional hiccup in morals and good behavior. Everyone succumbs to that… and after it is said and done if you realize the mistake, feel remorse, and never repeat the action, then your moral code can be restored.

I’m talking about the bulk of humanity, 51 percent. Are they trying to choose righteousness over selfishness? Good over evil? I sure wish I could say yes, like I had in the past. But I just don’t think I can. Why? Turn on the news. Watch people on the street. Think back to the interactions in your life.

Stephen King’s assessment is depressing, but is it correct?
I hope not. But I think so.”

N-Rating: 2.9
Nick Rich barks:

“In my experience, Stephen King films are a mixed bag (or box of dog treats as the case may be). The Kingster has written some gripping stories, but unfortunately they have not always transitioned well to the big screen.

I think this hit or miss legacy is due in part to the budget of said films, but to a larger degree, the nature of his stories – to put it plainly, some just don’t work well as a film. Some of King’s stories are just a bit too ‘out there’ to work well as a movie in my book (get it? Book.). You can be clipping along at a great pace, enjoying the characters he’s given you, the premise is gravy, but when the payoff comes… sometimes King is a little to out there. Now, hey, I am all for creativity and surprising me with new ideas and whatnot, and heaven knows I give a movie a lot of slack when it comes to how far down the rabbit hole it will take me… but there just comes a certain point where that slack ends and my brain just says, “really? That’s what you’re giving me?”

This reaction is made all the more bitter by the fact that the story may have captured me up until the payoff (The Langoliers and Cell come to mind), which when not executed properly, leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. At this point you may be wondering why I haven’t dug in to Cujo… but actually I have.

Cujo is written in what I believe to be the best vein for a celluloid ready King story: it is grounded completely in realism (ala Misery). As it turns out, no weird voodoo alien priest is responsible for Cujo going off his rocker, he simply has contracted a case of rabies and gone all Paul Riser on everyone. Chris and I were both shocked (and extremely pleased) by this revelation. You see, King has almost conditioned us to expect some whacky, out of left field element to his stories and therefore we were expecting Cujo to become a mutant monster due to cosmic radiation… the fact that he was a regular dog gripped by a real ailment made the film much more believable (obviously) and much, much better.

However, just because a film is better than meh (click here for definition), doesn’t necessarily make it great. While Cujo’s story was fairly fit, the production value (which probably was decent at the time) didn’t seem to age as well. Perhaps this was just an unfortunate side effect from being made in the 80s (which is a bit surprising, as it usually tends to make a film rock, not flop). As I ponder the causes for Cujo’s shortcomings, I’d have to say the fault lies more with the production team than the acting. While Cujo was by far the best actor, the rest of the cast put in solid enough performances to pass for a feature length film. The director, producers and cinematographer (you know, the boys in charge of how a film looks and feels) unfortunately missed the mark and gave the film a definite TV movie vibe. How did they do this you ask? The old fashioned way of course! Cheesy music, plain-jane shots of the action and odd effects (Cujo walking out of the excrement of a fog machine in slow-mo comes to mind):

All of which only served to pull the actor’s performances down to the upper echelon of TV movie quality, as their performances alone were not good enough to elevate it to big boy status:

Poor Cujo! If only he had had a better master, maybe things could have been different.
The Skinny: Check this flick out if you’d like to see what ET would have been like with rabies or if you need a refresher of the fallenness of man (which isn’t really necessary, but some may like to watch it as opposed to live it).

Things We Learned From Cujo:
-Some dogs’ bite is as bad as their bark.
-Mo money, mo problems.
-Mom plus mullet = Momlet.
-Seaweed has 30 percent of your daily Vitamin A needs.
-Grossest place for a woman to sweat – her upper lip.
-Sometimes, shaking a baby is okay – like when it’s screaming.
-“Yes or no” is not a good way to ask your spouse if they are cheating.
-You can’t run out on the Sharp account.
-Too much junk food and boob tube causes nightmares.
-Actor Danny Pintauro’s (Tad) first kiss: Dee Wallace-Stone.
-Cujo HATES missed phone calls.

Quote of the Viewing:
[The Cujo opening credits feature a swirling red liquid. This excites Nick and Chris for some reason, and they start yelling at the screen.]

Nick and Chris: “What is it?! It’s a drain?! It’s blood?! It’s, it’s paint?! It’s Jello?! It’s…

[The title screen pop’s up, stating “Cujo”]

Nick and Chris (relieved): “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, it’s fine… it’s just Cujo!”

RDHP Presents:
Doggy Stars!
Cujo was the best actor of the group in this week’s film. While that might sound like a slight against the human thespians in Cujo, don’t forget about all the loveable dog actors who have thrilled us through the ages. Below, we present some of the canines who have captured our heart throughout the years. Or just made an impression. “Who wants to go for a walk down memory lane? Does some good boy want to go on a walk down memory lane? Let’s go boy, come on. Let’s go for a walk! Go for a walk!”

The mischievous mutt from Christmas Vacation is Cousin Eddie’s “pride and joy.” He’s got a bit of Mississippi leg hound in him, but scratch his belly and he’ll love you till the day you die.

After Cujo, somedoggie needed to restore humanity's faith in Saint Bernards. Beethoven took up the task!

Scooby Doo
The first ever drug addict canine on television (he just got a little TOO excited for those Scooby Snacks). Hopefully not the last.

Santa’s Little Helper
Race dog turned family pet turned Mr. Burns’ guard dog turned family pet again. It’s not easy being The Simpsons pet.

All nine of these dogs were great actors except for the last Lassie, who refused to get help for Timmy until the network gave him a five bone raise. What a Prima Dogga!

Poor Charlie Brown. Even his DOG was cooler than him.

Sarah Jessica Parker
What’s amazing is, like Mr. Ed, they got this dog to talk and dress in people clothes. Must have used peanut butter.

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