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Cujo: 25th Anniversary Edition DVD Review

Cujo movie poster Cujo

Theatrical Release: August 12, 1983 / Running Time: 93 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Lewis Teague / Writers: Stephen King (novel); Don Carlos Dunaway, Lauren Currier (screenplay)

Cast: 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), Merritt Olsen (Professor), Arthur Rosenberg (Roger Breakstone), Terry Donovan-Smith (Harry), Robert Elross (Meara), Robert Behling (Fournier), Claire Nong (Lady Reporter), Daniel H. Blatt (Dr. Merkatz)

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A mere two years passed between the publication of Stephen King's first novel (1974's Carrie) and a Hollywood adaptation of it. A miniseries (Salem's Lot), a Stanley Kubrick filming (The Shining), and half a dozen shorts followed. Then came 1983, when filmmakers and filmgoers just couldn't get enough of cinema derived from the writings of the best-selling horror novelist.
August gave audiences Cujo, October brought The Dead Zone, and December served up a movie version of the just-published Christine. All three performed moderately well at the box office (paving the way for a still-flowing stream of big screen King adaptations) and each is well-regarded today. It's Cujo, however, that garners our attention here as the film is treated to a premature but welcome 25th Anniversary Edition DVD by Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

Based on the sixth novel to bear King's name, Cujo is about a rabid St. Bernard dog who wreaks havoc on a mother and her young son. That's the heart of the movie and what anyone who's seen it takes with them. In fact, it takes half of the 93-minute runtime to arrive at this set-up. That first half is divided unevenly among the Trenton family and Cujo, the friendly canine, who upon getting bit by a rabid bat, is thrown into an ugly state of hostility and ferociousness with a hideous complexion to match.

While our short, regularly scheduled check-ins with the dog as he begins a downward spiral towards brutal insanity are appropriately suggestive and evocative, our time with the Trentons is less scintillating. Mother Donna (Dee Wallace, E.T.), father Vic (soap veteran Daniel Hugh-Kelly), and six-year-old Tad (Danny Pintauro, "Who's The Boss?") would appear to be the perfect young family of the early '80s. But in fact, the adulterous Donna is carrying on a relationship with bearded family friend Steve Kemp (Christopher Stone, then Wallace's husband). Just as she wants to call it off, Vic finds out about the liaison. He's got his own problems, though, thanks to an effective cereal ad campaign that's crippled by a wide, news-worthy recall of the product. This justifies Vic going out of town with his business partner, leaving Donna and Tad on their own, with a sputtering Ford Pinto as transportation.

Pre-rabies Cujo drools a little while chasing a rabbit. The Trenton family -- son Tad (Danny Pintauro), mother Donna (Dee Wallace), and father Vic (Daniel Hugh-Kelly) -- might be happier if one of them wasn't dabbling in adultery.

Though some character development is required (and often welcomed) in just about every film, Cujo's is none too appealing and almost disposable on repeat viewings. Not all of the content is bad. Moments with Tad -- as he fears the monsters that must be lurking in his bedroom at night, interacts genuinely well (but separately) with his mother and father, or merely wields a Pac-Man lunchbox -- are sufficiently compelling.

But this is still the story of a rabid St. Bernard and things really pick up in the film's second half when Cujo, covered in blood, puss, and drool, begins terrorizing any human he comes across. The dog belongs to a backwoods family whose gruff father (Ed Lauter) offers discounted auto repair. It's quite logical then that Donna and Tad bring their failing car there and encounter no signs of life save for one extremely irate dog. A good two decades before cell phones were everywhere, the mother and son are trapped in a practically dead automobile that seems to be their safest refuge from the relentless canine, who is thrown into fits of anger by the sound of a ringing telephone inside the nearby home.

Cujo is plenty suspenseful in its second half, with its believable setup allowing for a frightfully hopeless survival scenario to play out. Dog lovers and haters in the audience inevitably join sides in rooting against a monster that is convincingly realistic thanks to fine makeup, wrangling, and editing. Dialogue is sparse and the proceedings are simple, but Cujo emerges as one of cinema's most imposing villains in a horror film that's much more interested in audience fear than in gore or any of the supernaturalness commonly found in King's books.

With this new DVD release, Cujo's third in Region 1, the movie finally gets something better than the fullscreen, barebones treatment twice offered it by acquired distributor Artisan.

Buy Cujo: 25th Anniversary Edition DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital Surround (English),
Dolby Mono 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English, Spanish;
Closed Captioned
Release Date: September 25, 2007
Suggested Retail Price: $14.98 (Reduced from $19.98)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black keepcase with translucent plastic slipcover
Also available on Blu-ray Disc

VIDEO and AUDIO

Lionsgate's release improves upon the open-matte Artisan DVDs by presenting Cujo in its 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio (or close enough to it) and enhanced for 16x9 displays. Considering the age and low budget origins, picture quality is definitely satisfying here. The element is completely clean about 99.7% of the time and when it's not, only those looking for problems will find them. The visuals are a little soft and mildly grainy and the color palette slightly pale, but these characteristics are surely consistent with the movie's original look. In short, the few shortcomings are negligible and anyone satisfied by the high resolution of standard DVD should be utterly pleased by this new transfer.

