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A Cult Classic | Paul Reviews CUJO

Cujo (Eureka Classics)

See the video review here.

Written in 1981, Stephen King’s novel Cujo – focusing on a woman, Donna, and her young son who are terrorised by a rabid Saint Bernard – was published during an era which saw an interest in animals-on-the-rampage stories, represented through films such as William Girdler’s Grizzly, Robert Clouse’s The Pack and the Irwin Allen disaster movie The Swarm, and novels like James Herbert’s The Rats. The immediate success of King’s novel led the rights to it becoming a hot property amongst filmmakers, the film adaptation ultimately being directed by Lewis Teague and released in 1983. The making of the picture wasn’t without its problems, however: the original director (Peter Medak) and director of photography (Tony Richardson) left the set within a couple of days into the shooting of the film, being replaced by Teague and the Dutch cinematographer Jan de Bont.

Though it follows the same basic structure as Stephen King’s source novel, the film adaptation of Cujo makes some dramatic changes to the material – in particular, to the ending of the narrative, which in the film is much more upbeat. In the novel, Donna and her son are trapped in a car, where they are besieged by the rabid Saint Bernard for much of the story. Teague’s picture follows this approach, its key characters being confined to a vehicle for much of the film’s running time. To their credit, Teague and the film’s director of photography, Jan de Bont, manage to make this visually interesting, engendering a palpable sense of claustrophobia and making much visual play on the conflict between the man-made vehicle and the huge dog – which was actually played by a combination of four different Saint Bernard dogs and animatronic animals. The film was received negatively upon its initial release and was a commercial flop but achieved cult status upon its release to home video and via television screenings.

Eureka Video are releasing Cujo on Blu-ray in a huge collector’s set that includes a 60 page book with writing about the film, a new audio commentary by Lee Gambin (who wrote a recently published book about the making of the film), a 40 minute documentary about the making of Cujo, and interviews with a number of cast and crew (including the film’s star, Dee Wallace; members of the stunt team; the dog trainer who worked on the set; members of the visual effects crew; and Charles Bernstein, who composed the score for the picture).

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