Stephen King's success as a horror novelist is beyond dispute, but the precise significance of his books – and the films and television mini-series that have been made from them – is more debatable.
For me, King is in the conservative rearguard of modern horror, far less interesting than filmmakers like David Cronenberg or Larry Cohen.
Although King paints himself as a fun guy and celebrates his own work as "fast-food literature", his work consistently betrays a thundering, Old Testament morality: don't cheat on your spouse, don't wander over to the "other side" ... and it endlessly denounces modern evils like television, industrial society and (ahem) fast food.
Cujo certainly fits the King bill. It's a Fatal Attraction-style cautionary tale about adultery, with a supernaturally murderous dog as God's avenging angel.
However, moral lesson aside, it's a marvellously well-made movie.
Like many expert, unsung films of its kind, it intricately builds up a web of interpersonal clues and cultural connections, as it probes an unlovely family unit (including a brilliant performance by Dee Wallace as the mother). This clan is menaced by external horrors that manifest internal tensions.
The real star of the film – apart from Cujo the dog, who degenerates very convincingly indeed – is director Lewis Teague. The way he milks every possible cinematic effect from a prolonged situation – a car, mother and child (Danny Pintauro) inside, Cujo outside – makes for spellbinding and instructive viewing.
MORE Teague: TBone N Weasel
© Adrian Martin October 1990