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Successful film adaptations of Stephen King’s works are few and far between, but one of the best is Cujo, which turns 30 this year.
Based on King’s 1981 book of the same name, this film centers on Donna Trenton (Dee Wallace) who, while in the middle of a marital crisis, drives her dying Pinto to a nearby mechanic (Ed Lauter), unaware that he and his neighbor have been killed by Cujo, the mechanic’s St. Bernard, who has contracted rabies.
With Donna’s husband Vic (Daniel Hugh-Kelley) away on business, she and their son Tad (Danny Pintauro) are trapped in their useless vehicle while Cujo relentlessly waits for them so he can strike.
The direction by Lewis Teague, who previously directed Alligator (1980), is wonderful in that, once mother and son are trapped, the tension never lets up until the end, and, interestingly, there is not much gore here.
The performances are also great. Wallace was already a horror film veteran by this point with The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and The Howling (1981) to her name, although her most famous role came a year before this film, playing Elliott’s mom in E.T.-The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). King once stated that he felt her performance here was Oscar-worthy.
Pintauro would go on to play Judith Light’s son in the long-running sitcom Who’s the Boss?.
But the scene-stealer is Daddy, who plays the title role. He goes from being cuddly in his first scene to becoming more grotesque as the film goes on. It is quite a heartbreaking and remarkable sight. If any animal deserved an Oscar for acting, it's this one!