In the sound department, there's a choice between a Dolby Surround and Dolby Mono presentation of the original English audio. The default option, the Surround remix, doesn't expand the elements much and gives the sparse dialog and score a hollow sound. That will slightly disappoint those hoping to hear Cujo in a brand new way, but purists should be fine with the two-channel Mono track that's more faithful to the theatrical release. English and Spanish subtitles are thankfully provided.

"Cujo" director Lewis Teague talks at length in the DVD's audio commentary and documentary. Little Tad's all grown up: "Who's the Boss?" star Danny Pintauro appears in the 3-part documentary "Dog Days: The Making of 'Cujo'." He just goes by "Dan" now. The Main Menu provides atmosphere and subtle animation while depicting the broken down Pinto.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Despite the ceremonious designation, this 25th Anniversary Edition of Cujo provides just two bonus features, but they're happily both substantial.

First is a solid audio commentary from director Lewis Teague, which has turned up on international DVDs since last year. Teague has lots of stories to share,
ranging from the movie's production history to the techniques employed in individual sequences to his general filmmaking philosophies and inspirations. It's a little repetitive and listening to this immediately after the documentary (as I did), you'll notice a fair amount of overlap. But it's also screen-specific and highly engaging, especially for a single-participant track. There's no question that any fan of the film ought to listen to this; they'll come away informed and entertained. (Though they might be disappointed that an "erotic" scene revealed to be deleted isn't found elsewhere on the disc.)

Next comes the three-part documentary "Dog Days: The Making of Cujo" (42:43). While it's not the most slickly or sharply produced piece and the division into three parts seems quite arbitrary, this is still a very good bonus, for which a very impressive roster of talent from the film has been assembled. Appearing in new interviews are Teague, stars Dee Wallace and Daniel Pintauro, producers Daniel H. Blatt and Robert Singer, director of photography Jan De Bont, editor Neil Travis, composer Charles Bernstein, and, to comment on the novel and author, Stephen King biographer Douglas E. Winter. "Dog Days" covers pretty much every Cujo-related topic you can think of: getting a performance from a dog, appearing dehydrated on chilly winter days, changes to the novel (the different ending was actually King's idea), the technical components, etc., etc. Never wavering in its ability to hold viewers' attentions, the doc is a real treat.

The well-done selection screens are topped with an animated main menu that achieves classic suspense with a montage of relevant images from the film and the use of an always-effective heartbeat. It settles on a subtly-animated tableau of the central car in fog set to outdoor sounds of nature. The static and silent submenus boast colorful, relevant artwork.

I'm less convinced that the packaging was as wisely conceived. The cover art presents a close-up of a foaming dog's mouth, which is tough to identify and rendered tougher by a translucent plastic slipcover which merely reproduces the title logo and edition name. I wonder if the movie's name recognition is as high as the package expects or if some people may not recognize the flick without a clear, full view of the titular St. Bernard. Though inserts are becoming increasingly rare today, the set includes one which serves up studio ads and a list of the 17 chapter stops.

The disc opens with previews for Bug, The Condemned, 2006 telemovie Stephen King's Desperation, "The Dead Zone": Season 5, and recent canine horror flick Rottweiler. These promos are also accessible from the Special Features menu.

Mother and son are trapped in their dirty, dying Ford Pinto with no food, little water, and one big problem outside. The problem: one fierce, bloody, rabid St. Bernard. Name: Cujo.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Cujo isn't a film that leaves viewers thinking and talking. Its power comes in the form of suspense and to that end, the movie succeeds considerably in its riveting second half. The scenes leading up to the rabid dog showdown are far less gripping, but I suppose they're necessary to sustain a feature-length production and they do a bit to increase our concern for the human characters.
In any event, they're mostly forgettable, which can't be said of the tense latter parts on the film. On the whole, the strong second half overshadows the slow, dull beginning and leaves one declaring the film a triumph. It's the somewhat rare type of horror movie that can delight non-genre fans and even families, meaning that thrills are more in order than violence and one can expect to be scared more than traumatized or disturbed.

Lionsgate's 25th Anniversary Edition release offers a crystal-clear improvement over the movie's two earlier extra-less, fullscreen DVD incarnations. The new 16x9 transfer is especially praiseworthy and, though they overlap quite a bit, the audio commentary and documentary add loads of insight and value to the package. This disc is recommended to both fans of the movie who have long been awaiting a DVD worth buying and those owning one of the previous, now-unloadable versions.

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Reviewed September 22, 2007.



Text copyright 2007 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1983 Taft Entertainment Company, Sunn Classics Pictures, and 2007 Lionsgate Home Entertainment.
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